During the summer of 2018, I traveled from Orange County to Denver and back for some freelance assignments. One of my stops was in Colorado Springs for a topic I don’t usually care about: beer.
I’m more of a bourbon and mezcal man. But Jess Fierro of Atrevida Beer Co. invited me to stop by her family business. She and her husband, Rich, had recently opened the small brewery and taproom, which was then one of the few Latina-owned beer companies in the United States.
Over a crispy lager, Fierro told me her story. How she and Rich were high school sweethearts growing up in San Diego. How they learned to love the art of brewing when Rich was stationed in Germany as an officer in the 2000s. How Jess, a cosmetologist by trade, worked up the courage to start brewing when the Army moved Rich to Colorado.
Jess spoke about the thrill of winning a beer contest that aired on the Vice network. About the fear of making a living out of a hobby. More importantly, she told me, she wanted to make a name for herself as a Mexican-American woman in a predominantly white and male industry.
She wanted to do it through beers with pan-Latin flavors like guava and tamarind, which carried clever Spanglish names. Jess summed up her philosophy with the name “Atrevida”, which translates to “daring” and is usually used in Mexican Spanish as an expression of grudging respect for women who do what they are not supposed to.
Eventually her giant husband joined us. The Fierros were warm and funny – and fans of mine. I took photos of them in action and they asked for a group photo in return. She immediately posted it to Instagram, noting that she was “humbled and honored” that I stopped by. I left with a vow to visit Atrevida the next time I was in Colorado Springs and a promise that an article was on the way for a national publication.
None of this ever came about.
My mother was slowly dying of ovarian cancer. Other freelance tasks took precedence. I found a full-time job that kept me from writing about food. The pandemic pushed out all stories that weren’t set in Southern California. By the time Atrevida was beginning to deservedly receive national attention, any article I would have written would have been out of date. Eventually I lost the notes and photos from my afternoon with the Fierros and had to move on.
You didn’t blame me. Every once in a while, Atrevida Beer Co. popped up in the comments on the weekly Instagram Live sessions I do from my personal account. Whenever they showed up, I excitedly torched the brewery and apologized for my oversight years ago. When a friend created his own profile of Jess and mentioned that we knew each other, she excitedly told him how I once visited Atrevida.
The Fierros were the first people I thought of when news broke that a gunman opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs on Saturday night, killing five and wounding 18.
I said a prayer for those who died, deplored our nation’s gun laws, and moved on. I hope the Fierros aren’t among those affected, I thought.
But on Monday afternoon, as I was preparing to record a podcast episode, an email arrived. A reader asked if I had heard the “sad news” about Atrevida.
“We visited you some time ago,” the reader wrote, “and saw a picture of you there [don’t] know if you’re friends or just stopped by.”
I rushed through my recording and then immediately gathered as much information as I could. I started the Atrevida Instagram account, but I stopped following it. It featured video of Jess, Rich and some friends, along with their daughter Kassy and boyfriend Raymond Green Vance, enjoying a night out.
In the caption, Jess revealed they had been at Club Q when the gunman, identified by authorities as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, shot dead the venue. Jess wrote that she suffered bruises on her right side and that Rich injured his hands, knees and ankles while helping to subdue Aldrich.
Kassy had broken her knee. The Fierros’ friends “were shot multiple times.” Raymond was killed.
“This cowardly and heinous act of hate has no place in our lives or business,” Fierro wrote. “HATING FK. It has drawn us and our community, but not broken it. Love to everyone.”
Then I read news reports about what had happened. Rich, who served on four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and struggled with PTSD, lived up to the Atrevida name. He went after the attacker almost immediately – “I grabbed the back of his cheap little armor,” he told my colleagues. Other stories revealed that he asked a drag actress to step on the shooter with her high heels.
People on social media hailed Rich as a hero. He quickly dismissed such thoughts, telling The New York Times he was “just a guy.”
In the wake of the Club Q tragedy, the feel-good story of Fierro and others who helped stop the carnage is compelling to tell. It’s particularly appealing to Latinos, after a year in which we’ve played the villain too many times, be it the murderer of Uvalde or the Los Angeles politicians, whose nasty words about blacks, Oaxacans and others are the opposite of the club’s welcoming atmosphere Q were.
It pains me that tragedy finally moved me to write about the Fierros and Atrevida Beer Co. But everyone should know that he was heroic long before that awful weekend.
I remember the marquee in front of the bar with the inscription “Diversity, It’s Always on Tap!”. – the same logo as on Rich Fierro’s pristine vintage Chevy El Camino. Jess told me at the time how she faced a lot of racism and sexism in her industry but wore his welts because she had an important platform.
That’s why her company proudly participated in the LGBTQ parade in Colorado Springs, she said — a bold move in a city with many conservative and evangelical voters. It’s something they’ve continued throughout the pandemic. Not only that, but Jess also pursued her stated plan to mentor other women and Latino brewers. She even named some of her suds after Mexican-American female icons like Dolores Huerta and the late Long Beach singer Jenni Rivera.
After scrolling through Atrevida’s Instagram account and quickly catching up on the past four years, I reread Rich’s profile in the New York Times. In one part, he admitted that his night at Club Q was the first time he’d ever attended a drag show.
“These kids want to live like that, want to have a good time, want to strive,” he said. “I’m happy about that, because that’s what I fought for, so they can do whatever the hell they want.”
If only the rest of us were as atrevidos as the Fierros.