According to the Brewers Association, there is a new brewery opening every day across our amber-waves-of-grain and purple-mountain-majesty nation. There’s a lot to be said about the growth about the craft beer industry, the public’s awareness to better beer, and the rise of entrepreneurs in the face of a rough economy. And Denver knows about rough economies, holding a 8.5% unemployment rate (higher than the national average). But that hasn’t stopped 4 breweries opening in the past four months in the capitol of the Napa Valley of Beer. To keep up with all that fermenting, I visited these freshmen brewers to find out how things got off the ground and how they’re carrying on.
(I know there are even more breweries coming in some very short months, but 4 months is a respectable enough time-frame, and this article is long enough as it is…)
Caution: Brewing Company (open since…mid April, 2011…kinda…)
Caution: Brewing doesn’t technically have a place you can just stop in and visit, sit at a bar, and get a fresh brew on tap…yet. Not even a proper website. But that isn’t stopping them from having very active Twitter and Facebook accounts, or even brewing beer. So far the brewery boasts just two offerings, yet no taproom. Though you can indeed find the Lao Wang Lager at their main “account”: Lao Wang Noodle House, operated by head brewer Danny Wong’s dad. The beer, and the brewery itself, is so new there are no RateBeer.com listings for either at time of writing (hop on it, ratebeerians!). Surprising considering Denver’s high occupancy of beer nerds, as well as two 1st Place awards and Best Overall for their Lao Wang Lager and Honey Matrimony Brown at the Jefferson County Beer Fest.
They’re utilizing the ol’ Odell 5 Barrel system (the namesake of that brewery’s popular pale ale), and primarily crafting beers to compliment Asian food, citing it as “an untapped market”, so be on the lookout for some Caution: Brewing beers at your next pho outing…but The Rackhouse and Falling Rock are always looking for new stuff as well, so there’s that option.
Copper Kettle Brewery (open since 4/22/2011)
The little 3 barrel system that could was such a huge hit with locals, head brewers and owners Jeremy Gobien and Kristen Kozik invested big money to triple their brewing hardware up to a 10 barrel system…after just three months in business. Pretty exciting times for a PhD who found “no fun” in engineering.
After homebrewing together pretty much from the time they began dating 4 years ago, Jeremy and Kristen got a pretty good feel for what beers work best at what times of the year while sharing their product with friends. They moved to Denver from North Carolina to either get a teaching job, or open a brewery as a Plan B. About 2 years later, here we are.
And lets get back to that whole “tripling production in under 3 months” detail. The beers produced by Copper Kettle are primarily of German origin. ”I would live in Germany if I could…I love that place” Jeremy tells me. Their current lineup includes, among others, a Helles, a Dunkel, a Schwarzbier, an Alt, a Roggenbier, and has future plans for a Kolsh. And they’re constantly running out of some of those before the next batch is ready, especially the Helles. ”It was intended to be a seasonal,” Jeremy explains, “but at the rate it was being consumed, we decided to try to make it always available”. Lagers like the kind Copper Kettle is putting out take a whole lot longer to create, hence the inherent problem being popular on a tiny system. But no compromises will be made. The decision was made to expand rather than make more faster-fermenting ales.
Distribution will be slow and local-based. This is done both to ensure quality of product (lagers aren’t designed for longevity) and local relevance. Their primary goal is to establish themselves as a local brewery/tasting room (and it is indeed a cozy and classy venue, featuring coffee tables, leather chairs, a copper bar, and homey decor), and primarily plan to distribute only to small pubs and delis. After all, what’s the point of distributing to a place where they cannot visit you easily?
Renegade Brewing Company (open since 6/26/11)
Formed by homebrewing vet Brian O’Connell, his wife Khari, and former Rock Bottom headbrewer Rick Abitbol, Renegade is setting out to do something different from whatever it is you expect out of beer. Through help from other local brewers obtaining equipment and tips on business plans, Renegade was conceived and born in about 2 years. The brewery and taproom is set up in Denver’s art district in a formerly derelict and vacant warehouse, and the O’Connells decided to keep most of its charms, from the bare wooden vaulted ceilings to the bare brick walls. And they’re keeping the aesthetic local; the accent wall with the giant logo was painted by a friend, with tap boards coming from an old 1920’s schoolhouse, and tap handles carved and donated by a local artist.
And the beer? Scrumptious. Forgive my lack of objective journalism, but what Renegade has thus far has impressed me on every level. They only have about 5 regular offerings so far, all former homebrew recipes from the owners made perfect by the pro brewmaster, but they promise great growth with a 15 barrel system and 9 taps on the wall. Filling in the gaps will include a rotating barleywine, an experiment of two, and one lucky patron’s homebrew to be displayed to the masses. They aim to keep mostly to American styles, so don’t look for any Pilsners here, but maybe a Belgian Quad here or there on their pilot batch system.
And the O’Connells have big plans: “We want to be Denver’s Avery. Maybe bigger…” A bit ambitious for a brewery so young, but with 2 kegs kicked in less than a week, it’s not a bad start. “We want to have a big goal so we always have something to strive and work towards.” They aim to distribute in 12oz cans by late next summer, with out of state accounts in 3 years.
Denver Brewing Company (open since 8/13/11)
Denver’s newest brewery seems to be the one with the most experience going in. Together, brewers Charlie Berger and Patrick Crawford have insane amounts of brewing education, travel, and both have worked at several breweries before, including (separately) Denver stalwarts Wynkoop and Great Divide, gaining knowledge of distribution operations, sales, etc.
And with all that experience, they bring forth the Denver Brewing Co., a tangible culmination of the Colorado beer scene. Community? There are a half dozen long picnic tables to encourage you to meet new friends, drawing inspiration from the beer gardens of Bavaria. Arts? How about some salvaged auto body shop equipment from the former business that was previously there, a bar made of beetle-kill pine, and some decorated chalk tap boards. Beer? Lots of it. With 13 taps, they promise anywhere between 7 and 10 to always be on, with a few one-off experiments. But popular ones will definitely return; just make a heartfelt request, and a beer you like is sure to be seen again. And seasonality will also factor in, bringing lighter and crispier beers in the summer, heartier stouts in the snowy times. Oh, and they’re dog friendly.
Good things are bound to happen to a brewery when their first keg is kicked 50 minutes into their first day. They already have 3 major Denver accounts just 10 days after opening, so remember the name.
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