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Declaration Brewing Making Bold Statement

Mike Blandford, Greg Schlichting and "Bug" Stroope are thinking big.

The taproom and beer garden have room for 200 customers.

Declaration is launching with the capacity to brew 5,000 barrels a year.

The brewery is breathing life into an industrial area in south Denver.

The bar features 40 taps for draft beer.

The new brewery in Denver's Overland neighborhood is one of the most ambitious launches this beer-loving city has ever seen. Can it get a return on its big investment in an increasingly crowded market?
Tucked away in an industrial area in the shadows of the Evans Avenue bridge, Declaration Brewing doesn't look anything like your typical craft-beer startup.

There's brewing capacity for 5,000 barrels a year, a state-of-the-art water heating system that's 95 percent efficient (versus the industry-standard 25 percent) and canning and bottling lines on day one. Expect to see six different canned varieties on the retail shelves come springtime. The in-house laboratory can propagate more than 100 strains of yeast, led by Chief Professoring Officer Paul Ogg, who's also on the faculty of Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

And that's just the back of the house. With skateboards and snowboards hanging on the walls, the slick taproom has space for 90 customers. Behind the bar are 40 taps (yes, 40) and a pair of 70-inch flatscreen TVs. The urinals in the men's room were crafted from kegs and there's nature scenes decorating the stalls.

The brewery is breathing life into an industrial area in south Denver.Outside, there's room for another 110 people in the beer garden, complete with ping-pong tables and plenty of real estate for food trucks. An outdoor musical stage is in the works, as is a Friday Night Food Truck Fight show on YouTube.

It's all enough to make a beer nut's head spin, and it's been in the works since the brewery took over the building, a former garage at 2030 S. Cherokee St., in summer 2013. A year and a half later, Declaration getting ready for its grand opening on Valentine's Day -- Sat. Feb. 14.

A playground with economies of scale

So what's the business case for such a splashy launch?

"You gotta give people a reason to show up," answers Declaration Chief Instigating Officer Mike Blandford. "With 50-plus breweries opening in this city this year, we've gotta stand out." The goal, he adds, is "to make this place a playground away from home."

There's another reason for going big, Blandford adds. "The economies of scale are significantly better, which is always attractive."

Blandford financed Declaration primarily with his father, Chairman of the Horde David Blandford, and describes the budget as "an order of magnitude bigger" than most brewery startups.

"By the end of the year, we could be significantly bigger," says Blandford. He motions to unused space just waiting for more tanks as Chief Hoperating Officer Greg Schlichting brews a porter on the adjacent existing system. "All of the infrastructure is in place."

Despite the breakneck pace of brewery openings in Denver lately, Blandford doesn't see the market as overly crowded. "There really isn't that much saturation, especially outside of Denver. We're intending to distribute. We're intending to get the brand out there in Colorado and elsewhere."

To this end, there's a long-term plan to build additional breweries in other cities, both domestic and international, and a nearer-term strategy to ship beer to mountain towns, as well as China, Brazil, South Korea and Japan. "It's a 20-year plan," says Blandford.

The key ingredients for world domination? "A little luck -- and good beer," he answers. "It's not that we're better than any other brewery. We're just taking our backgrounds in action sports and bringing it to the beer industry. It's working well."

The strategy includes signed memorabilia from pro skiers and Denver Broncos on a "Wall of Fame" in the taproom and brand ambassadors like pro snowboarder Marc Frank Montoya.

Craft beer as big business

Mike Blandford, Greg Schlichting and "Bug" Stroope are thinking big.As craft beer continues to carve out a larger chunk of suds sales -- it's nearing 20 percent of the U.S. beer market -- and the big three acquire craft breweries and launch them in-house, private equity is starting to flow into the industry. Some breweries are eying a buyout from the get-go.

Is Declaration taking a page from the tech world and plotting an exit from day one? "I don't believe that's our style," says Blandford. "Never say never, but there's no intention of building this up to sell out."

Rather, the Declaration team's style is about taking things to the next level. Or, as Declaration Social Samurai David "Bug" Stroope puts it, "Overkill's underrated."

Declaration Brewing opens at noon on Sat. Feb. 14 with the Churn and Burn BBQ & Ice Cream food truck and music from DJs.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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