South Denver has never had much of a brewery scene. As the Highlands, downtown, Baker and RiNo have gotten saturated with nano- and micro-sized breweries, the city's southern fringes haven't seen a single brewpub.
There's Renegade Publik House on South University Boulevard, but it's technically a taproom and restaurant -- the brewery is on West 9th Avenue.
But times are changing. Five small breweries -- and two distilleries -- could be open on South Broadway, Pearl Street and vicinity by summer 2014.
Five small breweries, including Former Future Brewing Comany, -- and two distilleries -- could be open on South Broadway, Pearl Street and vicinity by summer 2014.The first of the wave to open, Former Future Brewing Company started pouring pints last weekend to big crowds at 1290 S. Broadway near the boundary of the Baker and Overland neighborhoods. Open Friday and Saturday evenings, the brewery and taproom is the first Denver brewery on South Broadway between I-25 and the city limits at Yale Avenue. It's a slick joint with a bar made from old airplane wings and eye-grabbing light fixtures, terrariums and gleaming fermenting tanks.
But they won't be alone on that stretch for long. Grandma's House is slated to open at 1710 S. Broadway this summer, as is Declaration Brewing at 2030 S. Cherokee St., just northwest of Evans Avenue and Broadway in a largely industrial zone. Just to the east, Denver Pearl Brewing Company (1875 S. Pearl St.) and Fermæntra (1715 E. Evans Ave.) are also aiming to open by mid-2014.
But in the beer business, opening dates are written in pencil, due to lots of moving parts in the form of construction, fermentation, permits and inspections.
Former Future Founders Sarah and James Howat originally planned on opening Labor Day 2013, but missed that target by about five months. "It's been crazy, getting things done," says James, whose focus as brewer is on historical recipes and innovative techniques. The opening-weekend taps included a Farmhouse IPA and a Salted Caramel Porter.
Sarah worries that they won't be able to brew fast enough, all things considered, a good problem to have. "Station 26 [in Stapleton] has twice the capacity and they run out all of the time," she says.
Former Future's four-barrel system can produce about 25 barrels a month, and James is already eyeballing an expansion.
The brewery's membership program, the Former Future Federation, has attracted about 30 members and the Howats plan at capping the $200 memberships at 100. Federation members get access to special events, a pair of growlers (the only growlers Former Future will fill) and 22-ounce bottles of six special releases over the course of the year.
With more than 25 breweries in planning stages for the city limits right now, Former Future will soon have company on the south side of town. The question: How many will make it off of the drawing board?
"It's a hard road," says James. "There's a number of in-planning breweries that won't ever open."
A different takeMatthew Fuerst stands in front of the future location of Grandma's House.
Matthew Fuerst is planning to open Grandma's House in a former antiques shop a half-mile south of Former Future this summer. "We're already a month behind schedule, but I guess that's the norm," says Fuerst.
His model of a collaborative brewery -- by which other brewers can essentially rent his seven-barrel system and sell the resulting draft beer at the taproom -- isn't the first in the industry (Fuerst says there are similar operations in Houston and Cleveland), but it will be the first such establishment in Denver. "In a beer city like Denver, it's a no-brainer," says Fuerst.
And 2014 is the perfect time for it, he adds. "There are breweries popping up all over the place. It's kind of amazing."
The side effect? "It's tough to find spaces and it's tough to find financing right now."
The Grandma's House model takes advantage of the boom and these scarcities, Fuerst says. "I just thought there was room for something intermediate to allow small startups to get off the ground without opening their own place. They can get a taste of the industry before they go all in."
Initial overtures haven't turned up partners -- yet. "Everyone wants to start their own," Fuerst says.
Grandma's House will also be a gallery showcasing local craftspeople. "I want to promote other craft-related businesses and products that are made here in Denver and Colorado."
Fuerst worked in nonprofit advocacy in Ohio and Boston before moving to Denver last year. "I always wanted to make a go of it in brewing," he says. "I figured if I was going to open a brewery in Denver, now was the time."
He sees Baker, Platt Park and Overland as especially fertile locales -- with a mix of RiNo-like grit to the west and Washington Park and University of Denver to the east. "Our little neighborhood is going to be getting a lot of breweries soon."
A new-and-improved South Broadway hasn't hurt, with a $28 million rebuild finally in the rear-view mirror, and better sidewalks and streetscaping. With plenty of reasonably priced real estate, a long-awaited revitalization is gaining steam.
Five unique breweries
Colby Rankin, who is aiming to open Denver Pearl Brewing on Old South Pearl Street in May, sees Platt Park as a much brewery-friendlier neighborhood than RiNo. "There's a lot of houses where people can walk here," he says. "There aren't a lot of houses in River North."
Rankin says he sees plenty of infill potential in and around the old Gates Rubber plant and I-25 and Louisiana Avenue and anticipates a mix of neighborhood customers and University of Denver students at Denver Pearl, which will have 4,500 square feet and a 10-barrel system in a former antique cash register shop. The beer list will be "outside of the box," says Rankin.
The area, home to plenty of marijuana dispensaries and bars, has a residential base that's tailor made for small breweries, says Brennan Mann. "If it can support so many bars, I don't see why it can't support five unique breweries."
Mann is opening Fermæntra near University of Denver on East Evans Avenue with Spencer O'Bryan. The taproom is slated to open in the former City Velo building in May or June.
O'Bryan describes the Fermæntra brewing mantra as "rooted in traditional styles, but amplified," adding, "People are looking for world-class beer in their backyard."
Mann and O'Bryan looked for five months before signing a lease. They started looking near DU, then backed out of a property near Santa Fe Drive and Alameda Avenue, an area Mann characterizes as less walkable, and ended up back where they started.
"This area is probably, demographically speaking, the best place to open a craft brewery," he says. "It's kind of strange."
There are also some serious signs of life in the long-maligned industrial zone in the shadow of the Evans Avenue bridge over the railroad tracks just west of Broadway.
Declaration Brewing is pegged to open by mid-summer on South Cherokee Street. And that same stretch of machine shops, warehouses and equipment yards will also soon be home to a couple of distilleries: Bear Creek Distillery is a work in progress at 1859 S. Acoma St. and Gargoyle Enterprises has a distiller's license at 1420 S. Acoma St.
The opening dates might shift, and only time will tell how many of these new entrants will be brewing for the long haul, but south Denver might just have five taprooms open this summer where there were zero a year before. That's meaningful, because in this city, where there's beer, there's change.