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After a decade of frantic openings that saw the number of craft breweries within Denver city limits grow from eight or nine in early 2010 to more than 75 by late 2019, not a single brewery opened with a Denver address in 2020. Six breweries in the city now closed their doors last year.
But 2021 will be very, very different. Two breweries have already opened: Denver Beer Co.’s second taproom (third overall) on South Downing Street and Odell Brewing’s Sloan’s Lake Taphouse, which is also the second location of that brewery in Denver. Six more are scheduled to open over the next few months, including Wah Gwaan Brewing, Cohesion Brewing, Smash Face Brewing, Danico Brewing and Ratio Beerworks, which will open their second location within the former Declaration Brewing spot on South Cherokee Street. AC Golden Brewing, a Coors subsidiary, will also be showing a branded taproom (but not a brewery) near Coors Field.
This city’s beer scene is relatively young compared to some other cities, but it has already seen large sales. While there have been craft breweries here since 1988 when Wynkoop Brewing opened, many of the older ones have closed. When Copper Kettle Brewing, Renegade Brewing, and Denver Beer Co. celebrate their 10th anniversary later this summer, they’ll become some of Denver’s old wafts of mist. Only six or seven existing beer makers are older, including Great Divide Brewing, Rock Bottom, Sandlot at Coors Field, ChopHouse, Pints Pub and Strange Craft Beer Company, and Wynkoop.
Why was there a bankruptcy in 2020, followed by this boom of 2021? Part of the explanation, of course, relates to the pandemic that paused, delayed projects, and slowed lending on many brewery and restaurant plans. But there are a number of other reasons as well, including the difficulty of finding affordable commercial space – an obstacle eased by last year’s closure.
There’s also the challenge of competing against expanding, established breweries like Odell, Denver Beer Co., and Declaration. This expansionism won’t stop anytime soon: at least two other existing breweries are tacitly trying to open second locations (either with or without a brewery) in Denver in the next six to eight months.
Jesse Brown and Harsha Maragh prepare to open Wah Gwaan Brewing.
The biggest challenge for new openings could be the sheer number of breweries: it is likely that Denver has reached its saturation point at around 70 to 75 breweries. In fact, the city has been de facto one-on-one since 2017 when there were – you guessed it – around 70 to 75 breweries.
What counts as a brewery? That’s a tricky question. Does a production facility count if it does not have a public taproom? What about a taproom owned by a brewery that doesn’t have brewing equipment? Does a company with two locations count as two breweries? Contributing to the confusion are contract brewers, gypsy brewers, and breweries with Denver addresses that are technically not in the city of Denver. (We usually take most of these into account when counting ourselves.)
But no matter how you count the numbers, this town’s beer scene is evolving, maturing, deepening … and filling up quickly.
Will we make it to eighty?
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Jonathan Shikes is from Denver and writes about business and beer for Westword.