When Sean Guerrero moved to the city of Huzhou, China, with his wife and kids two years ago, he discovered one very depressing fact: "There was really no good beer," he says. All he could find were mass-produced light lagers and "international pilsners" made by giant corporations. So Guerrero, a Denver native and longtime home brewer, decided to fix that by opening his own very small brewery there. "I thought they would like to try some better-tasting beers — and they did, especially the higher-alcohol bitter beers."
Jade Mountain Brewing, which attracted a mostly local population along with a few American and European ex-pats, did well, especially in its use of local spices, fruits, vegetables and tea.
Now Guerrero is bringing some of that flavor back to Denver, where he plans to open the second iteration of Jade Mountain Brewing at 1925 South Rosemary Street, just off the Cherry Creek Trail near Comrade Brewing. The 1,700-square-foot space has high ceilings and a garage door, and will have a patio as well.
“In China, we were very small, and we couldn’t grow very much because of the laws there, and we weren’t allowed to bottle,” Guerrero says. “So we wanted to come back to America and do something bigger.”
Jade Mountain is named both for the town where Guerrero’s wife, Jojo, is from in China, and for the mountains that Guerrero grew up with in Colorado. (He originally called the Denver version Firewater Brewing, but changed it after discovering another brewery-in-planning in Georgia with the same name.) Guerrero plans to own and run it with his father, who is a plumbing contractor and amateur chef.
They will begin with a very small one-barrel brewing system and several one- and two-barrel fermentation tanks and grow from there. Among other beers, Guerrero plans to make an IPA using jasmine tea, a bamboo lager, dragonfruit and lychee ales, and a saison brewed with the fragrant flowers of the sweet osmanthus tree, which blooms in the fall in China, making entire towns smell like oranges, vanilla and citrus.
“It will be interesting to see what works here and is popular, compared to there,” he says. Guerrero sold a percentage of his brewery to a friend in China before he left, but he still owns part of it.
Guerrero took an interest in Chinese language and culture in college after meeting Jojo, who now works as a scientist. As their relationship progressed, he took several trips to China, and they eventually got married there. Although he spoke some Chinese already, Guerrero became fluent working in the brewery. “It was just me. There were no other brewers or bartenders, so I had to.... I had to explain what an IPA was.”
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After returning to the United States, Guerrero started hanging out at Cheluna Brewing in Aurora and got to know its founder, Javier Pérez Koch, after a chance encounter. “One day he heard me speaking Chinese," Guerrero recalls. "My heritage is Hispanic, and Javi was born in Mexico, but he was trying to learn Chinese, too, so he thought, ‘Whoa, another Mexican speaking Chinese. And we both liked beer and brewing.”
Guerrero eventually began helping out at Cheluna, learning the system there and re-familiarizing himself with Denver’s brewing scene.
Over the next six months, Guerrero will work full-time on opening Jade Mountain as he ramps up for a debut that he hopes will take place in the spring or early summer.
"There is always a place for good beer. As long as you're doing something a little different and have a niche, and are focused on quality over quantity, there is always a place for you," he says. And although there are dozens of other breweries in Denver, Guerrero says, "I'm not intimidated by that. I'm excited."