In January, a Denver holding company called Gold Buckle Brewing, which also owns Henderson, Nevada-based Joseph James Brewing, bought a majority interest in Durango Brewing, the third-oldest brewpub in Colorado, behind the Wynkoop and Carver Brewing, also in Durango. Gold Buckle is run by the same investment group that owns Denver’s Miller International, a 97-year-old Western-wear clothing and boot manufacturer that used to be known as Miller Stockman.
Andrea Allison, who runs both breweries, says Durango Brewing was an attractive investment because of its long history here and because it “holds the marketing appeal of being named after Durango, which is a beautiful and historic city. And with an increase of cash flow, Durango Brewing has the potential to grow from a small brand to one that helps drive more tourism and revenue into Colorado.”
Founded in 1990, Durango Brewing has been bought and sold several times over the years; the most recent owner was Mark Harvey, who still owns a minority share. (Harvey didn’t respond to either a phone call or an e-mail seeking comment about the sale, which only became known to the public last week, after a story ran in the Durango Herald .)
Allison’s immediate goals in Durango are to look at how to improve “the processes and the experience” at the brewery while continuing to “make great beer.” “Some changes that will happen over the next year may include a logo redesign, updated label designs, and some cosmetic and equipment changes to the brewery itself,” she says.
“The long-term plans for DBC are to grow our presence throughout Colorado,” she continues. “Once we have a solid growth in the Colorado market, we may start to look out to other markets where we feel our brand will excel. There are expansion plans on the horizon, but the timeline for those is still undetermined.”
One of the keys to those plans could be a massive, 185,000-square-foot former pickle-and-relish plant on 27 acres that Miller Ranch Land Company (which is owned by the same holding company that owns Miller International and Gold Buckle) bought last September in the eastern Colorado town of La Junta. Bay Valley Foods, which had operated the plant, closed it in 2006 and laid off 150 employees.
“There is potential for it to brew and package beers for Joseph James and Durango Brewing over the next few years as both breweries grow,” Allison says of the plant. “Additionally, there is also the possibility to contract-brew for other Colorado and surrounding-area breweries that may need additional volume to keep up with demand.”
The facility’s history as a pickle factory makes it perfect for brewing and packaging beer, because it already has some of the needed infrastructure, she adds. The timeline for turning the warehouse into a brewery is still up in the air; in the meantime, Allison says, she will spend her time commuting between Durango and Henderson — a suburb of Las Vegas — and working at both breweries.
“Durango Brewing is autonomous, and the beers being brewed — along with many of the day-to-day operational decisions — are made at the brewery,” she explains in an e-mail. “One positive outcome from the new investment...is the ability to offer employees health benefits, 401K and paid time off, which can be a challenge to find in the craft-beer industry, which is comprised of many small companies.”
Craft-brewery ownership has become a hot topic over the last year as the expanding industry has attracted the interest of private investment groups and large brewing conglomerates like Anheuser-Busch InBev, which has purchased at least four craft breweries in recent years, most recently Bend, Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing.
Private-equity firms have taken major financial stakes in several others, including Wasatch and Squatters breweries in Utah, New York’s Southern Tier, Georgia-based Sweetwater Brewing and Longmont-based Oskar Blues.
The investment group that owns Gold Buckle, Miller Ranch and Miller International is located at 8500 Zuni Street in Denver. Miller International’s roots date back to 1918, when Phillip Miller started a cowboy-hat company. It evolved over time, becoming Miller Stockman and eventually Miller International (which has no connection to Miller beer). The company now has several Western-themed clothing brands, including Cinch, Cruel Girl, Southern Thread, Miller Ranch, Johnny Ringo Boots and Rod Patrick Boots.