When it opened in March 2012, River North Brewery set the pace for what was to come in Denver — not just because of its beer, but with its location and its name. In the three and a half years since, another eight breweries have opened in the sometimes loosely defined River North district, and at least four more are on their way. But River North Brewery itself has been forced to leave the area, at least for now.
The watering hole, at 2401 Blake Street, will close its doors sometime in the last week of October – with the goal of reopening in a new spot in the neighborhood at some point in the future, says brewery co-founder Matthew Hess. In the meantime, River North will move its brewhouse, tanks, barrels and packaging line into a 10,000-square-foot warehouse at 6021 Washington Street, where it will put together a new production facility that's twice as big as the current space. It will also open a small, rudimentary tap room there in order to keep its public face.
“Eighty to 85 percent of our volume is distributed,” Hess says, which is why the business needs to have an operating production facility before it finds a permanent tap room. “We will have a basic tap room there when we start out, but we will be looking to come back to River North with a flagship tap room as soon as we can.”
Closing the tap room on Blake Street – formerly home to Flying Dog Brewing, which left for Maryland in 2008 – was not his choice. Like so many property owners in Denver, the building owners have decided to scrape the structure – which also housed the Spruce Tap House that closed in May — and build a luxury apartment complex. “They gave us six months' notice,” Hess says. At the time, he didn't think it would be hard to find a new location in RiNo, either for a new tap room or a production brewery, which he'd planned to do anyway since River North Brewery is growing so fast. But the search process took him by surprise, and if Hess hadn't have found the warehouse on Washington Street, he probably would have had to shut down operations or find another brewery that was willing to make his beer for a while.
“The market is so tight right now; it was a shock. Most of the places we talked to didn't see much value in a brewery, even one that has been around for a while and been successful,” he says. “We were in dire straits. But we got a few offers from other breweries, completely unsolicited, which was really great.”
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As it is, there will probably be a short time lapse in brewing, which is why, Hess says, “We will do our best to brew as much beer as we possibly can now.” He doesn't have an exact time frame for when River North will be up and running in the new location, but predicts that it will take three to four months. Eventually, Hess plans to upgrade his brewing equipment, add fermentation tanks and install a large new canning line there. “We are excited about the space,” he says. “It is as good as we could have hoped for in terms of being close to our original neighborhood.”
River North, which specializes in Belgian-style beers with American twists, was one of the first in a "fourth" wave of breweries that began opening in Denver beginning in 2010. It was also the first of these upstarts to begin packaging. Just a month after opening, Hess bottled his first beer, a double IPA. Since then, the brewery has become know for its Belgian-style saison and quadrupel, among others, as well as its highly regarded line of barrel-aged beers, almost all of which are sold in 22-ounce bottles.
"We will run the tap room until it's not possible to do so anymore," Hess says of the last weeks in River North's current home. "We will be planning lots of fun events for the next two months, including limited bottle releases." The next one takes place this Saturday, August 29, at 1 p.m.