When Corey Marshall opens his second brewery on the fifth floor of the new Westin Hotel at Denver International Airport – possibly before the end of this year – the spot will hold two unusual distinctions: It will be one of the only breweries in the country located on an airport property, and it will be one of the only breweries situated so far off the ground, on the upper floors of a building.
So from the outset, the brewery — tentatively called Tom’s Urban Kitchen & Brewery, although that could change — will be “a monster challenge,” says Marshall, who co-founded Tivoli Brewing in 2012 and will manage the beer side of airport brewery as well. “But it’s worth it. It will definitely be a journey, but we are excited to see where that journey takes us.”
Tivoli Brewing is part of a business partnership that won the rights earlier this month to operate a 9,500-square-foot brewpub at the Westin; that partnership, called MCE-DIA, consists of Michigan’s Midfield Concession Enterprises, which runs numerous airport concessions around the country; Denver-based Consumer Concept Group, which founded the Smashburger chain and the Tom’s Urban Diner group; the Roasting Plant, an East Coast coffee chain; and Tivoli, one of Denver’s youngest breweries.
MCE-DIA beat out four other well-qualified groups for the contract — groups that included Great Divide Brewing, Wynkoop Brewing, Oskar Blues and Boulder Beer Company, which are some of Colorado’s oldest and biggest beer makers. Several city council members, as well as the heads of Wynkoop and Great Divide, raised questions about the fairness and transparency of the bidding process after MCE-DIA won. In the end, though, the contract was approved almost unanimously.
MCE-DIA will be charged with running the brewpub (which takes its name from the Tom’s Urban concept), two Smashburger/bars inside concourses B and C, and a coffee shop in DIA’s new light-rail station. Together, the four locations make up the largest food-and-beverage contract that DIA has ever awarded and are expected to generate $18.5 million in the first year, including $3.2 million for the City of Denver.
But Tivoli's part of this deal is to figure out how to build the brewery on the fifth floor and then to make a signature beer that will only be served at DIA. To do that, Marshall has some work ahead of him. “What will define this system will be our ability to move things in and out of that space,” he explains. “You can’t put in a massive brewing system, because you don’t have room. So from a design standpoint, we need to dig deep and understand the logistics and storage requirements.”
Breweries need a way to get large amounts of heavy malted barley in and out of their facilities, to store tanks weighing thousands of pounds, and to handle significant amounts of drainage, as well as heavy water and power requirements. That’s difficult enough when a brewery is on the ground floor, but it will be made much harder by elevators, the lack of a back alley and the presence of hundreds of hotel guests.
Although the details haven’t been finalized, Marshall says MCE-DIA is considering the installation of a small, three-barrel brewing system – one that is very similar to two that Tivoli already owns and operates; one of those is a pilot system inside its existing brewery in the Auraria Student Union building, and the other is located in a classroom setting on campus, where students use it for training. (Cigar City Brewing operates the only in-airport brewery in the country at Tampa International; it uses a 1.5-barrel system there that keeps one airport-brewed beer on tap at all times.)
Tivoli got its start in 2012 when Marshall and his wife, Debbie, who had bought up several historic but expired old Denver brewery trademarks, including those for Tivoli and Zang’s, began brewing updated versions of these German-style lagers at Prost Brewing in Denver, which also specializes in German beers.
Then, in 2014, Tivoli announced that it would open its own 8,000-square-foot brewery and tap room inside the Tivoli Student Union, which is where the original Tivoli brewery – and its predecessors — had operated between 1900 and 1969, when it closed. The new Tivoli's thirty-barrel brewhouse (along with the pilot system) was installed right beside and below the two original Tivoli 250-barrel copper-plated brew kettles (which are now purely decorative). Consumer Concept group was hired to run the kitchen, which is how the companies first came into contact.
As part of that deal, Metropolitan State University of Denver, which is a partner in the $7 million project, is using the brewery to help train students in its Hospitality, Tourism and Events program on brewery management, marketing and operations.
And the students will be very involved in the airport brewery as well, Marshall says, especially when it comes to designing an airport-specific beer.
When DIA issued its request of proposals on the brewpub project, it told potential bidders that the winner would be required to brew at least one regular beer on site — a beer that will be served in multiple locations in the hotel and airport. Marshall says the beer will most likely be an IPA — which is something new for Tivoli since the brewery produces mostly light lagers — and that it will be formulated by students.
There will also be students working at the airport brewery — something that will be made easier by the planned opening of a light-rail line in April between the campus and DIA.
“For us, this is a fantastic opportunity to really highlight our brand and share it with Colorado and the rest of the nation, maybe even the world,” Marshall says. “It’s also a way to let people know about the history of Colorado beer and what we are all about from a brewing standpoint. There are lots of brewing roots here.”
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Although DIA approved the plan with the name Tom’s Urban Kitchen & Brewery, Marshall says “the final name is still under discussion with our partners.” Even if it stays as Tom’s, though, he says he’s “confident” that the Tivoli name will be prominent.
And even with 54 million people traveling through DIA each year, Marshall believes he will also see some Denver residents coming to visit who aren’t planning a flight.
“We want to make this a destination for Denver metro residents,” he says. “We hope to connect the historic Tivoli Brewery and the new brewery by commuter rail in a very purposeful way.… Since both will have large outdoor biergartens with fantastic views, creating a biergarten day by train is going to be a great experience, whether you are traveling or just enjoying the Denver craft-beer experience.”