Coors Field may be celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, but it's still not as old and grizzled as the Wynkoop Brewing Company, which will turn 27 this fall. And although the famous brewery helped create both the vibrant Lower Downtown neighborhood and Denver's craft-brewing scene, its age is beginning to show in places.
“We are an integrated part of downtown, but we've also become the old guy on the block,” says Jon Hanke, the Wynkoop's brand new sales director, referring to the influx of new craft breweries into the city over the past four years. (There were eight breweries in Denver at the start of 2011; we'll hit sixty by the end of 2015.) “We want to build on the tradition of the Wynkoop and take it to the next level.”
As a result, the Wynkoop plans to update and upgrade its brewing system and to leverage its ties to the much larger Breckenridge Brewery – both beer makers are owned by Breckenridge-Wynkoop Holdings – to sell more of its beer in a competitive market.
Hanke, who was hired in December, was recently joined by Wayne Burns, the former head brewer at Denver's Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery, who is now the director of brewery operations at the Wynkoop. Burns won't be brewing on a day-to-day basis; rather, he'll oversee the packaging, scheduling and production. Current brewers Greg Moore, Bess Dougherty and Charles McManus will make all the beer. Burns, who also has experience with the Mountain Sun group, will implement new quality-control standards and a lab to help with quality and consistency.
Before Hanke and Burns were hired, former Wynkoop head brewer Andy Brown was overseeing sales, brewing and packaging; Brown recently left to start his own cidery, C-Squared, which will be located alongside Bierstadt Lagerhause in RiNo.
But change may take some time.
The first step will take place after Breckenridge Brewery opens its $20 million, twelve-acre brewery and restaurant in Littleton. The Wynkoop can brew beer at Breck's facility because the two companies have what's called an “alternating proprietorship.” The agreement, which is permitted by both state and federal liquor law-enforcement agencies, allows one brewery to temporarily take over the space and equipment at another facility.
The Wynkoop has already been brewing and packaging on a limited basis at Breck's existing headquarters on Kalamath Street, but the move will give the smaller brewery the opportunity to make and can a greater quantity of its core lineup, which includes Railyard Ale, Mile High Pale Ale, Colorojo Imperial Red, and Belgorado, a Belgian IPA. In fact, Hanke says, the Wynkoop will have two 100-barrel tanks dedicated to just its beer at Breckenridge's new farm-like facility.
Then, next year, the Wynkoop would like to replace its original brewing system with a brand-new one. Although it would be the same size – roughly twenty barrels – the upgrade would allow for a more efficient, more consistent operation. “Our brewing system is held together with duck tape and chewing gum,” Hanke says. “I give Greg and Bess and Charles the utmost credit for what they do.”
If everything goes according to plan, the Wynkoop will also restructure the way it handles sales of its kegs and cans to local accounts in the Denver area, scaling back for a while before ramping up and expanding its footprint in the metro area, according to Hanke.
A longtime beer salesman, Hanke has worked for American Eagle, a northern Colorado distributor, as well as for AB-InBev in various locations in Colorado.