Next Stop Brew Company, which began its journey in 2017 as the Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project, will close its doors for good on May 30. It is the fourth Colorado brewery to go out of business since the coronavirus pandemic began. The others are Veterans Brothers Brewing in Johnstown, Iron Bird Brewing in Colorado Springs, and Gorilla Alchemy Brewing in Fort Lupton.
But Next Stop's turbulence had as much to do with its ongoing effort to change its name and its business model over the past few months in an intensely competitive craft-beer market as it did with the coronavirus shutdowns that have limited breweries, bars and restaurants to takeout and delivery service since mid-March.
"With us needing to grow on both the distribution side and the taproom side, it would have been a challenge to stay open under normal circumstances," says head brewer and co-owner Andrew Moore. "But with all of the challenges of going forward now in a different and uncertain world...we know we made the right decision."
Last August, Moore and co-owners Ben Gettinger and Nick Fredman announced that they planned to rebrand Intrepid Sojourner as Next Stop, sell the taproom at 925 West Eighth Avenue and switch entirely to canning and distribution of its unusual travel-themed herb- and spice-flavored beers. That taproom had simply been a project, Gettinger said at the time, adding, "We wanted to test out beers and see what people liked. But our business plan was always to have a packaging brewery and distribute to as many states as possible."
It was a strategy that flew in the face of conventional wisdom: Before the pandemic, any small and medium-sized breweries had responded to competition on store shelves, especially in supermarkets, by opening second or third taprooms, including Odell Brewing, New Belgium, Bruz Beers and WeldWerks.
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Moore acknowledges that Next Stop had trouble getting traction as a result of that competition — and a preference for local beers — and had only lined up a distributor in one other state, Wyoming. In addition, the competition for shelf space was absolutely brutal and appears to be getting even more cutthroat.
Since the brewery had committed to giving up its lease this August, however, and since the location had always been a difficult one — with little parking or neighborhood access — the owners began to research the idea of opening a fine-dining-oriented brewpub to complement their beers, which include Istanbul, a stout made with Turkish coffee, cardamom and sweet orange peel; Bangkok, a Kolsch made with lemongrass and ginger; Rome, an IPA made with Italian basil; and the World Beer Cup medal-winning Smoked Hickory Peach Wee Heavy.
But then the pandemic hit. "With COVID, fine dining is going to take a lot longer to recover, we think," Moore says. "And there is a lot of uncertainty about what the real estate market is going to look like and what will happen to the restaurant and brewery scene. It's a crazy time, and it is only going to get crazier for a while."
Moore says he and Gettinger both plan to stay in Colorado, and Moore hopes to stay in the brewing industry — and would even consider opening another brewery or reopening Next Stop down the road. But the next few years are going to be difficult for the industry, he says. "Some have had the cash on hand to survive eight weeks of to-go sales, but when you add that to the summer of social distancing and a second wave of coronavirus in the fall or winter — which is the slow season anyway — you are going to see a lot of this happen."