Beer Man

New Belgium Is Canning Small-Batch Beers at Its Denver Pilot Brewery

The pilot brewery used its canning system for Kevin Smith's Mooby pop-up.
New Belgium Brewing at the Source
The pilot brewery used its canning system for Kevin Smith's Mooby pop-up.
When New Belgium Brewing launched a small enterprise in the deep space of Denver in 2018, the mission was to seek out new customers and establish a foothold. With a small, glassed-in space at the Source Hotel, the plan was to make experimental and barrel-aged beers that the brewery could scale up in Fort Collins and serve at the Woods, the hotel's upscale rooftop restaurant.

But a lot has changed. In 2019, the mothership was purchased by the Kirin beer conglomerate, and in 2020, the pandemic hit, shuttering bars, restaurants and breweries across the country. Now, halfway through 2021, New Belgium's little Denver pilot project is still out there, but its continuing mission has changed, and the two brewers who operate it will need to find a way to connect with the city and find new life on their own.

"We kind of pivoted, and now we are more of a standalone entity trying to be more Colorado-centric," says brewer Isaac Koski, who runs the ten-barrel system at the Source Hotel with fellow brewer Hal Doss. "But we realized we needed to come up with a better way to build revenue and have it work for us. ... We saw what was happening around can sales and figured that was the only way we were going to survive."

click to enlarge The ten-barrel system at the Source Hotel. - NEW BELGIUM BREWING
The ten-barrel system at the Source Hotel.
New Belgium Brewing
During the pandemic, craft breweries were trying to figure out how to make ends meet on to-go sales alone — the result of restrictions that kept draft sales to a bare minimum. This was true at brewery taprooms as well as restaurants like the Woods and some of the pilot brewery's other customers, which include almost all of the restaurants inside the Source Hotel and the Source Market Hall next door, along with other eateries like Super Mega Bien, Work & Class, Brass Tacks and Sloan's Lake Tap & Burger.

Like dozens of other brewers in Colorado, Koski and Doss decided to buy a small canning machine — in this case, from Codi Manufacturing, a canning-line specialist in Golden. "We've done a few small runs," Doss reports, including some custom beers (Blunt Man Hazy IPA and Chronic Lager) for Mooby's, Kevin Smith's recent Clerks-themed fast-food pop-up in Denver, and Love Conquers Ale, a collaboration with Boston Beer Company.

But on July 9, New Belgium at the Source will release its first flagship beer, Queen City Haze, a New England-style IPA brewed with Citra and Galaxy hops, as well as Mosaic cryo-hops. Customers will be able to order it online and then pick it up at the brewery whenever Koski and Doss are around. "We'll throw out a banner, and there's a big garage door we can roll up that faces [Brighton Boulevard]," Doss says.

click to enlarge New Belgium's brewery has a garage door facing Brighton Boulevard. - THE SOURCE HOTEL
New Belgium's brewery has a garage door facing Brighton Boulevard.
The Source Hotel
After that, the brewers plan to release a new beer in a can once a month while they see how sales go. If they go well, they'll do more releases.

In addition, they're brewing plenty of draft-only beers for the Woods and other customers again. Some recent brews have included a strawberry guava sour, a dark lager, a West Coast-style IPA, a German helles and Sunshine Wheat, a small-batch version of one of New Belgium's now-discontinued flagships. "We have had full tanks for the past few weeks. In fact, we can't make enough beer," Doss says.

"We have autonomy on what we make, so we kind of do our own thing," Koski adds. They also do every other job at the brewery, including can and keg sales and delivery and sourcing of raw materials — though that typically involves a trip to Fort Collins. "It's just like a small brewery," he says, "but we can get good hops."