Beer Man

Denver's Dive Bar Brewing Wants to Be the PBR of Craft Beer

Jonathan Shikes
Dive Bar Brewing is coming to a dive bar near you.
If you like light beers, then get ready to be thrilled. Or irritated. Or maybe just confused. Dive Bar Brewing is making a light American lager for Denver, and the owners will knock it out of your hand if you try to sniff it.

“The whole idea is to drink the beer your dad drank after he mowed the lawn,” says Tom Flanagan, a longtime marketing-industry specialist who has teamed up with three friends to start Dive Bar Brewing. “We want to be the PBR of the craft-beer industry. When they brought that beer back a few years ago, they understood the culture around their beer, and they rebuilt that brand to make it relevant again. It was genius.”

Dive Bar's beer, called Nice Dart American Lager, is modeled after PBR and the rest of the cheap, easy-drinking lager brands that are found in dive bars from coast to coast — the fizzy yellow brews that engender love but have also inspired two generations of craft brewers to reject the style for something completely different.

“If you were going for Budweiser, you nailed it,” one person wrote on Untappd, a beer tracking and rating app. It’s a comment that delights Flanagan and his three partners — Mark Douglas (the operations guy), Jeff Martin (the designer) and Adam Hunt (the brewer). At a low 4.8 percent ABV, Nice Dart was designed to go down cold, easy and without much thought.

“We don’t want people to focus on the beer they're drinking," Flanagan explains. "We want them to focus on the people they're hanging out with while they are drinking the beer."

They want it to be “craft,” meaning it's small and made locally, but without any of the trappings that come with the community or ideas around craft beer. They plan to “innovate around consumer needs and wants” rather than the “brewmaster’s desires,” and they don’t want anyone to talk about the beer while they're drinking it.

“We want to win over the person who says, ‘Fuck craft beer,’” Martin adds. “There’s a lot of opportunity to define this category. It's never bad to be new in a market that feels old."

Flanagan, Douglas and Martin got the idea for the brewery last summer while they were at a concert at Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton. “We were standing there in the July heat, and we were talking about how hard it was to drink more than one of their beers,” Flanagan recalls. So they decided to come up with an alternative, something they would want to drink a couple of on a hot day.

click to enlarge Adam Hunt (left), Mark Douglas, Jeff Martin and Tom Flanagan are Dive Bar Brewing. - DIVE BAR BEER
Adam Hunt (left), Mark Douglas, Jeff Martin and Tom Flanagan are Dive Bar Brewing.
Dive Bar Beer
“My go-to beer is Coors, but we wanted to come up with a beer that tasted more like Corona, something between Coors and a PBR,” Douglas says.

So they spent more than a year creating and designing a brand, an ethos and their slogans, which include “The Uncraft Craft Beer,” “Just Beer. Nothing Else,” and “An Honest Beer for an Honest Day’s Work.”

The name came from the team's favorite places to drink. “Dive bars are honest places that aren’t affected by trends or changes," Martin says. "We all grew up around dive bars as a community center, watching a game, connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. They are places that really allow people to talk."

Then, with Hunt’s help, they brewed and canned their first two batches of Nice Dart last spring at Halfpenny Brewing in Centennial. It sold well, both on tap and in cans in liquor stores. So in August, the group brewed a second batch — a much, much larger, one hundred-barrel batch — at Crazy Mountain Brewing’s Denver production facility. In other words, there are about 30,000 cans of Nice Dart coming your way.

They’re hoping to sell it to liquor stores, where a six-pack will retail for $8.99, and bars — dive bars, of course — where it will sell for $3.50 per can. That’s steeper than the price of an old-school dive-bar beer, but cheaper than most craft beers. Douglas says that one of the goals is to get the price point down, which is why they're brewing the beer in bulk.

The group doesn’t have any immediate plans to open a taproom like most local breweries, saying they want to test the market for their idea first. And they don’t plan to introduce any new “flavors” in the short term, saying they want to build up trust in Nice Dart first. But they do think they can grow their fan base quickly by reaching out to people who have craft-beer fatigue, to people who are sick of IPAs, and to women. "We need to succeed in Denver. If we can succeed here, we can succeed anywhere,” they say.

And Nice Dart will definitely remind you of a classic light lager, with its smooth, grainy flavor, its crisp mouthfeel and its healthy disregard for hops. It has a touch of sweetness to it and is slightly bolder than Bud or Coors.

“Most of the brewers we've talked to, almost every one of them had a surprised look on their face when they tasted it," Douglas says. "They say, ‘Oh, I could drink a lot of these.’”