Boulder’s new-brewery scene was quiet for the majority of 2016. While existing powerhouses like Avery Brewing, Twisted Pine, Boulder Beer and Upslope all made news, no new breweries opened their doors during the first eleven months of the year. The most recent had been Vision Quest Brewery, which kicked things off in east Boulder in December 2015.
The scene picked up at the end of 2016, however, with the debut of Kettle & Spoke Brewery on December 2 and Cellar West Artisan Ales a few weeks later. This year, there will be at least two more brewery openings — that of Gunbarrel Brewing, at 7088 Winchester Circle, and Beyond the Mountain Brewing, at 6035 Longbow Drive. (A plan from Upslope Brewing to open an 11,000-square-foot brewery and restaurant at 34th Street and Valmont Road has been delayed at least until 2018 and perhaps longer.)
But the pace of new brewery openings in Boulder as compared to openings in other Colorado cities is still pretty slow, especially for a town that helped define Colorado’s craft-brewing scene over the past four decades.
The reason for that is “obvious,” says Marie Fox, who plans to open Gunbarrel Brewing with her husband, Jamie, this spring. “The barrier to entry in Boulder is very high. Real estate is exceedingly expensive, and there is very little of it.” The city requires breweries to be located in areas that are zoned for industrial uses, and there aren’t many empty buildings in those areas. The Foxes searched for three years to find a big enough space that also had parking and room for an outdoor patio.
They got what they wanted, though: Gunbarrel will be in a 20,000-square-foot warehouse close to where the Foxes live, and they are putting in a 3,200-square-foot taproom with plenty of seating and games, along with a patio. The rest of the space will be reserved for a ten-barrel brewhouse and canning and bottling equipment — with lots and lots of room to grow.
“Every brewer we have ever met said, ‘Space, space space — you can’t have enough of it.’ So we listened to them,” Marie says. Jamie, who has extensive home-brewing experience and an education in Brewing Technology from the world-renowned Seibel Institute, plans to make a wide variety of beers, including barrel-aged varieties as well as sour and wild ales.
Patrick Mulcahy and Paul Sink took the opposite approach at Kettle & Spoke. Located inside a building that also houses the Green Guru, a shop that makes and sells environmentally friendly and upcycled bike gear, and Front Range Cargo Bikes, a specialty bike shop, Kettle & Spoke operates on a one-barrel home-brewing system in a twelve-foot-by-fourteen-foot room.
Open Thursdays through Sundays, the taproom itself and patio are a little bigger; each can fit about twenty people. “All three businesses are co-mingling right now, helping to sustain each other,” says Mulcahy, who has a full-time job as a geologist. “Hopefully, three to five years down the road, we can show investors that we are profitable, and we can grow some more.
Mulcahy had originally planned to open a regular taproom a few years ago, but discovered that he couldn’t find an affordable space and so put the plan on hold. The new setup works, though, he says. Catering to cyclists — you get $1 off a pint if you arrive by bicycle — Kettle & Spoke is family-, dog- and kid-friendly. “We are Boulder-friendly,” he stresses.
Then there is Cellar West Artisan Ales, which opened just before the new year in a small space at 1001 Lee Hill Road. Focused on oak-barrel-fermented wild ales made with Brettanomyces yeast, the brewery is former Sanitas Brewing co-owner Zach Nichols’s passion project.
“There are a lot of great breweries in Boulder, but no one who is specifically focused on barrel fermentation,” Nichols told Westword late last year. “I’m fascinated by what goes on inside those barrels. It’s very complex.” Nichols will actually brew his beer at Wild Woods Brewing, where he and the owners share a Wisconsin heritage. From there, he will truck the wort (unfermented beer) to his own facility and inoculate it with a blend of Brettanomyces that he developed himself.
So far, the brewery has limited hours, but it has already released several bottles, including Westfield Oak Fermented Saison and God's Eye Wild Porter With Blackberries.
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And finally, there is Beyond the Mountain Brewing, at 6035 Longbow Drive, which is also in the Gunbarrel neighborhood of Boulder. “Born out of a mutual love for craft beer and live music,” according to its Facebook page, the brewery will operate with a ten-barrel brewing system and hopes to open sometime this summer; construction has already begun on its building.
Beyond the Mountain will have a rotating selection of beers; its slogan, Improvisational Ales, “reflects both our style of brewing new and creative beers and the style of music that inspires us,” the owners say — and that inspiration comes from jam rock and bluegrass. Appropriately, Beyond the Mountain will host monthly live-music nights.
The biggest question mark when it comes to the brewing scene in Boulder is whether or not Upslope Brewing will follow through with plans — revealed way back in the fall of 2015 — to open the aforementioned showcase brewpub in the S'Park development at 34th Street and Valmont Road.
A public-relations firm working with Upslope says the project is still on the books but "a bit on the distant horizon, meaning late 2018 at the earliest." As a result, the brewery will retain its original Lee Hill location, which it had earlier planned to close once the new facility opened.