Your first hint that there's something different about Jade Mountain Brewery & Teahouse, at 4233 South Buckley Road in Aurora, is the paper lanterns hanging on the patio, each printed with the Chinese word for alcohol. Then there’s the dream-like inkwash mural of a Chinese town that dances across one entire wall inside the brewery, and the peaceful fountain in a corner. Even so, it's the beers that truly stand out, most brewed with rice in addition to barley, as well as ingredients like dragonfruit, Sichuan peppercorns, plum and green tea.
Across the metro area, Wah Gwaan Brewing, at 925 West Eighth Avenue, is similarly eye-opening. Its brightly colored facade teases at the lush murals inside, which depict Jamaican people, faces and ideas. The bar is striking as well, a smooth wooden surface with a turquoise river running through the middle, symbolizing the indigenous Jamaican people’s word for their island, Xaymaca, which means “land of wood and water.” The beers here have a tropical feel, incorporating such island fruits as coconut, jackfruit, pomegranate and coffee.
Jade Mountain, which opened in May, and Wah Gwaan, which rolled up its garage doors for the first time on June 19, are examples of something fairly new at Colorado breweries: the inclusion of people and cultures not typically associated with craft beer — or even the American brewing industry in general, which is primarily ingrained with German, Eastern European and English traditions.
The owners of both breweries chose this path on purpose, embracing their diverse backgrounds, their heritages and their passions — and they’ve been delighted at what have been very warm receptions.
“I got a little emotional sometimes,” says Harsha Maragh, who created Wah Gwaan (in the former Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project location) with her husband, Jesse Brown. “Because people kept telling me how much they loved the space and the artwork, and how they were impressed by how good the beers were.”
Maragh’s parents are Jamaican immigrants to the U.S. who can trace their ancestry from the East Indian families that immigrated to the island in the 1800s and helped create an unusual blended culture there. With Wah Gwaan — a Jamaican phrase that means “What’s going on?”— Maragh hopes to extend that culture to Denver by way of beer, music, artwork, food pop-ups and good vibes for people of every background.
Inclusivity is also Jade Mountain founder Sean Guerrero's goal. In fact, “blending culture” is the brewery’s tagline, a play on words when it comes to both diversity — Guerrero is of Hispanic descent, while his wife is Chinese — and the concept of brewing with yeast.
A Denver-area native, Guerrero took an unusual path to brewery ownership. After being unable to find a brewery job or internship locally, he and his wife moved to her hometown in China, where Guerrero opened a brewery in a former teahouse — and learned to speak Mandarin along the way. When they returned to Denver after three years, he brought his newfound love of Chinese culture, language, food and traditions with him.
That experience allowed him to think differently about beer than most people. "I want to be innovative without being pretentious," Guerrero explains. "And I want my beers to be approachable for everyone, even if they are different."
At Jade Mountain, Guerrero says his favorite thing is to watch people's faces as they try one of his experimental creations — a thick, 33 percent rice beer pumped up with four kinds of fruit, for example, or Sour Happoshu, a lower-alcohol beer that is both sweet and sour and made with mango, vanilla, oat milk and lactose. Jade Mountain also serves "hard teas," which are tea-infused seltzers, and traditional teas. A snack wall offers treats and knickknacks from a variety of Asian countries, including instant ramen and udon noodles, spiced pepper jerky, and Pocky and Hello Panda candies.
"I didn't just want to have a normal brewery that happens to use Asian ingredients. There is more to it than that," he says. "I wanted to do this my own way."
Despite their vastly different cultural backgrounds, this fall both breweries will participate in Suave Fest, a festival that highlights Latino, Hispanic and Caribbean breweries and has become a touchpoint to highlight the growing number of Colorado beer makers with minority ownership. Hosted by Raíces Brewing, Suave Fest will take place on September 18.
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