Beer Man

Blue Moon Moves Forward With River North Brewery and Restaurant

There’s a new experimental brewery and restaurant heading to River North next year, one that plans to push boundaries when it comes to technique, style and ingredients. The brewers there have many decades’ worth of experience between them, having made everything from Belgian wits to Bavarian pilsners to American IPAs, and they’ll be free to get creative on two different systems.

The brewery? Blue Moon, the Coors-owned company that began its life inside Coors Field in 1995 and has since become a nationwide juggernaut, one that is both criticized for pretending to be an independent craft brewery (no mention of Coors on its labels) and credited for opening up people’s palates to new flavors twenty years ago.

Blue Moon, which still operates the Blue Moon Brewery at the Sandlot inside the stadium, first announced its intentions to open a brewery at 1910 38th Street last April, but recently offered up a few more details of what the operation — located in Denver’s hippest, most densely populated brewery district — will look like.

For starters, the 27,000-square-foot space will probably be evenly split between the brewery and the restaurant — Blue Moon’s first real foray into food service (the restaurant at the Sandlot at Coors Field is operated by Aramark, which operates all of the food service there).

“Beer pairs so much better with food, so we are really looking forward to being able to work with a chef on that,” says John Legnard, who runs the Coors Field location. He and Blue Moon founder Keith Villa host thirty to forty beer dinners at restaurants across the country every year, so it will be nice to have a home location, he adds.

On the brewing side, Blue Moon is buying a twenty-barrel brewing system and several forty- and sixty-barrel fermenters that it will use to supply the restaurant and tap room. It will also have a small, two-barrel system for even more experimentation. “I think people would be surprised by how much experimentation Blue Moon does,” Legnard says, adding that there may even be a barrel-aging program. And whatever Blue Moon makes at the new spot, customers will be able to take it with them in growlers, as they can at most of the independent breweries around town.

Legnard says he thinks the place will include a total of twenty to thirty tap lines, along with a stage for live music and an outdoor patio area. Will all of those tap lines be Coors products? Legnard isn't sure yet, but the location will be able to serve beers from other breweries if it wants to, since it has a brewpub license.

And while River North is already a primary destination for both local beer drinkers and beer-loving tourists, he says the addition of Blue Moon and its “nationwide” recognition will drive even more people to the neighborhood. That will be made easier because the address is close to the highway, a light rail stop and the bike path along the South Platte River. Legnard and Villa first began thinking about a RiNo location in 2013, which is also when they first toured the building on 38th Street, a former plumbing equipment distribution company and warehouse.

The Brewery at the Sandlot, meanwhile, will stay open inside Coors Field and return to its focus of making German-inspired lagers. Its lease there will last as long as Coors has naming rights to the ballpark. "They're not going to close the most award-winning brewery of the Great American Beer Festival," Legnard says; the Sandlot has won about 45 medals at GABF over twenty years.

He adds that the new brewery will take a lot of pressure off of the stadium brewery, which has been operating as Blue Moon's incubator and pilot system, creating new test beers, some of which are later turned into nationwide offerings from Blue Moon. One of the most recent of these was a white IPA that was developed at the Sandlot. This summer, Blue Moon plans to offer a Belgian table pilsner across the country that was first developed at the Sandlot.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

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