Beer Man

Brewability Lab Opens Saturday With Beer and a Special Mission

Tiffany Fixter doesn’t know what to expect when she opens Brewability Lab tomorrow inside Caution Brewing’s old space in east Denver. She has a brand-new brewer, an eager staff of developmentally disabled adults working the bar, and a location in a mostly industrial neighborhood off the freeway.

The goal of the brewery is to provide training and jobs in the brewing and hospitality industry for adults with developmental disabilities. It’s a gamble. But some things are worth the effort.

“I really don’t know what it is going to be like,” says Fixter, a longtime special-needs teacher in Kansas and Colorado who got the idea for Brewability Lab, at 12445 East 39th Avenue, nearly three years ago. “We will see how the neighborhood takes it. Will people come on the weekends, or will we be a happy-hour spot on weekdays? Who will come in? I want people with and without disabilities to be our customers.”

She will find out soon enough, as the brewery plans to be open every day to start with, though some days will be limited. (Caution, which still runs its Lakewood location, was only open three days a week.)

To get things off the ground, Fixter successfully ran a Kickstarter campaign that raised $32,000; then, she began working with Grandma's House brewery in Denver to train some future employees. But earlier this year, Fixter discovered that Caution Brewing owner Danny Wang was selling his original location — lock, stock and barrel — a small, turnkey spot that was too good to refuse for Fixter.

Over the past few months, Fixter has been working to get things up and running. She lost her brewer a few months ago, but welcomed a new one, Tanner Schneller, six weeks ago. Schneller is still getting used to the five-barrel system (originally used by Odell Brewing to make its iconic 5 Barrel Pale Ale), but has gotten some help from Wang and the rest of the Caution Brewing staff, as well as Laura Bruns from Factotum.

When it opens, the brewery will have a session IPA, a brown ale, a blonde ale and a Belgian pale. “They are pretty straightforward,” says Schneller, who worked previously at Kannah Creek Brewing in Grand Junction and Barnett & Son Brewing in Parker. “It’s easier to start off that way with a new system.” Eventually, Fixter and Schneller hope to have six regular beers on tap, as well as two rotating beers.

As for her staff, Fixter has four developmentally disabled crew members who will do everything from clean glasses to work the bar to assist on brew days. “Before I hired them, I put them through a test to make sure they could lift 55-pound bags, to find out their range of motion and other skills,” she says.

“Each one has a different skill set. Some are social, some are not. I push each person to try each job just to see how they do. But they have to be able to perform the functions of their job. I am not going to hire someone to just sit there and be a mascot. That is not appropriate,” she adds.

The Brewability Lab will celebrate its grand-opening party on Saturday, October 22, starting at 2 p.m. There will be food from Johno's Food Truck and Spooked Rabbit Waffles; music from The One and Only Jon Ham, Rick Newell's band, @p-Nuckle; a silent disco and numerous local brewers in attendance. 
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes