Location, location....locations. Wayne Burns and Laura Worley have seen them all. A professional brewer for more than two decades, Burns has spent time in Michigan, at Kuhnhenn’s Brewing and Bell's Brewery, and, after moving to Colorado, at the Vine Street Pub & Brewery. In 2013, he and two friends founded Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery, but Burns left after a falling-out with his partners, taking jobs first at Wynkoop Brewing and then at Holidaily Brewing in Golden over the past three years. Worley, meanwhile, has worked at several restaurants and breweries, most recently as the taproom manager at Woods Boss Brewing in Denver.
Now the pair will try a new location — one with some baggage of its own — when they open Burns Family Artisan Ales at 2505 West Second Avenue, inside the former Wit's End Brewing space. Wit's End closed its doors on Saturday and will move its beer-making operation inside Strange Craft Beer Company.
"There's always a bit of push and pull when it comes to location," Burns says. "On the one hand, you'd love to have a high-traffic, walkable location for your taproom." But those are typically expensive and often come with parking problems or other limitations. Then there are the out-of-the-way spots, like Wit's End, which have more space but are sometimes more difficult for customers to find and not as easy to get to.
And while Wit's End had a loyal clientele since opening in 2011, it suffered by being situated in an industrial business park. In fact, the space, which also lacked air conditioning or much parking, may have been part of the reason that the brewery closed, especially as it faced competition from a wave of new beer makers.
But Burns and Worley plan to operate on a different business model than Wit's End. In addition to running a taproom with a wide variety of beers on tap, they will package and sell a line of high-alcohol beers — like barleywines, imperial stouts, old ales and Belgian trippels and quads — that will all weigh in at above 10 percent ABV. "These are strong, cellar-able beers, flavorful, well-balanced, complex and interesting," Burns says. "Very few places do those kind of beers or do them very much, and we feel like it plays to strength that I have — and into a segment of the craft-beer market that is not well developed."
About half of the taps will feature classic styles like stout, IPA and kolsch, while the others will showcase high-gravity beers — the ones that will also be for sale in bottles.
"The beauty of doing high-gravity beer is that you don't need a ton of overhead in terms of space," Worley adds. "You can get product out the door and fill a market without a 40,000-square-foot facility."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But the two also believe that they are "primed for success" by inheriting the equipment — and hopefully some of the customers — that Wit's End founder Scott Witsoe nurtured over the years. Witsoe, a genuinely nice person, had a reputation for making creative, solid beers, they say.
Witsoe says he's known Burns and Worley for a few years. "I've always liked Wayne and have a lot of respect for his skill as a brewer. When they got involved in the conversation with me about the space, their passion reminded me of how I felt before opening Wit's End. This was so compelling to me, and we fast tracked the discussion to get them in the space," he explains.
"They have some great ideas on the types of beers they're going to be brewing, and some of their higher alcohol bottled beer should be a huge hit. My advice to them, as is the same to anyone who asks my opinion, is to be yourself. Do what makes sense to you and is genuine. I think the biggest challenge for any new business owner, in any industry for that matter, is the temptation to try to be all things to all people. I think having a unique and personal perspective, and going with that, is the best approach one can do to distinguish themselves," he adds.
Burns and Worley, who will also do some of the brewing, will take over the space on Friday, December 1, and begin redecorating. "We aren't going to make dramatic changes, but we want to make it our own," Worley says. Then they will begin the process of applying for various licenses and permits, which is likely to take them into the spring. They hope to open their doors as soon as possible, but not too soon: "We want to open with beers that are well done from day one," says Worley. "That's important."