Chris Bell was inspired as a kid growing up in the Big Apple. The Call to Arms Brewing founder fondly recalls visiting Rolf’s German Restaurant in Gramercy Park. “It was crazy,” Bell says. The gaudy but impressive holiday display at that restaurant served as the basis for Call to Arms’ Big Holiday Energy blowout. “I had talked to [Porch Collective’s] Tristan Chan about it in October 2021. People were starting to go inside again, but then Omicron took off,” Bell explains. “I’m really glad I didn’t do it [last year]. Tristan said I should take my time and do it this year instead.”
Planning began for the holiday buildout in July, with a budget and events list. “We started by saying, if we had all the money and time in the world, this is what we would do,” says Bell. “And as we got closer, we kind of said some things aren’t as important or some things are too much, and we reeled it in.”
Months of planning, hundreds of hours of work and thousands of dollars resulted in what is very likely Colorado’s most extravagant holiday brewery display and celebration. Throughout December, the first customer in the taproom each day gets to bust open the corresponding date on a giant advent calendar. The customer wins a prize, like glassware, personal discounts or sometimes even daily discounts that apply to all customers.
One-off events are happening as well. A hot chocolate station will be available December 17-18. Holiday movies will play throughout the month, with side opportunities like drinking from Moose Mugs made famous in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Pictures with Santa (December 18), a multi-faceted “Funky Christmas” event on December 16 and a Krampus Christmas Party on December 17 round out the busy month.
The initial results are promising. “The early reception has been great,” says Bell. “People are blown away.” The first Thursday, on December 1, was a very busy day, then Friday was even busier; the brewery was standing room only. On Saturday, Call to Arms was unable to accommodate everyone who wanted to visit. The puppy yoga adoption event that day also resulted in new homes for three dogs.
Part of the early success was due to what Bell calls a happy accident. The team had the entire month of social media planned out, but as Bell was shooting a video late one night, he took a single photo of the bar, posting it on his social media. When he woke up the next morning, the post had 600 likes. The early buzz was building.
Call to Arms has had a number of viral videos, especially video reels (the brewery was an early adopter of TikTok). “We have a lot of engagement on social media,” says Bell, who plans the reels himself. “I love coming up with content. Making people laugh is similar to making beer. It’s a passion project. You don’t necessarily make a lot of money. It feels good to serve somebody a beer that you spent a month and a half creating.”
All of the materials for the bar display were ordered on November 1, after the brewery’s graphic designer had settled on the look and feel. “Shea, our taproom manager, took an entire day to order everything," Bell notes. “We stored everything at an Amazon fulfillment center; we shipped it in huge boxes.” The team reused many of the boxes by wrapping them into gifts for decorations as a way to minimize waste. It took the better part of three days to set up the entire production, and the brewery had to shut down for two of those days.
Call to Arms has worked hard to build a reputation for quality beer and a fun atmosphere. This year will likely mark its highest production to date, though it's still very much a small neighborhood brewery. Plans are already in place to expand the holiday setup for next year, including more fun events and some outdoor components.
As for taking everything down? “We’ll spend January doing that,” says Bell with a laugh. “We’ll need a storage unit so we can be ready for next year.”
Call to Arms Brewing is located at 4526 Tennyson Street and is open from 3 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit calltoarmsbrewing.com.