Todd Baldwin won’t pretend he’s not nervous. The owner of Red Leg Brewing in Colorado Springs is getting ready to open a new $8 million, 14,000-square-foot brewery, music venue and outdoor shipping-container food hall near Garden of the Gods — in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“A six-figure monthly payment for twenty years — that will put a lot of fear into you to make something work,” he says with a laugh. “So don’t get me wrong. I’m scared.”
But Baldwin, a U.S. Army veteran, is also confident — really confident — that the project will not only be good for his seven-year-old business, but for Colorado Springs as a whole. “The community culture is really changing — the culinary scene, the brewery scene. People move down here — sometimes from Denver and Fort Collins — and they are surprised. The shift has been fun to watch. Now it’s our turn to jump in and move the peg a notch up.”
Colorado Springs has always had a place on the map when it comes to craft brewing. John Hickenlooper and his partners started Phantom Canyon Brewing there in 1993, while Bristol Brewing, a beer pioneer statewide, has continued to grow, lead and evolve since it opened in 1994. Jumping ahead to 2008, Jason Yester started Trinity Brewing (which he sold last month), bringing even more relevance to the city.
In the early 2010s, the Springs saw a wave of new taprooms — a trend that mirrored the rest of the state. They included Fossil Brewery, Nano 108, Storybook Brewing, FH Beerworks and Smiling Toad Brewing. A second wave began a few years later and included the likes of Cerberus Brewing, Metric Brewing, Goat Patch Brewing, Local Relic, Lost Friend, Brass Brewing and Atrevida Beer Company, among others.
But 2020 — despite COVID-19 — is set to be one of the biggest years yet for the city’s brewery scene, and not just because of the number of breweries, but because of their depth.
“Colorado Springs has always been behind Denver and Fort Collins, not just with the number of breweries, but when it came to experimentation and maturation, things like that,” says Pikes Peak Brewing owner Chris Wright. “But now I'm seeing a maturity in the market. Several of us are opening second locations. And the quality is going up, especially from the smaller breweries, and that helps the entire market a lot.”
Pikes Peak, which was founded in the nearby town of Monument in 2011, will open its second location, Pikes Peak Brewing Lager House, this weekend in a new market in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. The $1.5 million brewery will specialize in wood-aged lagers and boast a 2,500-square-foot rooftop patio.
The brewery will put Colorado Springs right on top of one of this year's biggest craft-beer trends, the rebirth of small-batch lagers; the wood-aging portion makes Pikes Peak even more unusual. "Not a lot of people are doing it," Wright says. "Lagers are under-represented, so this seemed really exciting to me."
Across the street from the Lager House, another new brewery is planning to open later this year. Red Swing Brewhouse will take the place of FH Beerworks, which expanded to a larger location last year. And a few blocks away, a third new brewery, Mash Mechanix, is also getting ready to open in September.
With four other breweries within a six-block radius, the area could take on the feel of Denver's RiNo district when it comes to the population of breweries, Wright says. While COVID-19 may make things difficult in the immediate future, Wright believes breweries will be able to survive.
But these additions are far from the only ones planned for Colorado Springs.
Last fall, WeldWerks Brewing in Greeley dropped a bomb on the Colorado beer scene by announcing that it would open a new taproom (this one without a brewery) in a former Colorado Springs diner. WeldWerks has become one of the biggest names in Colorado over the past four years as it raked in awards, accolades and fans from around the country, all of whom are chasing some of the best New England-style IPAs and pastry stouts around.
"There is something about Colorado Springs for us that touches the same nerve and includes all of the things that we love about Greeley," WeldWerks marketing director Jake Goodman said at the time. "It's family-based, it's up-and-coming, and we just really love the vibe of the place. We know and love the already-established Colorado Springs breweries and are looking forward to joining their ranks. We want our presence to help continually shine a light on a great community.”
Several other recent and upcoming changes are further shaking up the scene. Smiling Toad Brewery, founded in 2013, closed its original taproom at 1757 Eighth Street and reopened at 2028 Sheldon Avenue after a hiatus of several months; the new OCC Brewing plans to open soon at 2316 West Colorado Avenue; and the five-year-old Whistle Pig Brewing, at 1840 Dominion Way, is planning a second location with more production at 2107 Templeton Gap Road. Two breweries have also closed this year: Iron Bird Brewing in May, and C.B. & Potts in July (along with all of the company's other Colorado brewpubs).
Red Leg's Baldwin also points to the quality of the beer in Colorado Springs going up in the past two years, along with new city zoning rules that have helped breweries grow and flourish.
"It's important to raise the bar," he notes, pointing to the four Great American Beer Festival medals that Colorado Springs took home over the past two years — after a three-year shutout. One of those medals was a silver for Red Leg's Howitzer Amber (many of the brewery's beer names are military-themed).
Baldwin points to Pikes Peak Brewing, Cerberus Brewing and Goat Patch as being among the beer makers in town that are really trying to push things to the next level, noting that "there's not many of us who are older than five years, and some of us are trying to take the next step. It's not good enough to be good. We want to be great."
Bristol Brewing helped the cause a lot in 2013 when it expanded into the century-old former Ivywild School building, along with a restaurant, delicatessen, bakery, coffee shop and cocktail bar.
Before that, breweries had been limited to manufacturing districts within the city, Baldwin says. "So they broke down the doors that had restricted a lot of opportunity. It really helped the city reframe things."
When Red Leg Brewing opens its new campus sometime this fall, it may reframe things again. With plenty of square footage, the brewery will be able to increase from 2,500 to 7,500 barrels a year (the brewery also supplies military bases in Colorado and in surrounding states). But more important, Baldwin says, it will help change the beer culture in Colorado Springs from good to great.
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