When the brewery taproom explosion began in Denver in 2010, it was started by brewers who didn’t want to serve food in the traditional brewpub model and who didn’t need to package their beer to stay in business. Before that, craft-beer makers had always chosen either one or the other as their business model.
Over the next eight years, dozens of breweries in Denver and hundreds more throughout the state opened using that same blueprint, and they created a culture along with it — a relaxed atmosphere that was more like a coffee shop than a restaurant. Visitors could pop in for a quick beer or stay for a whole session. Unlike at a restaurant, they could change tables, join up with others and leave whenever they wanted.
But food is important when you’re drinking, so many of the taprooms developed relationships with food trucks, offering just about every kind of cuisine imaginable.
But the time has come to evolve, say Kevin McCrossin and Justin Martinez, who recently signed a lease at 205 East Seventh Avenue, in the food-centric stretch of the Governor's Park neighborhood.
The two will open Counter Culture Brewing next spring. And although the term "counterculture" is normally used to describe anti-establishment movements (think of those social upheavals of the 1960s), in this case it refers to an actual counter where people will be able to order lunch or dinner from the brewery's small kitchen.
"My experience has been that brewpubs are too food-focused," McCrossin says. "The beer often becomes an afterthought...but taprooms created a whole different environment. We want that taproom environment, but we want food involved. And we’re going to make good food. ... We think that will give us an advantage."
There are now nearly 400 breweries in the state, and competition is steep; several breweries have closed or have changed owners in the past two years. That's why McCrossin and Martinez want to do something a little different. "I think there is going to be another bridge to this," Martinez says, adding that taproom culture is evolving. "And I think we are going to be a part of it."
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The two first met fifteen years ago when they both worked at the Mountain Sun Brewery in Boulder. Over the years, they have both remained in the industry. McCrossin most recently worked as a taproom manager at the Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project, while Martinez was with Denver Beer Tours.
Both had always wanted to open their own place, so they got together a few years ago to start working on that plan. Are they late to the game? Possibly, but Martinez says they've found the right neighborhood and the right formula to make them successful. "Breweries used to be destinations. Now they fill neighborhood niches. We don't have to be the big guy."
McCrossin and Martinez have purchased a ten-hectoliter brewhouse (about 8.5 barrels) on which they will make a wide variety of beers. Since they plan to hire a professional brewer, however, they're going to wait until that person is found before they nail down a beer menu. Still, they’d like to have two or three hoppy options on at all times.
The kitchen will include a wood grill, and it will have to be small; their entire space is only 2,000 square feet. Everything at Counter Culture will be made from scratch, something that will be important in a three-block stretch of Seventh Avenue that includes at least a dozen popular eating and drinking options, from Lala's Wine Bar + Pizzeria and Govnr's Park Tavern to Tacos Tequila Whiskey, Racines, Benny's Restaurant and Cantina, and four of chef Frank Bonanno's stalwarts: Mizuna, Bones, Luca and Vesper Lounge.