Beer Man

No Brewery Opened in Denver in 2020 (2021 Will Be a Different Story)

Denver Beer Co. opened its second Denver taproom earlier this year.
Denver Beer Co. opened its second Denver taproom earlier this year. Denver Beer Co.
After a decade of frenzied openings that saw the number of craft breweries within Denver city limits rise from eight or nine in early 2010 to more than 75 by the end of 2019, not a single brewery with a Denver address opened in 2020. Meanwhile, six breweries in the city closed their doors last year.

But 2021 will be very, very different. Two breweries have already opened: Denver Beer Co.'s second Denver taproom (its third overall) on South Downing Street, and Odell Brewing's Sloan's Lake Taphouse, which is also this brewery's second Denver spot. And six more should open over the next few months, including Wah Gwaan Brewing, Cohesion Brewing, Smash Face Brewing, Danico Brewing and Ratio Beerworks, which will debut its second location inside the former Declaration Brewing spot on South Cherokee Street. A.C. Golden Brewing, a Coors subsidiary, will also unveil a branded taproom (but not a brewery) near Coors Field.

This city's beer scene is relatively young compared to those of some other cities, but it's already seen big turnover. While there have been craft breweries here since 1988, when Wynkoop Brewing opened, many of the older ones have closed. In fact, when Copper Kettle Brewing, Renegade Brewing and Denver Beer Co. all celebrate their tenth anniversaries later this summer, they will become some of Denver's old fogies. Only six or seven existing beer makers are older, including Great Divide Brewing, Rock Bottom, the Sandlot at Coors Field, the ChopHouse, Pints Pub and Strange Craft Beer Company, as well as the Wynkoop.

Why was there a bust in 2020 followed by this 2021 boom? Part of the explanation is related to the pandemic, of course, which pressed the pause button on many brewery and eatery plans, delayed projects and slowed bank lending. But there are a number of others reasons, as well, including the difficulty of finding affordable commercial spaces — an obstacle made easier by last year's closings.

There's also the challenge of going up against expanding, established breweries, such as Odell, Denver Beer Co. and Declaration. This expansionism isn't going to stop anytime soon: At least two more existing breweries are quietly looking to open second locations (either with or without brewing equipment) in Denver over the next six to eight months.

click to enlarge Jesse Brown and Harsha Maragh are getting ready to open Wah Gwaan Brewing. - WAH GWAAN
Jesse Brown and Harsha Maragh are getting ready to open Wah Gwaan Brewing.
Wah Gwaan
The biggest challenge of all to new openings could be the sheer number of breweries: It's likely that Denver reached its saturation point at around 70 to 75 breweries. In fact, the city has been operating at a de facto one-in-one-out level since 2017, when there were — you guessed it — about 70 to 75 breweries.

What counts as a brewery? That's a tricky question. Does a production facility count if it doesn't have a taproom open to the public? What about a brewery-owned taproom that doesn't have any brewing equipment? Does one company with two locations count as two breweries? Adding to the confusion are contract brewers, gypsy brewers, and those breweries with Denver addresses that aren't technically located within the city of Denver. (We typically include most of these when doing our own counting.)

But no matter how you count the numbers, this city's beer scene is evolving, maturing, deepening...and filling up fast.

Will we make it to eighty?
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes