Only a few of Colorado's 400 breweries have a history that extends back more than a decade. Fewer still can claim a legacy reaching back into the previous century. Great Divide Brewing, which Brian Dunn founded in 1994 on Arapahoe Street, is one of them. And as the brewery prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary on June 22, it is also getting ready to open a new location in Castle Rock with slightly different branding.
After all, as Great Divide has discovered, there's no time for resting on your laurels in what has become an ever more competitive craft-beer industry across the country.
Located in the still-under-construction Riverwalk development on Wilcox Street, the 8,000-square-foot Great Divide Brewery & Roadhouse is a partnership between the brewery and the Denver-based Roadhouse Hospitality Group, which operates eleven Colorado restaurants, including Spanky's Roadhouse near the University of Denver. Although Roadhouse will actually lease the space and hold the brewing license, Great Divide will operate the five-barrel brewing system, making Castle Rock-specific beers and piloting new selections for Denver.
"This is a way for us to have a retail location in a great small but growing town, to have another pilot system and to build more awareness about Great Divide," Dunn says.
Great Divide has been working with brothers John, Dan and Mike Shipp, who have owned the Roadhouse group for years, supplying them with Great Divide beers for their other restaurants.
The location, which could open as soon as September, comes on the heels of the opening of Great Divide's brand-new location in Concourse C at Denver International Airport. That taproom is operated by an airport concessionaire rather than the brewery, but it serves eighteen Great Divide beers, and also puts Great Divide's name in front of millions of travelers. "It's phenomenal how many more people we're reaching at DIA," Dunn says. "If we can find another small taproom, we would look at that, too."
Although Great Divide was one of Denver's first breweries and became a legend for many years with beers like Titan IPA, Denver Pale Ale and Yeti Imperial Stout, it has suffered in recent years. In 2015, the brewery bought five acres of land in RiNo, where it planned to open a massive new brewery, packaging facility, restaurant and second taproom. But the company was only able to finish the packaging facility and the taproom, known as the Barrel Bar, before flattening sales hit the industry.
Great Divide, which had expanded distribution into a number of others states, felt the impact of this change particularly hard. The brewery was also slow to jump into new packaging formats and new styles. But in the past year, Great Divide has overhauled these two things, and is now producing a wide variety of new beers, both in cans and in its taprooms, and packaging them in a much more modern way. You can find its six-packs of cans in cardboard boxes, and the brewery is switching most of its bottles to large-format cans as well.
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"We used to have a huge party every time we introduced a new beer, and that was maybe once a quarter," Dunn says. Today Great Divide is bringing new beers to market all the time, like many other breweries, in an effort to "keep it fresh. That is what drinkers want. Things have really changed in the market, and that's fine. It's fun. Our job is to make beers that people are looking for. That's what we do."
In addition to a hazy IPA that has become the brewery's best seller on tap at its two bars, Great Divide will introduce a double IPA at its 25th-anniversary party, which takes place tomorrow at the original Great Divide location at 2201 Arapahoe Street. It has also been experimenting with a new lager that will come out in early July.
The party itself is a return to Great Divide's old-school block parties, which it used to hold before moving the annual birthday celebration to RiNo. The fest will include live music, food trucks, lawn games and an amazing tap list that includes at least fourteen Yeti Imperial Stout variants, with old favorites like Chocolate Oak Aged and Oatmeal, and new inventions such as Maple Pecan and S'mores. Great Divide will also have its 25th Anniversary Big Yeti, a 13.5 percent ABV behemoth, sours from the Wood Werks collection, vintage Hibernations, a Jameson barrel-aged saison, a 25th Anniversary Double Hazy IPA, a Brut IPA, a Double Juicy IPA, a lager and a Hoppy Pilsner. Both 25th Anniversary beers will be available on draft and in cans to go.
"We decided this year to keep it smaller and to make it more about the beer and remind people about the original spot down in the Ballpark neighborhood," Dunn says. After all, he adds, "It's a big deal that we've been around 25 years. We're excited about that, and every year we set more roots in Denver."