4

Great Divide Will Close RiNo Facility, Consolidate in Original Ballpark Brewery

At one point, Great Divide owned more than five acres in River North.EXPAND
At one point, Great Divide owned more than five acres in River North.
Great Divide Brewing
^
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Great Divide Brewing, which rode a wave of craft-beer growth in the early 2010s, has decided to close its taproom at 1812 35th Street and sell its packaging and barrel-aging warehouse there. The brewery will consolidate its operations at 2201 Arapahoe Street in the Ballpark neighborhood, back where it all began in 1994.

The move is a dramatic but necessary shift, says Great Divide founder and president Brian Dunn: "We had three options on the table: move all operations to RiNo, move everything to a new location outside of Denver, or relocate to our original location. In the end, returning to our roots made the most business sense."

The brewery will make some changes in the brewhouse to handle increased production (it can handle about 60,000 barrels a year) and will refresh the taproom, which is smaller than its Barrel Bar taproom at 35th and Brighton Boulevard.

Great Divide will consolidate in its original location on Arapahoe Street.EXPAND
Great Divide will consolidate in its original location on Arapahoe Street.
Great Divide Brewing

In 2013, after searching for a second location that would accommodate its dramatic growth in 2011 and 2012, Great Divide bought five acres of land along Brighton Boulevard and broke ground the next year on what was supposed to be a $38 million facility. Phase one, completed in 2016, includes the existing 65,000 square-foot building where Great Divide packages its beer (which is still brewed on Arapahoe Street and trucked over) and the Barrel Bar. Phase two would have added fermenters and a brewhouse capable of producing 250,000 barrels annually, along with a second taproom and restaurant with a beer garden facing the Platte River and the Rocky Mountains.

But the craft-beer industry, which had been growing by double-digit numbers for five years, hit a wall in 2015, and many mid-sized breweries experienced significant sales declines, some of which resulted in layoffs, canceled plans and even acquisition by larger companies. Great Divide was one of the breweries hit the hardest, and it suffered significant sales declines in 2015 and 2016 before stabilizing and revamping its beer lineup. Then, in 2019, Great Divide sold half of its land on Brighton and called off plans to build the new brewery and restaurant.

“Despite the strong upward trajectory of Great Divide sales when we decided to expand, building the Brighton  facility was a huge leap for a brewery of our size,” Dunn says. “While we’ve thoroughly enjoyed being in the RiNo neighborhood and are sad to say goodbye, we’re fortunate to be in a position to adapt our business plan and make a decision that will benefit the company and our employees. One of the largest benefits is that the consolidation of operations will allow us to remain fiercely independent.”

Great Divide Will Close RiNo Facility, Consolidate in Original Ballpark BreweryEXPAND
Great Divide Brewing

Back in 2015, Great Divide production was pushing 50,000 barrels per year and the brewery had maxed out its space on Arapahoe; in 2020, however, the brewery made just 24,500 barrels of beer, so it still has room to grow again, even without a second facility.

In addition to a slowing sales market, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a major effect on the brewery, Dunn says. "Pre-COVID, over 40 percent of our volume was draft, and with the restrictions on bars, restaurants, music venues, sports arenas and ski areas, it’s had a big effect on our overall production," he explains. "Arapahoe is the right-sized facility for us, and we’re glad to get brewing and packaging back under one roof. ... We have deep roots in the Ballpark neighborhood, and I’m glad that we are staying."

Great Divide is putting the Brighton facility on the market but expects to maintain a presence there through mid-2022. The Barrel Bar will remain open until then.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.