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.
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.”
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.
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