Beer Man

Great Divide Head Brewer Taylor Rees Leaving to Open Brewery in Former Five Points DMV

Like almost every driving adult in Denver, Great Divide head brewer Taylor Rees spent his fair share of time waiting in line at the drab Denver Motor Vehicles office on Welton Street in Five Points. Now, if his plans come to fruition, Rees, along with friends and business partners Austin Wiley and Darren Boyd, plan to spend many more hours -- days and months -- in that space. But the vibe will be very different -- and although you'll still need to show your identification, you won't need your registration or proof of insurance.

The group will open Spangalang Brewery at 2736 Welton Street, hopefully next year.

See also: Great Divide opening the Barrel Bar, a small tap room on the site of its future brewery

"Great Divide has been a great place to work. I learned everything I know there. But this was an opportunity that I felt like I couldn't pass up," says Rees, who will leave Great Divide in early October after ten years. "If it hadn't, I probably wouldn't be leaving. I've had an amazing time there."

But the chance did come up last June when a real estate holding company bought Five Points Plaza -- which was home to the DMV offices for many years before they moved in late 2013 two blocks away to what's now known as the Elbra Wedgeworth Building -- and began looking for an experienced brewer to open a business there.

The neighborhood, once the cultural and economic center of Denver's black community, has had a hard time rebuilding itself over the past two decades, and there are a number of empty storefronts and legacies of failed businesses. Five Points is also dealing with the conflict that can arise with changing demographics and gentrification.

In July, Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen opened next door to the plaza, and another restaurant, Dunbar Kitchen + Tap House, is slated to open at 2844 Welton sometime this fall. So Rees, Wiley and Boyd, who are aware of the neighborhood's history, believe they are hitting the area at the right time.

"We are excited, but we are aware that there are some people who might have an issue," Rees says. "I hope we can eventually pour those people a beer and show them that we aren't trying to take over or change the neighborhood, but to provide an environment where anyone who wants a good beer, can drink a good beer."

Spangalang takes its name from a jazz term that refers to a cymbal pattern. It's an homage to Five Points's history as a hub for jazz musicians. But Spangalang isn't going to be a jazz brewery, Rees explains. The name is also an unusual one -- and one that hasn't been trademarked or used by someone else, something that many breweries are having a hard time with these days as new ones open on a daily basis nationwide.

"It's kind of a weird name, I know. But it grew on us," says Rees, who started on the bottling line at Great Divide in 2004 and worked his way up through kegging, cellaring, warehousing and logistics before becoming a brewer in 2006. Wiley was also a brewer at Great Divide before leaving earlier this year; Boyd still works there.

Renovation, zoning and permitting of the Five Points Plaza is liable to take a long time, as will the process of gaining local, state and federal liquor licenses. But if all goes well, Rees will put a ten-barrel brewhouse inside what was once an insurance office. The taproom will be in the area that used to be the DMV. All told, it's about 3,300 square feet.

And since the DMV left a few old signs inside the building, including one telling motorists that they must show proof of insurance, he plans to incorporate a little bit of that theme into the décor or beer names. "I think we have to," he says.

As for the beers, Rees, Wiley and Boyd plan to brew almost every style they can think of. "Some will be aggressive; but we want some sessionable, too, and everything in between," Rees says. "All will be flavor-forward."

One of their biggest goals will be a focus on quality, he adds; some new breweries have been criticized recently by everyone from customers to established breweries to the Boulder-based Brewers Association itself for their lack of quality.

"We are also looking to create a special environment where we have a super-educated, super-friendly staff. You can really elevate the experience that way," Rees says.

The DMV never sounded so good.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes