Denver’s beer scene will get a little more worldly — and a little more irie — this summer, when Wah Gwaan Brewing opens its doors in the former Intrepid Sojourner space on West Eighth Avenue.
Owned by Harsha Maragh and Jesse Brown, the new brewery will feature a vibrant Jamaican aesthetic as well as beers inspired by fruits and spices from the Caribbean. Wah Gwaan will also make a point of bringing in multicultural music and food pop-ups, along with women-owned businesses.
“I grew up in the Bronx, but my parents are Jamaican immigrants,” says Maragh, who can trace her ancestry from the East Indian families that emigrated to Jamaica in the 1800s and helped “create a uniquely blended culture” there. In the Bronx, that culture continued in her neighborhood, but when Maragh moved to Boulder for graduate school, she had trouble finding connections with those roots.
So one of the primary goals of Wah Gwaan — a Jamaican phrase that means “What’s going on?” — is to bring people of Caribbean descent together and to share Jamaican culture with Colorado. Maragh also wants to spread the good vibes that people associate with Jamaican culture, and to create a relaxing, inviting space for women and people of color, who don’t always feel welcome in craft breweries.
The same is true for Brown, a Colorado native and former U.S. Marine who enjoys all things Colorado, including craft beer and snowboarding. “I am bi-racial, which gives me a unique perspective on things,” he explains. “There isn’t a lot of representation by the African-American or immigrant communities.”
One way to help with that is to include Jamaican and African music on heavy rotation on the taproom's playlist, along with hip-hop. "We're both fun-loving people, and we want to reflect that,” he says.
Brown, who works in the software industry, and Maragh, who works in environmental science, met a few years ago on a date at Avery Brewing in Boulder and eventually got married. Last year, however, they were both forced to change jobs as a result of the pandemic.
“We started rethinking what we wanted out of life; it made us rethink everything,” Brown says. “So we decided to bite the bullet and go for it.” They were helped along by a lower financial barrier to entry (thanks again to the pandemic) and by a successful $15,000 crowdfunding campaign that Maragh shepherded through the nonprofit loan-sourcing organization Kiva.
The location, at 925 West Eighth Avenue, will be a challenge — something that the owners of Intrepid Sojourner faced. (They changed the name of their brewery to Next Stop Brewing in 2019 before closing and putting the brewery up for sale in May 2020.) There isn't much parking, and the lot is difficult to get in and out of because of the one-way street it faces. But Maragh and Brown think they will be able to capitalize on its proximity to the Art District on Santa Fe.
After some renovations and changes, the couple hopes to open Wah Gwaan in late May or June.
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