With its history, walkability and small-business focus, the Aurora Cultural Arts District, which runs along East Colfax Avenue between Clinton and Geneva streets, has the potential to become a place where people gather to shop and eat, hang out, have a drink and take in a show. But the neighborhood is still very much a work in progress — and there have been some false starts and other disappointments.
One of the challenges has been the space at 9735 East Colfax. Over the past six years, it has been leased by two different breweries, Mu Brewery and Peak to Peak Tap & Brew. Neither was able to make the location work the way the business wanted it to — for different reasons.
But now it could be time for the space to finally get some justice.
Lady Justice Brewing will take over the address from Peak to Peak Tap & Brew in mid-April, bringing along its focus on raising money for nonprofits and its Community Supported Beer program. Although Lady J has been brewing beer for four years, this will be the first time it has had a taproom of its own: The brewery had been located in a tiny space northwest of Denver, then briefly shared space with Factotum Brewhouse.
"This is what we wanted for a long time, and it's exciting to finally be doing it," says Betsy Lay, who founded Lady J in 2016 with friends Jen Cuesta and Kate Power. The three, who met while volunteering with AmeriCorps, came up with the idea of a philanthropic brewery that raises money for charities "promoting the status of women and girls in the state of Colorado," and then donates that money by way of small grants.
It works by selling memberships — 260 since Lady Justice was founded — that entitle members to exclusive beers over several months; Lady J has also put its beer on tap at various locations. All of the profit beyond expenses is then donated; as a result, the business has helped more than forty organizations since 2016.
"The location in the Aurora Cultural Arts District fits perfectly with what we do," Lay explains. "We want to build it into a community space that fosters creativity and our mission of giving back to the community."
The 2,000-square-foot space includes a small patio, ten taps and a seven-barrel brewing system that Lady Justice is buying from Peak to Peak. Some of the equipment from Mu Brewing also remains on site.
Mu was founded in 2014 by Nathan Flatland and was the only brewery along the entire 26 miles of Colfax at the time; before that, the building had been vacant for eight years. But the address proved to be a challenge. "We were in the red the entire time," Flatland said then. "People are fond of the beer, but not so fond of the location."
After Mu closed in 2016, the building sat unoccupied again until Peak to Peak owners Gordon and Joy McKennon decided to take it over in 2017, in order to bolster their existing location at 16701 East Iliff Avenue.
But "running two locations with slightly different operating plans turned out to be more work than I was able to handle," Gordon McKennon says. "You have to be actively engaged in the community, run events, build your customer base with grassroots engagement." In addition, he was able to create such an efficient manufacturing process on Colfax that the brewhouse had much more capacity than it needed.
"While I can't promise anyone financial success, I do believe the neighborhood is capable of sustaining a brewery," he continues. "I'm confident it will provide Lady Justice with all the support they need to thrive. Plus, Betsy and her team make great beer and know literally everyone. They are going to pack the house."
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To accommodate all those built-in supporters among the Community Supported Beer members, Lady Justice will be open later than Peak to Peak, and on more days. The owners also plan to hire staff and serve small bites (the brewery is currently licensed as a brewpub) from local eateries.
As for beers, Lay says she hopes to open with ten. They will include old favorites like Endurance Insurance, a low-calorie hazy pale ale; For the Record Stout; and Sandra Day IPA, as well as some new beers, including a double IPA, a rose blonde and a pale ale with Cashmere hops.
Lady Justice is also completely redoing its logo and branding to reflect the neighborhood.
"We want to keep the vibe we have always had, and hopefully just be able to transfer that to a new place," Lay says.