Left Hand Brewing is bringing the gas to Denver.
The 27-year-old Longmont brewery, which specializes in nitrogenated beers, is about to sign a deal to take over the massive Curtis Park building where Liberati Restaurant & Brewery closed last week. Left Hand will outsource the kitchen’s operation to the former staff at Liberati, who will change the menu entirely, and rebrand the space as a Left Hand taproom. This is the first time that the brewery will operate a taproom outside of Longmont.
“We know that we have to be trying some different things,” says Left Hand co-founder Eric Wallace about increasing competition in the craft-brewing market. “And opening new places has been high on our list.”
Rather than trying to squeeze into RiNo or LoDo or Larimer Street, though, Wallace says he likes Curtis Park’s potential and the fact that it is a little off-set from Denver’s busier corridors. There is also a lot of history in the neighborhood, adds Left Hand chief operating officer Chris Lennert, who will be in charge of getting the new taproom online. “That’s why we will keep Curtis Park in the name,” probably as Left Hand Curtis Park, he notes.
Wallace and Liberati owner Alex Liberati, a brewer and restaurateur in Rome before moving to Denver, have been friends for many years, and Wallace says he encouraged Liberati to move here. But he also told him that if things didn’t work out for his high-end concept that he would be interested in taking over the lease on the building. “We had been looking for space in Denver for quite a while,” Wallace adds.
Liberati specialized in oenobeer, a word that Liberati coined for beer/wine hybrids that burst with unusual and fascinating flavors, aroma and chemistry but were a hard sell for the average beer drinker.
The Left Hand taproom will keep the expansive patio and 36-space parking lot, along with the majority of Liberati’s seven-barrel brewing system and equipment, but the brewery also plans to tear down walls and put others up, reconfiguring the space to give the sit-down restaurant more of a taproom feel — with food. Of the fifty tap handles, a good portion will be filled with beers made on site, while eight will pour Left Hand’s non-beer products, including hard seltzer, hard kombucha and CBD beverages. The rest of the handles will be from Left Hand’s primary lineup of English-style ales, nitro beers and other mainstays.
There will also be games, music, community activities and other features more akin to classic brewery taprooms than to restaurants.
Alex Liberati, meanwhile, will be tasked with gutting the 12,000-square-foot second story and turning it into office or co-working space that will be leased out. Liberati is also looking to continue making his oenobeers somewhere else in town. Lennert says that Left Hand will continue to make one or two oenobeers.
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Left Hand, Colorado’s third-largest independent brewery, joins its larger colleagues, Odell Brewing and Oskar Blues, as northern breweries that have added additional Denver outposts. New Belgium, which is now owned by Kirin, also operates a small brewery and restaurant inside the Source Hotel. And Ska Brewing, also among the state’s biggest beer makers, is opening a combined brewery/distillery/restaurant in Boulder on March 16.
The move to operate multiple taprooms and breweries is the result of increasing competition, not just in liquor stores and grocery stores, where the market has become extremely competitive, but in reaction to the sheer number of taprooms that have opened in Colorado in the past few years. Staying relevant means focusing on over-the-bar sales as much as packaged sales, Lennart explains.
Although these breweries have angered some of their bar accounts in the Denver area since they are now competing with them, Wallace says that selling kegs to restaurants and bars is becoming less and less profitable, as there are so many rotating handles and so many taps. “The dynamic is changing,” he adds.
Left Hand (which is also opening a co-branded taproom in Cincinnati, Ohio) hopes to open its new Denver taproom in late spring or early summer (and, bonus, the brewery is already hiring at lefthandbrewing.com).