Lost Highway Brewing, which started its journey in 2014 on Colfax Avenue before picking up and moving to the quieter streets of Centennial in 2017, closed its doors as of Wednesday, January 2. The owners let customers know with a simple doorway sign reading, "It's been a dream. ... For as long as we can remember, it's been all about the beer! Stay tuned to see where the road leads us. Cheers to you all!"
It is the first in what could be a depressingly long list of brewery closures and sales in Colorado in 2019. While 2018 saw its fair share, increased competition and pressure on small breweries is only increasing.
"It's time to do something different and to move on," says James Pachorek, who owns Lost Highway with his wife, Tina. "The hospitality industry is incredibly time-consuming, and it can be soul-sucking. The first of our kids is going to college, and we want to step away from this and give our family the time they deserve."
The news brings an end to one of the longer chapters in Colorado beer history. The Pachoreks carved out a new niche in Denver's beer scene when they opened the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe at 520 East Colfax in 2007, offering Belgian-style food and an enormous variety of rare Belgian imports, along with American craft beers. At the time, no one else in Colorado was doing anything similar.
"We got people thinking about the right beer in the right glass and how to serve it, and we were one of the few places to have a lot of American craft beer in Denver at that time," James says.
Within a few years, the couple had opened two other Cheeky Monk locations, in Westminster and Winter Park, and ran the Royal Hilltop, a craft-beer bar in Aurora. In 2011, they decided to open a brewery as well, but suffered through a wide variety of problems that pushed that opening back by a full three years. When it finally did open, next door to the original Cheeky Monk, Lost Highway served several Belgian-style beers.
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But in 2017, the Pachoreks got out of the restaurant business, selling the building that housed both the Cheeky Monk and Lost Highway, and moving the brewery to an office park in Centennial. There they set up a canning line and made plans to distribute widely throughout the metro area. The Pachoreks knew then that they were getting into packaging late — there were already more than 300 breweries in Colorado at the time — but they were optimistic. “We wouldn’t have invested this much time and energy and money if we didn’t think there was still room," James told Westword then. "And just like anything else, if the product is good, the branding is good and you are building relationships that right way...then you’ve got something."
But Lost Highway struggled in some areas. For starters, the location was not easy to find. The brewery also went through some beer consistency issues and made several changes at head brewer.
In the end, though, one of the biggest problems was finding a market for those newly packaged beers. "We had moved to the new location because we were going to do more in the way of distribution," James explains now. "We just never achieved the level we needed to to keep this thing chugging along."
Still, he says, there is "no doom and gloom" about the decision. "We got a chance to chase our dream for the past eighteen years, and I think we deserve a pretty good shake as far as what he did to help the beer landscape in this town. We fought this fight for a long time. Now it's time to do something different."