A historic church building that was at the center of a long and bitter zoning dispute in Highlands Square will finally welcome a new tenant this year — one that may be the answer to some neighbors’ prayers. The owners of Oasis Brewing, which has a long history of its own, will occupy 4,000 square feet in the Beth Eden Baptist Church, at 3257 Lowell Boulevard, with plans to open for business sometime this spring.
Blessed with a beautiful brick exterior, soaring indoor spaces and a perfect location just steps from the bustling intersection of 32nd Avenue and Lowell, Oasis will include a seven-barrel brewhouse, a large taproom, and a patio with room for fifty people.
"We were anxious, but also patient, to find the right spot. I don’t think we could have done any better,” says Oasis co-owner and longtime Boulder restaurateur George Hanna. “I love the space. It makes me smile every time I walk in here.”
Hanna founded Oasis in 1991 in Boulder as a restaurant and brewery; it was a pioneer of Colorado’s craft-beer scene, back when the beers were called microbrews and companies like Odell, New Belgium and Breckenridge were just getting started. The brewery thrived for ten years, earning popularity and eight Great American Beer Festival awards for beers like Scarab Red, Tut Brown Ale and Zoser Stout.
In 2001, when the bottom fell out of the early craft-beer market, Hanna closed the brewery. But in 2014, with some prodding by his son and son-in-law, he decided to get back into the industry and restarted Oasis, bringing back his five old-school mainstay beers, all of them with Egyptian names and branding that many people who were drinking beer in the ’90s will remember well.
“People ask me, ‘Why are you getting back in now when it's so competitive?’” Hanna says. But he tells them it was worse when he was going up against the giants — Miller, Budweiser and Coors — because no one knew what craft beer was. “Now I don’t have to sell the idea of micro-beer, too. Just Oasis. It’s easier than it was.”
For the past two years, Oasis has produced its beer at other breweries, first at Prost and then at Crazy Mountain, all while searching for a place of its own. After looking in Boulder, Arvada and all over Denver, Hanna finally reconsidered Highland, where he lives, and discovered that the Beth Eden church building was still vacant.
Designed in the Tudor Revival style by architect William N. Bowman, the church was built in 1931 by the Beth Eden congregation, which had occupied the site since the late 1890s, according to Historic Denver. It was sold in 2007, however, and slated for demolition by RedPeak Properties, which planned to build a five-story, 148-unit luxury apartment building in its place — something that infuriated neighbors.
After several contentious rounds of fighting — including a lawsuit — involving neighbors, the city council, the developer and historic preservationists, the city voted in 2014 to preserve the church as a historic landmark. A five-story complex was eventually built next to the church, and a new developer incorporated the old building into the project so that the two buildings are now attached. The third floor is occupied by a fitness center for apartment residents; the bottom two floors will belong to Oasis Brewing.
Hanna says Oasis will keep the brick walls as part of the decor, though he will probably paint over some of the childlike murals on the walls, which include pictures of a sheep, a rainbow and an angel. “We'll leave it rustic and comfortable — iron, wood and brick,” he says. A second-story mezzanine will look down on the main floor of the taproom.
Last year, Oasis bought the seven-barrel brewhouse, tanks and equipment that used to belong to Arvada Beer Company, which went out of business in January.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
As for the beers, Hanna is proudly old-school. He’s not a fan of heavily hopped IPAs or sour ales, preferring more easy-drinking English styles. “I prefer working with traditional styles. I’m an English-beer fan. I think they make the best beer in the world.”
Still, once the brewery opens, Hanna wants to have twelve beers on tap, including an IPA or two in addition to a red, a stout, a pale ale, a brown, an ESB and the revival of a blueberry beer that was popular in the ’90s at the old Oasis Brewing. Crazy Mountain, meanwhile, will continue to brew and bottle Oasis’s five mainstays.
“We were trendsetters back in the day,” Hanna says, “but we’re not going to follow the trends now. We are going to do our own thing, something unique.”