Karla and Brett Zahrte and their friend Eric Gupta were fond of gathering after work or on the weekends at Caution Brewing in Lakewood, their neighborhood watering hole, to talk about the day they could open their own brewery. They wanted something in Lakewood, close to their homes — something like Caution.
Brett, who has spent fourteen years in the brewing industry, used to chat with his friend and co-worker Jason Bailey about the same thing. “Brett and I would talk after our shifts working at Epic and Crooked Stave and bounce around ideas about what we would do if we opened our own brewery,” Bailey says.
So it was an eye opener when Karla saw a two-line ad in 2017 offering an anonymous west Denver brewery for sale. The description, down to the size of both the brewhouse and the tap house, matched Caution exactly. The Zahrtes emailed the broker and set up a meeting with the brewery owner at a nearby bar. It wasn't too much of a surprise, then, when they walked in to find Caution owner Danny Wang sitting at the table.
"We knew Danny as patrons of Caution, and we knew Caution. This probably isn't an adventure we would have jumped into if we hadn't," says Karla, who has a certificate in beverage business management from Colorado State University. "He wasn't sure yet if he really wanted to sell — and he said he didn't want to sell to just anybody. He trusted us with the opportunity. He lives just up the road, and so do we."
On Saturday, March 23, the Zahrtes, Bailey and Gupta will open the doors to Old 121 Brewhouse, at 1057 South Wadsworth Boulevard, in the former Caution Brewing space. With room for eighty people, the brewery will use Caution's old three-barrel system to turn out a wide variety of beers, along with housemade sodas.
The first beers on tap will be a lager, a pale ale, an IPA, a honey brown ale, a stout, an Irish red ale, and an English dark mild done in collaboration with the Grateful Gnome brewery. (That beer is hilariously called "Tastes Like Beer — One Star," a play on poorly written online consumer beer reviews.) The first soda will be a root beer that the group developed with a sensory panel in the same way they tested their beers, followed by a pair of hop sodas — one dry and one sweet — and a cream soda.
Wang was part of a pioneering group of taproom-only brewers when he co-opened Caution's first location in 2011 on the east side of Denver, near 39th Avenue and Peoria Street; that group included Strange Craft, Wit's End, Renegade, Copper Kettle and River North. He opened the Lakewood brewery in 2013 and then sold the original location to the Brewability Lab. Then last June he sold the Lakewood operation to the 121 group and closed Caution. Wang has since opened a beer-lab business called Fermly.
The new brewery takes its name from the thirty-mile-long State Highway 121, which runs north-south and becomes Wadsworth as it cuts through the metro area. The brewery's logo is a drop of beer.
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Bailey, who will take the reins as head brewer, and Brett Zahrte have nearly twenty years of brewery experience between them. In addition to Epic and Crooked Stave, where he served most recently as the warehouse and packaging manager, Bailey has been a brewer at TRVE Brewing. Brett started his career as a third-generation Coors employee before leaving Golden for Denver, where he worked as assistant production manager at Renegade Brewing and as a packaging manager at Epic and Crooked Stave.
"Between the two of us, we've seen just about everything," Brett says. Rather than focus on packaging, as they had in their previous jobs, however, they will concentrate on "solid brewing process and good quality," Bailey explains. "We are going to make the beers we want to drink, and we want to provide a comfortable experience that people are going to want to repeat."
Karla will serve as the brewery's business manager, while Gupta will work as a partner and advisor. Both will keep their full-time jobs in other industries.
Old 121 will hold its grand opening on Saturday, March 23, with live music from Gator Mountain.