The brewpub is now controlled by Gerry Ware of California and the family of the late Richard Cohen of New York. Longtime head brewer Steve Indrehus has taken over as president of the operation.
Sturdavant, whose family also founded Golden City Brewery in 1993 in Golden, says he doesn’t get along with Ware or with Cohen’s son, Stephen, but that if he was going to sell his share, he wanted to make sure that nineteen of his friends, early investors in the brewery, got paid if they sold their shares as well. In the end, he says, he feels like he was able to take care of those investors through mediation.
The early 1990s were a boom time for microbreweries in Colorado. After beer makers like Wynkoop, Odell, New Belgium and Breckenridge found success, other would-be brewers jumped in, too.
But Lenahan and Sturdavant were’t just any would-be brewers. Lenahan had been the first brewmaster at Breckenridge Brewery, which started up in 1990, and Sturdavant was a former geologist who had founded Golden City Brewery in a garage behind his Golden property in 1993.
But then as now, breweries required money, and Sturdavant and Lenahan had gathered together more than two dozen investors, including Cohen and Ware. Tommyknocker did well, and Sturdavant eventually stepped away from day-to-day operations to open a third brewery, the Cheshire Cat Brewpub in Arvada. He later closed that brewery and sold it to the owners of the Yak & Yeti/Spice Trade Brewing, who still run it today. Lenahan, meanwhile, who had worked at Stroh’s and Coors for many years, helped start Backcountry Brewery in Frisco (now Highside Brewing) and opened a short-lived Tommyknocker branch in Phoenix, Arizona.
underwent a large expansion several years ago, adding new fermentation tanks and a canning line.
When Lenahan died, however, it triggered a clause in the company’s organizational agreement, Sturdavant says, that requires all of the investors to agree on whether to continue the business. But Sturdavant’s ever-increasing battles with Cohen and Ware convinced him to use the opportunity to cash out. At first he put the brewery on the market, but got no takers. At that point, Sturdavant and his friend/investors owned 42 percent of the company, but they disagreed with Ware and Stephen Cohen on how much it was worth.
“It took a while, but twenty of us made our exit,” he says. Lenahan’s daughter also cashed out.
Stephen Cohen didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Sturdavant says he's focused on Golden City Brewery, where his son is the head brewer and his daughter manages the taproom. "It's been an interesting trip, and I'm glad I have one brewery where it's just the family in charge," he says with a laugh. "We don't argue much."