With so many eating and drinking establishments shutting down these days — and so many people staying close to home — it's easy to forget about old haunts and hard to keep track of which ones are still around. Renegade Brewing,whose taproom at 925 West Ninth Avenue was usually packed with people in the afternoons and evenings before COVID-19, is one of those places that quietly went dark even as other breweries were tentatively reopening.
But Renegade, which was founded in 2011 and is one of the city's oldest taprooms, is now retooling and getting ready to reopen under new management, with new beers and a more focused approach.
"I really feel like this will be the most genuine era for Renegade," says head brewer and general manager Jack Meyer, who has been with the brewery since 2014. "We want to focus on our neighborhood. ... We are going to make really small batches and become the neighborhood source for the freshest local beer."
While that may not sound revolutionary, it will be definitely be a big adjustment. For starters, the brewery is no longer packaging — a major change since Renegade's cans had been available far and wide in Colorado as well as in four other states. In addition, while Meyer will keep three core beers — Redacted IPA, Endpoint Triple IPA and 5:00 O'Clock Afternoon Ale — he'll discontinue a number of other mainstays.
In their place, he's got some of his own beers in the pipeline. They include a juicy IPA that "may be the hoppiest beer we've ever made," along with a fruited hefeweizen, a pale ale and a raspberry kettle sour.
The idea, he says, is to take the brewery back to its roots.
Founded by Brian and Kara O'Connell, Renegade started small as a neighborhood spot that helped to revive the nearby commercial blocks. By 2015, though, Renegade had grown so much that the company opened an enormous production space on First Avenue and Santa Fe with plans to add a second taproom.
But that same year, the bottom fell out of the craft-beer industry nationwide when competition from the sheer number of new breweries forced beer makers to significantly scale back on packaging. Some, like Avery Brewing and Breckenridge Brewery, which had also made massive investments in new facilities, ended up selling themselves in order to pay off debt. Renegade, though much smaller, was in the same boat, and in 2017, the O'Connells sold a major stake to Silver Fox Partners, a New York City-based investment firm.
With the new financial backing, Renegade looked to sell its production facility and open several smaller taprooms. But the plan never took hold. Instead, Renegade made a deal last fall to merge with Denver's Good River Beer Company, which would take over the First Avenue spot; together, the two breweries planned to open a third location and begin serving food, and to begin canning and distributing on a much wider basis.
Then came the pandemic, and the deal unraveled as restaurants, bars and breweries were forced to close their doors in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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"2020 has been a far more challenging year for us — for everyone — than we thought," says Michael Mulcahy, a Manhattan-based principal with Silver Fox. "Given that and the different perspectives by the partners on what was needed, we thought it would be for the benefit of the individual brands" to go their own ways. "If there had not been a global pandemic, we would no doubt still be working together."
But when the partnership broke up, the production facility and the brewing equipment went back to the landlord at the Yard on Santa Fe, leaving Renegade without any packaging ability. "Now we're just going to focus on the standalone piece" on Ninth Avenue, Mulcahy says. "We'll evaluate after that."
Meyer says that Renegade could have closed entirely after that split with Good River, but it stayed open because of Silver Fox's "willingness to continue with this project" and because of "my willingness to make it happen as well. I'm stoked that we were able to find a way to keep it open."
Meyer is targeting early September for a soft opening with both on-site and to-go sales.