The space was “beautiful and perfect,” the food and the beer were great, and “we had the best team in the world,” says Ska Brewing
co-founder Dave Thibodeau. “But our grand opening was the night before all the bars got shut down, on March 16 . ... I feel like we never really got a chance.”
Less than two years after it opened at the beginning of the pandemic, Ska’s novel Boulder project, the Ska Street Brewstillery, has closed and is going into indefinite “hibernation.”
“I can’t really tell you what hibernation means right now, but we are definitely shut down,” Thibodeau continues. “I wish we could say that we will crawl out of our cave in the spring and see the sunshine — that is still my hope; we still have the space and all the equipment — but if we do reopen, it won’t be the same thing, it won’t be the same place.”
Ska and its sister company, Peach Street Distillers, first announced in October 2019 that they would take over the former Fate Brewing location
, at 1600 38th Street in Boulder. The spot — Ska’s first foray outside of its Durango home — would include both a ten-barrel brewhouse and a small distilling operation alongside a full restaurant with a Caribbean-themed menu, thirty taps and an enormous patio. It would also give the 25-year-old business, and one of the larger breweries in the state, a foothold on the Front Range.
But just a few hours after opening, the Brewstillery was forced to close — along with every other bar, restaurant and brewery in Colorado
— as a result of government restrictions put in place to thwart the pandemic. Ska eventually reopened
for to-go service in May and for on-site dining in June 2020.
But by fall of that year, Thibodeau says he and the brewery’s management team were worried. Still, they decided they could make it through the winter — with high hopes that the pandemic would die down by the following spring. And it did to some degree as people began getting vaccinated. But Boulder rebounded slowly, and when Omicron hit in December 2021, Ska found itself in the same position as the year before.
But worse in some ways, because now the coronavirus — less dangerous but more contagious — was sweeping through the staff. “December just crushed us,” he says. With staff shortages, the Brewstillery could only open with limited hours and on certain days of the week, and it was never able to open full-time.
“We were spending more money than we were bringing in, and we decided that the smartest decision was to cut our losses and not take the chance. We were just out of money,” he adds. So last weekend, Thibodeau drove from Durango to Boulder to tell the staff — something that was exceptionally difficult, he says, because, “we never would have made it for the two years without that team.”
In the short to medium term, Thibodeau says Ska might continue to brew on site and possibly sell smaller-batch beer in Durango or to restaurants. Or, “there might be a way to partner up with someone and do some interesting things [in the space]. We’ve talked to a few friends and other people in the brewing industry and the restaurant industry and thrown some other ideas around.”
But in the long term, he just doesn't know. “I still really believe in the idea, and of having the brewery and the distillery together. Going up there last weekend and walking in, I don't think we would change a thing if we could do it all over again tomorrow. It was the right place; it was just a bad point in time.”