It seems almost impossible to imagine now, but Denver's vibrant craft-brewery scene didn't exist at the beginning of 2010. Three stalwarts, Great Divide Brewing, Breckenridge Brewery and Wynkoop Brewing, ruled the roost within Denver city limits, while Frank Day's CCCC group owned Rock Bottom and the ChopHouse. There were also a few other spots, including the Sandlot at Coors Field, Pints Pub and Del Norte Brewing.
All of these businesses were either brewpubs that served food or packaging breweries that sold beer to liquor stores and to go, but not in pints served over the bar in a taproom.
That changed on May 19, 2010, when Tim Myers opened Strange Craft Beer Company, then called Strange Brewing, in a little industrial space under a viaduct near Mile High Stadium. An avid home brewer and laid-off IT support guy, he and former business partner John Fletcher had no idea what they were getting into at the time, but Strange would launch a revolution and help create the taproom culture that exists today.
Where there were once fewer than ten breweries, there are now more than seventy, along with dozens of craft-beer bars that support them and a host of side industries and suppliers. Myers himself lent endless advice, countless hours, equipment and hard-earned knowhow to help many of them get started.
Denver was emerging from a recession at the time, something that helped spur that brewery growth. Today the city, along with the rest of the world, is headed into another recession as a result of COVID-19, so the future of Denver's craft breweries is a little shaky. But the milestone is worth noting nonetheless.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Myers reflected on that ten years and what it has meant. Here is his post:
On Tuesday, May 19th, Strange celebrates 10 years since we opened our doors. That's an amazing accomplishment for our little brewery! We've come a long way since that crazy Thursday night and so has the Denver beer scene. When Strange opened there were only nine breweries TOTAL operating within the Denver city limits:
Bull & Bush
Six brew pubs and three packaging breweries. There was no RiNo beer district. No taproom brewery craze. In fact no taproom brewery period.
We had many "Firsts" when we opened: First taproom brewery in Denver, first successful nanobrewery brewing on a ridiculously tiny one barrel homebrew system. FIRST hazy beers...
When we first opened, ALL of our beers were Hazy. Hazy Pale, Hazy IPA, Hazy Cherry Kriek, Hazy Farmhouse, Hazy Coffee Stout. (Had we only known then how to market that concept we might have scored another first!) But it didn't seem to matter that our brews weren't necessarily the most visually appealing, they smelled and tasted great. Craft beer drinkers were craving something different in 2010 and we were quickly overwhelmed with the response. In those first eight months, we brewed 110 batches on our hodge podge of used homebrew equipment, often brewing three times a day just to keep up with demand. And still, we were constantly running out of beer until we fired up our 10 barrel system in September of 2011.
That first iteration of our 10 barrel brew system was like a museum of used Colorado brewing equipment. Our mash tun came courtesy of Charlie Sturdavant at Golden City Brewing Company. Charlie had purchased it 18.5 years earlier from H.C. Berger Brewery (how many of you remember that Fort Collins original?). One of our early regulars had an odd piece of equipment sitting in his garage and wondered if we'd take it off his hands. Turned out to be the heat exchanger from the original Lone Tree Brewing in Commerce City. Two used fermenters came from Glenwood Brewing Company and two from Eddyline in Buena Vista. All that mismatched equipment looked pretty funny in our brewhouse, but I didn't care. We were growing and we finally had the capacity to keep up with demand.
What many people don't know is that Strange almost never happened. Way back when I was researching the possibility of opening a craft brewery in Denver, I was the typical home brewer peppering veterans for advice. I'd show up at an AHA Rally and torture the likes of Peter Bouckaert at New Belgium, Dale Katechis at Oskar Blues, or Brian Dunn at Great Divide. A recurring theme was that the cost to open a packaging brewery would be well over $1.5 million to do it right, oh and you should consider having at least another $1.5 million in operating capital so you can survive the first few years until you turn a profit! Yeah right. $3 million during the Great Recession. Not likely! My luck, and spirits, would change when I decided to brew some homebrew on a Monday and realized I was missing some ingredients. My local home brew store was closed Mondays (they actually printed that on their t-shirts!) so I had to drive quite a bit further to The Brew Hut for what I needed. I'd been to the Brew Hut before but given its location (it's a 35 mile round trip from my house) I didn't frequent it as often as Beer At Home, which was less than 5 miles away. But on this occasion I noticed something new at the store; tables and chairs. When I asked Steve Headstrom what the deal was he told me "Haven't you seen our brewery yet?" Wait! What?! That was when I discovered Dry Dock Brewing and the whole taproom brewery concept (Selling pints across the bar?! Is that even legal?!) Suddenly Strange seemed possible again! Steve introduced me to Kevin Delange, and I peppered Kevin with questions galore. Dry Dock had been open for a year before I found them (I don't get out much) and the concept he created had been thoroughly proven by 2006. Kevin's brewer Bill Eye (who would go on to open Bierstadt with Ashleigh Carter) was also generous with his time and tolerated my thirst for information and guidance.
Because of the generosity and patience of all those veteran brewers, Strange was able to open on Thursday, May 19th, 2010. And we have tried to pay it forward ever since. Over the years since that fateful day in the summer of 2006, Kevin and Michelle have probably helped at least 10 times as many Colorado breweries open than I have at Strange. But I've tried to do my part.
With me the day I picked up Charlie's mash tun at Golden City was none other than Stephen Kirby, who would go on to open Hogshead Brewery less than a year later. Stephen wandered into Strange one day to see what we'd created and he and I quickly hit it off. He was a veteran brewer with years of experience, and I'm pretty sure I learned more from him than he learned from me in the six months we brewed together. And like Stephen, many other would-be brewery owners came into Strange in 2010 and 2011 looking for inspiration and advice.
Two of the first were Jeremy Gobien and Scott Witsoe. Jeremy often hung out in my "office" at the end of the bar in the taproom, where we would share ideas and concepts about how to open and run his brewery, Copper Kettle, which opened in April 2011. Scott peppered me with questions and requests for advice, then promptly ignored everything I told him not to do and opened Wit's End in a tiny space down the street from Strange in September 2011. Many others brewed at Strange before opening their dreams. Harry Smith helped me create the One Barrel Wednesday program and often challenged me with some of his recipe ideas for over two years before he and his wife Lila Mackey (our first employee) opened Black Sky Brewing in September 2013. Paul Webster wins the award for the most questions asked when he brewed with us for 6 months before opening The Brew on Broadway the same month as Black Sky. And a close second for that esteemed award for most questions asked goes to Jeffrey Green, who also brewed with us before opening Very Nice up in Nederland in November 2012
Others who briefly called Strange home before moving on to bigger and better things include Jake Gardner (whom Kirby snagged from me with an offer to actually PAY him to brew beer - the nerve!) of Westbound & Down fame, and Ali Benetka before she moved on to Ratio. Danny and Betty Wang were just getting ready to open Caution when they stopped by Strange for the first time. Unfortunately they'd already leased and built out their space east of Stapleton before they saw our taproom. It would be almost two years before they could lease the space next door and add a bar and tables to their packaging brewery. So many others hung out in my "office" looking for inspiration and advice before opening their breweries that the list is too long to print.
Here are some stats that help paint the picture of what ten years of Strange looks like.
- 5320 Barrels Brewed
- 989 batches brewed
- 231 different recipes (that's almost a new recipe every two weeks!)
- over 320,000 pounds of malted barley milled and mashed
- over 800,000 pints poured
- thousands of satisfied customers
- four GABF Medals
- two World Beer Cup Awards
- and only one lawsuit!
Coming into 2020, we had lots of plans for our 10th Anniversary. Lots of recipes, old and new. Instead of One Barrel Wednesday, we planned to focus on Throwback Thursdays where we take a trip down memory lane and revisit some oldies but goodies. We had a bunch of collabs planned with lots of our friends in the biz too. And rather than just one big birthday bash we had a bunch of parties planned. All that was pre-COVID of course. In the new reality, we are filling crowlers to-go and thinking on ways to reinvent Strange to match the times. But we are still open, and for that a huge THANK YOU to all our family, friends, Mug Clubbers, and craft beer enthusiasts that helped us on this Strange and crazy journey. We made it to the big One-Oh!
Sometime (hopefully soon) in the days to come, we'll all get to gather together and party it up right. Until then, please stay safe. Stay sane. And keep it Strange!
Tim and the Strange Brew Crew
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