Two of the founding fathers of Denver’s current brewery taproom scene will join forces at the end of the year when Wit’s End Brewing closes its taproom and moves into Strange Craft Beer Company’s space at 1330 Zuni Street, where both companies will operate side by side. Tyler Bies, who has been brewing at Wit’s End for several years now, will take on the job as head brewer for both beer makers.
The unusual arrangement will allow Wit’s End owner Scott Witsoe to step back from his small-business responsibilities and give Strange Craft founder Tim Myers a chance to focus on ways to make the two brands competitive in an increasingly busy marketplace. Strange and Wit’s End have both suffered business declines over the past year as more breweries have opened in Denver.
“This gives me more time to bear down and do what it takes to make Strange and Wit’s End more competitive,” Myers says. “The goal is to increase visibility and traffic.”
The two companies share many of the same customers, based on their proximity to one another, so Myers (and his trademark hat) and Witsoe (and his trademark beard), who have been friends for years, hope the co-taproom will bring them together. “It will make us both stronger and distinguish us more,” Witsoe explains. “Since we have so many of the same customers, it will be cool to get everyone into one house.”
Strange opened in May 2010 as the first taproom-only brewery in Denver; the model of no food or packaged beers kicked off a wave of new brewery openings over the next seven years. Myers, who has been the head brewer ever since, started with a one-barrel system but has upgraded twice over the years and expanded his taproom space a little.
Inspired by Strange, Witsoe opened Wit’s End in August 2011, becoming just the fifth taproom-only brewery in the city — and the smallest. Self-financed and fiercely independent, the brewery has a loyal following but grew slowly in its out-of-the-way location at 2505 West Second Avenue in west Denver.
Closing, Witsoe says, is bittersweet. “This is all I’ve known for the last six years, and I’ve poured everything into it. But things change. Markets evolve, and it’s important to be able to pivot a little. We are all risk-takers, and sometimes you have to not be afraid to roll the dice. We both feel strongly that this will strengthen both our brands and give us a different place in the market.”
Witsoe will move his Crowler machine to Strange, where Bies will brew beers for both companies; technically, Strange will be contract-brewing Wit’s End’s beers. Strange has the capacity to brew 1,500 barrels a year, but even with the Wit’s End beers, Bies will only be making 1,000 barrels. That means there is room to grow and possibly package beer from both breweries in the future.
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Myers says he will “spruce up” the taproom to make it reflect the change as well — though he isn’t sure yet about the Star Wars and superhero characters that are a signature at Wit’s End.
After the move, Wit’s End will continue to make and serve its flagship beers — like Jean-Claude Van Blond Belgian-style Blonde Ale, Wilford Belgian-style Oatmeal IPA, and Green Man Ale — along with rotators. Strange will keep all of its beers and events, like One Barrel Wednesday, as well.
Witsoe is hoping to close the doors in December and sublease the turnkey brewery space and his equipment to another startup brewery. “I know how hard it is for breweries to get the doors open these days. For me, it took six months. Now, people are looking at a year and a half. So for someone to have the chance to pop in and be open in two months, I would have jumped at that.”
He adds that it would be “heartwarming” to see another startup brewery lease his taproom.