The sign on the door says, “If you open the door, you’ll be the answer to the question, ‘who let the dogs out.’” You can see the dogs inside – at least three of them – and they want to get out, clustering around the entrance with excited, expectant faces.
Since they’re large and look quite able to knock you over and make a run for it once the door is cracked, and since the door is the wrong door anyhow, you take five steps to your left and open that door instead, and walk into the tasting room of Edwards' Crazy Mountain brewery. Inside, a few locals lounge on rough hewn benches, getting an early start on happy hour with the smell of hops strong in the air.
Crazy Mountain Brewing is just one part of an ongoing liquid explosion on Colorado’s Western Slope, where ski towns from Vail to Breckenridge have spawned a dozen craft brew pubs that are getting snatched up by national brands faster than a cold six pack disappears on a hot summer day. It’s a development that’s been fueled by money as well as strong community ties and a frontier do-it-yourself ethos. The result is a plethora of top-notch brands that are quickly gaining local market share and visibility, extending their footprint and, for the craft beverage lover in all of us, giving us more choices.
There’s no doubt that beer, particularly microbrews, are big business. According to the Brewer’s Association, the industry had a $2.7 billion impact on Colorado’s economy in 2014 alone. But while the western part of Colorado has been home to a substantial and varied number of small operations, only a few of those brands have been able to break into the national consciousness. The grandfather of them all, of course, is Breckenridge Brewery. Founded in 1990, the company quickly grew up, opening a Denver location in 1995 and then faced with even more demand, moving production to a larger nearby location one year later. In 2015, the company gave up on Denver proper, acquiring a 12-acre parcel in Littleton for an expanded brewing operation and restaurant.
Any brand that successful is bound to attract attention and the company, Colorado’s sixth largest craft brewer by barrels produced, was purchased by Anheuser-Busch (sans restaurant properties) for an undisclosed sum in December of 2015.
Big deals for undisclosed sums aren’t really on my mind when I sit down in Crazy Brewing’s tasting room with Kevin Selvy, the company’s founder. I’m there to talk about his business. What he’s doing and how it’s going, And, over a tasty pilsner (a “tough one to get right,” says Selvy) he’s happy to share.
“We don’t have enough room here,” admits Selvy. “We can’t produce enough here and we don’t have enough space for customers.” To rectify this, the Colorado State graduate and Parker native has made a bold statement. He and his partners have purchased the former Breckenridge Brewery location at 471 Kalamath Street in Denver.
It's a move, he says, that will allow the Edward’s location to do what it does best, which is focus on interesting small batch brews, some of which are created exclusively for an innovative “bottle of the month” type club that’s only been in existence for less than a year but which has proved to be such a hit that they can’t keep up with demand.
“I got the idea from the wine business,” admits Selvy, who isn’t afraid to credit other industries – as well as his own staff – for good ideas. “We have an innovation committee, which is open to anyone who works here and wants to be on it,” says Selvy. “And they come up with ideas for things, and then our brewers go to work.”
The results are interesting and complex beers, which are flying off the shelves and out of the taps. So much so that Selvy is adopting technology created by SteadyServ to track the amount of beer left in, say, a single specialty barrel, so his team can get the word out that if you want a pint of the latest small batch brew, you’d better come down now because there won’t be any left tomorrow.
“Sure we do it to track inventory,” says Selvy, “but it’s not the end of a free pint or two from your bartender. We want to be able to let people know that a special keg may be gone really quickly, so that someone can make the effort to get down here and try it.”
And then there’s Denver. Crazy Mountain's new Front Range taphouse and brewery is a statement of sorts. But unlike Breckenridge Brewery, which now has a larger footprint on the Front Range than in its hometown, Selvy says that Crazy Mountain isn’t planning on giving up its Western Slope home anytime soon. While he’s cagy about the next move, he’s bullish on Edwards and the surrounding area, stating that local community leaders will welcome the growth of the operation and the year round jobs that expansion will bring. It’s going to be big, says Selvy, very big. The dogs, it seems, are about to be let out.