Skipping your honeymoon to brew your first batch of commercial beer usually isn’t an auspicious way to start your marriage. But for Brian Dunn and his wife, co-founders of the very successful Great Divide Brewing Co., it seems things have worked out just fine.
The welcoming aroma of toasty malt immediately struck me as I wandered up to the brewery, discretely tucked in an unassuming brick building that at one time housed a 1930s-era dairy. Just a cut-off throw from Coors Field in an industrialized area of downtown Denver, one might miss it if not for the small lighted sign perched on the corner of the facility, or the cluster of GABF attendees and regulars crowding the small sidewalk patio outside while I was there.
The brewery took shape in 1994 when Dunn, after traveling the world and earning a graduate degree in environmental studies, realized he wanted to take his passion for homebrewing to the next level. He set about writing a business plan and securing funding from investors. But after coming up about $50,000 short on financing for the business, he made a deal with the city that enabled him to make up the difference in return for ongoing job development and cleanup of the surrounding neighborhood, a relatively destitute segment of the downtown district.
“It was a creative way to get the initial funding we needed, something I didn’t realize was an option going into things.”
The brewery itself is a gritty, cavernous labrynth of rooms, leading from the main brewhouse up front complete with a tangle of pipes connecting mash tuns and fermentation vessels, through a dark, low-ceilinged passageway to the bottling and packaging area, and finally into the cool warehouse lined with pallets of kegs and bottles ready for shipment.
The brewery’s tap room, a relatively recent addition, greets visitors with some incredible beers like their Hoss, a Marzen-style lager brewed with rye that delivers a spicy, dark-fruit malt character, or the brewery’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale, made with fresh whole hop cones shipped overnight from the Pacific northwest. And according to Dunn, freshness is something he and his staff take very seriously.
“We invested about $100,000 in printing technology for the bottling line to stamp born-on dates on all the beers leaving the brewery,” he said. “Not all of our beers are necessarily meant to be consumed right away, but our customers will be better informed and able to decide whether they want to age the beer, or enjoy then and there.”
The brewery’s sixteen GABF medals (including three this year) are a testament to the quality of their beer, and indicative of their enormous popularity in Denver and markets like the Twin Cities with readily available year-round and seasonal offerings like Titan IPA, Hercules Double IPA and The Yeti.
“Running the brewery hasn’t always been easy…there’s been some very lean years where we weren’t sure if we were going to make it,” explained Dunn. “Our revenue is up 60 percent so far this year, so we’re feeling very fortunate. We’re very excited for what the future holds.”