Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Behold the Future of Rock-Star Craft Breweries

Walking through the new Avery Brewing facility in Boulder County, one feels like they are not in a manufacturing plant so much as in a museum.

That's not to say the $28 million facility is stuffy. Rather, everything from the 30-beer tap list to the casual-but-gourmet restaurant to the gift shop that is the size of the bar in Avery's previous brewing facility just shouts that you're in the presence of a legend instead of some ordinary beer maker.

But what may seem daring or even ostentatious to people who spent considerable time in the cramped back-alley Boulder location that housed Avery for two decades may not even be eye-popping for much longer. Next month, Breckenridge Brewery opens its new brewery on a 12-acre complex in Littleton that will include farm area and an event space. And next year, Great Divide will bust down the doors on a $38 million facility in Denver's River North neighborhood that will include fewer amenities than the aforementioned two locations but will have incredible creekside views and production space.

This trend, then, toward more expansive, customer-friendly brewing facilities seems less like a novelty than a near necessity for breweries that have reached the upper echelon of craft-beer stardom nationally, both in terms of production and critical praise. Call it the "Stoning" of the craft-beer industry — Stone Brewing, after all, kicked off this trend with a bistro and gardens area that is one of the most visited locations in San Diego County — but it really shows where the industry stands.

Breweries no longer are simple factories to produce the suds that salve the working class, as they were in their first hey-day in the late 19th century. They are now tourist magnets, drawing in both the day-trippers bouncing between a couple of beer purveyors and out-of-state visitors who are viewing Colorado as a place for a full-on beer-themed vacation and want to stop at the most famous of hop temples.

And under that notion, Avery — we were talking about that, weren't we? — is quite a special stopping ground. Four years in the planning, the 5.6-acre campus that opened in February includes a massive taproom, a pork-themed restaurant, space for tours through the brewery and enough patio area to make it the perfect stop for a spring day.

The tap list includes everything you can buy in the stores, as well as rare beers that are limited or completely unavailable outside the brewery. While there last month, I eschewed the Maharaja for gems like Bad Karma, their Belgian ale re-fermented with Brett and aged in neutral barrels, and Antonius' Carmen, an unbelievably smooth dark sour ale aged in Madeira barrels.

And if you get a chance to take the tour, it makes you appreciate the craftsmanship and nuances at hand even more. Guide Walter Becker (pictured above) analogized the amount of hops Avery uses in its IPAs to the band Rush ("You either love them or you hate them") and noted that the Germans who sold the brewery its hop-dosing vessels thought no brewery could need equipment that large.

If you haven't been up to the new Avery home yet, get up there when you can. But don't stop there. Pretty soon the state's best-known craft breweries all will have evolved from bars to experiences. And all of us will benefit.

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