Saturday, June 30, 2018

Caution Brewing's Last Call

Caution Brewing's closing tonight is only a temporary exit  from the scene for its brewing provocateur, Danny Wang, rather than a permanent one - and that it is a good think for all Denver craft-beer drinkers.

Seven years ago, the brewery offered up its first creation, a simple lager ... with a proprietary spice mix served at Wang's parents' restaurant, Lao Wang Noodle House. And while Lao Wang Lager was an eye-opener for the unique flavor it added to the light-bodied genre, it was only a hint of the successful madness that was to come out of Caution.

Soon enough, Wang produced a cardamom-infused saison, plus an IPA with whole flower chrysanthemum and Chinese rock brown sugar. Shortly after moving Caution's primary taproom from very industrial northeast Denver to a strip mall in Lakewood, he produced the best beer the brewery has made — The Earl, an Earl Grey tea-infused English mild ale that is dripping in tea flavor yet somehow blended perfectly with a style of beer not know for its creativity.

But the creativity of Wang and of head brewer Scott Petrovits (pictured above at left, who needs to be snatched up by a growing brewery) never stopped, sometimes flying under the radar with a series of bold one-offs that could sound goofy if they weren't so drinkable. There was a milk stout made with Peeps, a gose made with both Chinese five spice and Peking duck. And there was the pumpkin peach ale - a beer that Wang suggested making in a tweet after Budweiser mocked the style of beer in a TV commercial and which Wang found dozens of other brewers wanting to brew in solidarity with him as well.

While gutsy creativity defined Caution, though, Wang got to be known too as one of the more likable guys in the Denver scene - and one who looked to help others. When he finally decided to leave behind his first location, he turned it over to Tiffany Fixter, whose Brewability Lab was the first (and likely still only) brewery in the country specifically looking to employ a staff of disabled workers. As he turns over the site at at 1057 S. Wadsworth Blvd., he declined to say who was buying it but noted Saturday that it was "the type of people who will fit in well."

While the number of brewery closures is up in the past year, as the Colorado craft market begins to be somewhat clogged, Caution's exit is not due to financial hardship. A relaxed Wang said Saturday that he could have gone on in the new location for 20 years at his current level of success. But he wants to step back and look at the changing craft-brewing scene — one where distribution is becoming harder to come by and the neighborhood brewery is again the dominant force — and figure out how to change with it.

As such, he's already got some projects in the works, and he will be back, he said as other brewers stopped in early in the day to say their farewells to Caution. Some of the brewery's best known beers, from Lao Wang Lager to The Earl, are very likely to come back with him.

"This is last call here," Wang said of the location in Lakewood, where his brewery became just the second one operating in the city. "Whether Caution comes back as Caution, who knows."

It's worth noting that Caution didn't cruise into its final day, either. All through the month, it kept rolling out new beers, including a Cherry Milkshake IPA it broke out only on its final day. Wang acknowledged, as would be expected, that he'll keep homebrewing in his down time.

Asked what he liked most about the seven-year run, Wang didn't hesitate. And his answer speaks volumes about why he'll be back — even if, at first, it will just be as a visitor to a lot of beer festivals rather than as someone who will be serving his wares there.

"The friendships we made," he said while looking over some thank-you cards with his wife, Emily. "I have a phonebook full of people we met that I otherwise would never have talked to ... That you can't buy, no matter what you do."

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