With more than 200 breweries and counting in the state, it’s no secret Colorado loves its craft beer. But Colorado also loves great places to drink said beer, and the finalists of the inaugural Colorado Brewery Cup provide such spaces.
INTERACTIVE MAP: Over 200 Colorado breweries, 16 groups
For Whitney Way and her husband John, who co-own City Star, the town of Berthoud, which had a growth cap until the turn of the century, provides the veil of mystery.
But with a growing cache of trophies from the Great American Beer Festival and U.S. Open beginning to line its tap room shelves thanks to its flagship Bandit Brown and Mule Kick Strong Ale, along with the fact that their beers now being offered in more than 60 Front Range taps, their name is slowly leaking out.
Located at the corner of East Arapahoe and South Parker roads in Aurora, which was at one point the state’s second-biggest intersection, Dad and Dude’s Breweria has made a concerted effort to maintain its little hole-in-the-wall feel without becoming overrun by suburbanites. Now eyeing a second location in Littleton that challenge for dad (Tom Hembree) and dude (Mason Hembree) won’t be going away any time soon.
Both breweries also seem to embody one of the virtues at the heart of the Colorado Brewery Cup.
Much like the U.S. men’s national team was able to galvanize the support of a nation for a couple of weeks during the 2014 World Cup, these two breweries leaned on the same sort of wholesale community support they’ve built in their neighborhoods to reach the final.
“That’s what we’ve loved about this tournament,” Whitney said. “It’s not necessarily about who makes the best beer in Colorado. It’s also about atmosphere and community, which I think are two things the craft beer industry also does does really well.”
Mason would agree. In fact, he and his dad both quit jobs in more hostile environments for an opportunity to jump into an industry that felt much more supportive.
Tom, who has extensive experience in the restaurant industry — “You can notice from his belly,” Mason joked — started a window cleaning company in an effort to better support his family. Mason dropped out of college because an affiliate marketing company he had founded took off.
The money was there for both of them. But the passion and compassion were not.
“For me in particular, the online marketing industry was really, really cutthroat,” Mason said. “Everyone was out to get everyone else at all times. I was the same way, and I didn’t like it.”
That all changed in 2009, when Mason bumped into a drifter in Crested Butte and feel into what he called a “good, long conversation.”
“I just realized I had to do something better for myself — something better for my family,” Mason said. “I knew my dad always wanted a pizzeria and I always wanted to get into craft brewing. We both did what we had to do — for me, it was selling my company — and we realized those dreams together.”
Opening City Star was a more gradual process for the Whitney’s. But it too began with an offer from a family member.
“We weren’t necessarily even looking for a space to open a brewery,” Whitney said. “But I’ve got family who was looking for a new tenant for a 3,000-square-foot space they own in the middle of downtown Berhtoud, and they said, ‘We’d really like it to be you.'”
And so the couple set about renovating the 100-year-old building.
Anything they could do themselves they did, including reusing old wood they found in the building, turning the original windows they found under drywall into chalkboards, building a barrel stave chandelier and utilizing trinkets from the surrounding community — including an old piece of railroad track incorporated into the refurbished storefront.
“We wanted to pay homage to the history of the building and the history of Berthoud,” Whitney said. “The building has got so much character that we didn’t want to spoil.”
And they succeeded in that process in the minds of the History Colorado Center, which awarded City Star with the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation for their efforts.
Along those same historic lines, Dad and Dude’s and City Star both relied on lessons from the state’s breweries that came before them to get up and running.
For City Star, Whitney said they modeled their community potlucks and trivia nights, which have gotten so popular they spill over into their brewing operation rooms, after similar events at Copper Kettle Brewing Company in southeast Denver.
For Dad and Dude’s, Mason said his dreams of craft brewing were born when he was working for his dad’s window cleaning company when he was in high school.
One of his dad’s clients just happened to be The Brewery Hut in Aurora. The little 800-square foot space has since morphed into Dry Dock Brewing Company, which now has an event space that caters to private parties of up to 100 and makes 11,000 barrels of beer a year.
To say Mason’s brewing journey has come full circle might be an understatement.
He started brewing beer in the tiny Brew Hut when he wasn’t old enough to drink it. This year he hired Bill Eye, his mentor at the Brew Hut, who moved on to serve as head brewer at both Dry Dock and Prost Brewing Company in Denver, as the head of quality control for Dad and Dude’s new line of production beers.
Dad and Dude’s plans on releasing Leaves of Lemongrass, a Belgium wit, and Ryot Red Ale, a rye ale with lampong peppercorn, to accompany its Dank IPA in cans later this year.
“To be back working working with a guy who taught me the art of brewing, to see people enjoying something you’ve created, it’s been heartwarming for me,” Mason said.
As good a story as both City Star and Dad and Dude’s have, they didn’t get to the Colorado Brewery Cup Finals without votes. And they both went about getting them in unique ways.
City Star gives a great deal of credit to a one-eyed chihuahua named Harley. The dog belongs to Whitney’s parents, and has been utilized as a spokesdog, so to speak, for the Colorado Springs-based National Mill Dog Rescue, which works to raise awareness about the danger of puppy mills.
As for Dad and Dude’s, they leaned heavy on their 25 employees, which include their brewmaster, Bard Nielsen, a retired architect who they hired off Craigslist, and their in-house caricature artist Roby, to get the word out.
“I wasn’t sure we’d make it past Avery Brewing Company (Boulder), but we rallied as hard as we could,” Mason said. “I think people are starting to get a little irritated about my spamming texts.”
FINAL TALLIES: See how your favorite brewery fared in earlier rounds
That, and Dad and Dude’s have also long been promising a free beer day if they win.
“We’ll fill up a couple kegs with our favorite beer,” Mason said. “The first one’s on us until we run out. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating a win.”
Regardless of who does win the Cup, Whitney has seen the tournament as a boon for small breweries across Colorado.
“I’ve learned a lot about other breweries, and I think throughout this tournament we’ve seen communities rallying around breweries and breweries rallying around other breweries,” Whitney said. “At the end of the day, that’s what this industry is all about.”
Make the difficult choice for one of the two breweries below. You can vote up until 10:30 p.m. Monday night.