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Posted: June 17, 2009

Great Divide marks 15 years

Denver brewer says downtown is a great spot for making it hoppy brews

Jay Dedrick

Somewhere during a flight between Colorado and California, it hit Brian Dunn.

Beer.

No, there was no unruly passenger or careless flight attendant dousing him in his seat. This was an epiphany, the realization that he needed to focus his energy on starting his own brewery. He even began work on a marketing study.

The only trouble: He was bound for a job interview with an environmental cleanup firm.

“I spent more time on the plane writing up that marketing study than on preparing for my job interview,” says Dunn, at the time a home brewer who had only toyed with the idea of turning pro. “That’s when I realized I really wanted to do the brewery.”

And so he did. This month, Great Divide Brewing Co. celebrates its 15th anniversary. The downtown Denver establishment may not have been a place where Dunn could use his graduate degree in environmental policy, but it’s where he made his passion profitable.

“I was hoping we’d make it this long, but you’re never sure,” says Dunn, whose greatest doubt came fairly early in the life of the downtown Denver craft brewery. “We ran out of money six months after we opened.”

It was a good problem – high demand for his products – that led to that bad problem. After securing funding from outside investors, he was able to expand the brewery. That growth continues today, whether it’s selling greater volume of hoppy brews like Titan IPA and Hercules Double IPA in Colorado and other states across the country, or in adding a patio outside a tap room that had grown too crowded with patrons.

“The local community has been really supportive of us,” Dunn says. “We’re now about the only packaging brewery in downtown Denver, where there used to be four or five. We’ve worked hard, stuck it out, and now we feel like we’re the lone survivor.”

Dunn grew up in Vermont with a mom who liked to cook and a dad who knew his beer, wine and whiskey. His appreciation for better beer grew out of the nightly family gatherings at the dinner table. “In college, it seemed like I was the only person drinking really good beer,” Dunn says. With his undergraduate degree in soil science from Colorado State University, Dunn traveled overseas, helping to establish farms in Third-World countries.

“I went to 30 countries in five years,” he says. “Traveling gave me more exposure to good beer. I started brewing at home – a hobby that went off the deep end.”

Dunn says the greatest lesson he’s learned in Great Divide’s first 15 years is simple. “You’d better have a passion for what you’re doing,” he says. “You’ve got to treat it like it’s more than a job. If you don’t care about it, you’re not going to make it as a small business.

“It’s also important to do business ethically and be part of the community. You’ve got to establish good relationships, because this is very much a relationship business. We’ve found that it’s a pretty small world out there, so you’ve got to take care of what’s important, and that’s people.”

IN OTHER BEER NEWS

A beer pairing dinner with brews most commonly sold in cans? Don’t chuckle – the canned beers we’re talking about are from Oskar Blues, the Lyons crafter that thinks outside the bottle for its line of big-flavored suds. Dale’s Pale Ale, Ten Fidy Imperial Stout and more are on the menu for a special evening at the Barking Goat Tavern near Castle Pines. If cedar-plank salmon paired with Mama’s Little Yella Pils sounds like a mighty match to you, be sure you’re at the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. today (Thursday, June 18.) Cost is $42 per person, not including tax and tip; reservations, 303-663-6644.

Some beers can’t be rushed: Odell Brewing Co. had expected to release its second Woodcut beer several weeks ago. But the golden ale, part of the Fort Collins brewery’s limited-edition series of beers aged in oak barrels and then bottle conditioned, hadn’t had enough time to fully carbonate. The wait is over, and you’ll now find 750-ml cork-topped bottles in stores for $24.99. Rich with hints of vanilla and toffee, it’s worth seeking out, and definitely worth the wait.
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