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Breckenridge: New Brewery, Collaborations

Comic Con, Music Help Colorado Brewer Connect
Breckenridge Brewpub, Brews Wayne is Batman

by Jay Dedrick

Colorado, a place where the mountains meet the plains, is full of dynamic duos. Minds creating innovation indoors are able to refuel by climbing new heights outdoors. City nightlife isn’t far from country living. The state also is proud home to a burgeoning brewing industry led by true believers in the teaming of “craft” and “beer.”

A stalwart in those ranks, Breckenridge Brewery next year will mark its 25th anniversary. The popularity of mainstay offerings Avalanche Ale and Vanilla Porter has had a lot to do with carrying Breck this far, but the brewery is looking beyond its walls for partnerships that have the potential to reach new ground in years to come.

“It’s a great family to be with, a great company that’s growing,” said Matt Eldridge, Breckenridge Brewery marketing man. “And I think that’s because of the fun, collaborative spirit.”

It doesn’t get much more fun than comic books, right?

The launching of Denver Comic Con in 2012 inspired Eldridge to explore a tie-in: Maybe comic, fantasy and sci-fi fans could become super friends with craft beer. The team proved heroic, as Breckenridge this year brewed a special convention beer for the third consecutive time. At this year’s event, fans were treated to a hoppy amber ale; in a contest, Denver Comic Con fans gave it a not-so-secret identity: Brews Wayne. The shadowy, masked crime fighter on collectible pint glasses caught the eye of thousands of visitors to the convention, where the souvenirs sold out in short order.

An artist's rendering of the new brewery in Littleton.

Sales of the beer and glasses benefited a nonprofit, Comic Book Classroom, so fans were doing good while sampling a Breckenridge creation – one that could very well inspire future collecting.

“It gets people turned on to craft beer,” Eldridge said. “That’s definitely a different demographic that we don’t typically reach out to, but it’s a massive group of people. To be able to turn them onto not only craft beer, but to our brand, was huge for us.”

The brewery has been big on unexpected partnerships in recent years. Earlier this year, longtime Colorado bluegrass band Leftover Salmon teamed with Breck to introduce new music to fans: Song download codes were exclusively packed inside 12-packs. A couple of the state’s outdoor recreation industries, Never Summer snowboards and Topo Designs backpacks, have also worked with the brewery on co-branded products.

Breckenridge takes its name from the rustic ski town where Avalanche – a smooth, nutty amber -- began cascading in 1990 at the Brewery & Pub. The original 10-barrel brewhouse in Summit County remains a lab for pilot brews, but Breck’s main home since 1996 has been Denver, with a main production facility in an industrial neighborhood south of downtown. Here, capacity has been reached, as Breck brews 65,000 barrels per year to serve a 37-state market.

Demand isn’t slowing, though, and the brewery would like to be able to soar into states where its creations have yet to land, namely the Pacific Northwest. To reach that peak, Breckenridge has been led to find yet another home. This time it’s Littleton, a city in Denver’s southern suburbs that’s closer in feel to the state’s farmland on the eastern plains than the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

The tasting room will have a farmhouse feel.

On 13 acres that used to be filled by a tree nursery, farmhouse-style buildings are under construction. By May, they’ll be home to 100 barrels – enough brewing capacity for 150,000 barrels per year eventually – and a large barbecue restaurant and tasting room. Outdoor seating will promise visitors pastoral views of the surrounding hop gardens, the nearby Platte River and, yes, the not-too-distant Rockies.

“This will be the first brewery that Breckenridge Brewery has built from scratch,” Eldridge said. “So we’re putting all of our culture, all of our flavor, into it. We’re really trying to make it a Colorado destination. We want to draw people, not only out of Denver, but into Colorado from other states. We want to take visitors who are interested in this whole craft beer scene and get them outside of Denver and Boulder, into this kind of unfamiliar, really cool little place.”

The greater production capacity – likely 90,000 barrels in the first 12 months – should enable more super team-ups, too. Eldridge mentions major comic conventions in San Diego, Chicago and Austin as potential partners for Breckenridge beer pairings.

As for the Denver production facility, tap room and barbecue restaurant, Breckenridge will be moving out. But the building’s tradition of Colorado craft brewing will continue: A local brewery in need of more room is expected to move in next year.

“We’re viewing it as being the big brother passing this place to the next brewer that can hopefully hop into our shoes and uphold the legacy in this neighborhood,” Eldridge said. “Because we have ties here – and we want to have a place where we can come back and visit.”