How craft breweries are used to revitalize Colorado neighborhoods |

How craft breweries are used to revitalize Colorado neighborhoods

Darcy Bender and AJ Brinckerhoff hope to open Angry James Brewery in Silverthorne before the end of the year. The town gave the business a small grant to help foster bigger-picture plans for urban renewal.
Ben Trollinger / |

It started as a hobby and turned into an obsession,” A.J. Brinkerhoff, co-owner of what will soon be Silverthorne’s newest brewery — Angry James Brewing — explained between sips of coffee.

He and Darcy Bender moved to Summit County last year in pursuit of a longtime goal to start their own business. The decision to leave Denver was a leap of faith, with Bender having worked in a public accounting firm for more than six years, and Brinkerhoff having worked in finance for four years.

“I think it was a now-or-never type of thing. We were engulfed in our jobs in Denver,” Brinkerhoff said. “We wanted to build a family business that we could one day work on full-time.”


When Brinkerhoff made the initial move, he found a home in Wildernest but a job in Edwards at Crazy Mountain Brewing Co.

“That was a pretty interesting time period,” he said. “I was driving over the pass two times a day.”

The trip was made tolerable, though, by a long-term vision to become a beer entrepreneur. While he and Bender initially looked for a location in Copper, Bender and her father, the contractor, found a more suitable location in Silverthorne.

They purchased the lot, at 421 Adams Avenue, in September.

“We had seven banks in Denver tell us we’re crazy,” Brinkerhoff laughed.

With the help of a small business grant from Silverthorne, he and Bender plan to open Angry James Brewing in the heart of the town by the end of this year. Starting simple, he said they hoped to open with seven beers on tap.

The brewery will go up just blocks away from the planned location of the new Lake Dillon Theatre Company.

Silverthorne approved plans for the brewery in January as part of the town’s strategy to revitalize its downtown core. Town manager Ryan Hyland also said the new brewery would fit neatly into the town’s Arts and Culture Strategic Plan, also adopted this year.

“That’s how I would define A.J. and Darcy, as folks who are stepping outside of their traditional background and getting into a creative industry, like brewing,” he said. “They have made that investment and are counting on their vision coming to fruition. We need to make sure businesses around them complement their business.”

Between the theatre, brewery, a new restaurant and downtown condominium complex, he hopes to see the blocks along Highway 9 turn into a hub of cultural activity. Both the brewery and the theater will break ground in the spring.

With its downtown location, Angry James will also be the first business to fall under Silverthorne’s new design standards, constructed up to the curb for more of a downtown, storefront look.

“When the brewery goes in, it’s usually that first thing,” Hyland noted. “Maybe they’re just a little more bold, more willing to take that leap.”

From that point, he noted, other businesses tend to open around breweries, driving growth.


Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, pointed to Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood as an example of this trend.

“When Wynkoop Brewery went into LoDo, it was cheapest space they could find,” he said. “Now, LoDo is obviously a much different neighborhood from when they moved in.”

The advantage of moving into an area early, with cheaper property values, can turn industrial spaces into a new neighborhood.

“One of the advantages of breweries is they can go into former industrial buildings or difficult spaces to develop,” he said. “They can draw in tourists. … Particularly in Colorado, people are excited about fresh, local beer.”

According to the Brewers Association, in 2014, breweries contributed about $2.7 billion to Colorado’s economy. Nationally, the impact of the craft-brewing industry exceeds $50 billion — among manufacturing a product, creating jobs in the service industry and supporting other local businesses.

“It’s something that is a big economic driver right now,” Watson said. “Most recently, we’ve seen a sharp acceleration in the last five years.”

While the craft brewing industry first blossomed in the early 1980s, with the federal legalization of home brewing, the trend has snowballed as more craft breweries increase the public’s interest in beer, following a trend similar to the specialty coffee industry.

“Beer lovers get introduced to beer from small, local independent producers,” he said. “They’re all helping build that market by introducing local beer lovers to more flavorful styles.”


Angry James isn’t the first business in Silverthorne to receive a small business grant. Just a year before, The Bakers’ Brewery received a similar grant and participated in the town’s Enhanced Sales Tax Incentive Program (ESTIP).

“They took a building that had seen its time and made it an asset to the town,” Hyland said.

Formerly the location of a Village Inn, the building had stood vacant for two years before owners Cory Forster and Stephanie Sadler conducted extensive renovations.

Two other standouts of Summit, located at the opposite side of the county, have made the most of a tough location. Broken Compass Brewing and Breckenridge Distillery, located out on Airport Road, have made a name for themselves despite the industrial location.

Breckenridge Distillery opened in 2007, its location chosen for room to expand. With the help of a tasting room in downtown Breckenridge, the distillery has quickly expanded to become one of the fastest-growing distilleries in the nation. From 2010 to 2016, the once-small distillery has more than doubled its 15 employees to 35.

“Airport Road is certainly growing,” Patrick Brown, a manager at Breckenridge Distillery said, noting plans for nearby residential buildings and the number of dispensaries that have popped up the last two years.

“Now people are venturing further outside of Breckenridge to partake in that,” he said. “On their way there, they see Breckenridge Distillery.”

With more plans to expand, the distillery plans to open a farm-to-table restaurant next door in the future. Known to partner with several local breweries, the distillery will often provide empty bourbon barrels for aging beer.

The beer community

The collaboration isn’t unique to the distillery, however. If the Summit County United Brewers’ Alliance’s Scuba Dooba Dubbel is any indication, the brewers work together just as much.

“I can’t say enough about how supportive Bakers’ has been. I was having a beer there, and Cory said, ‘Oh, you’re one of the Angry people,’” Brinkerhoff laughed.

Forster invited him to participate in the collaboration beer, even though Angry James was not yet open. With one barrel of the dubbel, Brinkerhoff hopes to age it in a wine barrel and save it for the grand opening, along with a few of his own creations.

“Once we get going, we hope to bring something to the table for the different breweries,” he said. “The more quality breweries there are, the better reputation the industry gets.”

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