38 State Brewing Company is arriving at the end of a trail it blazed, and at the start of what its owners hope is a long and prosperous journey.
“People ask if, looking back at all the work it took to do it, would we do it again,” said Kim Keating. “That would be a definite yes. And we're rallying the other brewers that are opening up to just keep going.”
Keating, her husband, Mike, friend Jason Virzi and neighbor Brett Blazek got bit by the brewing bug five years ago, and decided three years ago to dive in head first by setting up shop in Littleton.
Several manufacturers have expressed interest in the city, but 38 State was the first to actually get the barrel rolling. At the time, such companies were only allowed in industrial areas like the Santa Fe corridor, where Breckenridge Brewery will rise next year. The Old Mill brewery gets to be downtown because it has a full restaurant, so it's classified as a brewpub.
But after dealing with 38 State, city staff recommended last year that the law be changed to allow microbreweries, wine makers and microdistilleries in certain commercial areas like shopping centers and downtown. City council ultimately agreed, passing an ordinance that limits their size and requires 30 percent of the building to be dedicated to retail sales and a tasting room.
The action actually came too late to help 38 State, which will host its grand opening on May 10 in its new space, a former automotive shop south of the Office Depot at Broadway and County Line Road. The garage doors open up to tables and a bar, along with a jukebox, Pac-Man machine and Golden Tee. While they don't have a kitchen, they will regularly invite food trucks and welcome deliveries and picnics.
“We love our space, so we're happy,” said Kim Keating. “But we paved the way for other places to not have to go through such a strict process.”
Some might call it the perfect setting for a garage party, which the partners say is basically how the idea got started.
“It was just a hobby that got way out of control,” said Keating. “It was really at the point we couldn't even park in our garage.”
Her husband was the natural choice to be the master brewer, as he's a professional master gardener by day. He's using as many local ingredients as he can get his hands on, and says he'll change up the offerings on a regular basis.
“I don't think we want to pigeonhole ourselves into any certain kind of style,” she said. “We don't want to be labeled, we want to cater to everybody.”
Mike Keating adds he doesn't want to get bored, either.
“I like beer with some flavor, but I'm not opposed to drinking large amounts of Coors Light, either,” he said.
Blazek said the true test came when they brought the beer out of the garage.
“Your friends are always going to have good things to say, but it's really neat that strangers, people we've never met, had good things to say,” he said.
They hired one of those strangers as their general manager, and Lael Callaway says he's impressed with the transformation of both the space and the partners.
“When I had my interview here, this place was a shell, and now it's something off the charts,” he said. “And watching all these guys adapt and learn something they've never done before is refreshing.”
Despite the challenges, everyone agrees 38 State — so named because Colorado was the 38 state admitted to the union — was worth it.
“For me, personally, I'm proud about the fact that I won't be that old man talking to somebody, saying `I could have done that, I should have done that,' ” said Mike Keating. “I can say with a smile, `I did that.' ”