Drinking age: Aurora’s game-changing home-brew store set to celebrate 20 years

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Kevin DeLange and Michelle Redding know a lot about beer. More specifically, they know a lot about a lot of beer.

Last year, DeLange, Redding and their growing team at Aurora’s Dry Dock Brewing Company cranked out more than 15,000 barrels of suds in a year for the first time in the brewery’s 10-year history.

But none of those hundreds of thousands of gallons of brew would have been possible without a shard of advice casually served out 13 years ago, one that signaled a seismic shift for the duo.

on Friday May 22, 2015 at Brew Hut. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)
on Friday May 22, 2015 at Brew Hut. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)

The guiding input came from Scott Newcomb, the founder and former owner of The Brew Hut, a home brew store that started on East Iliff Avenue and South Buckley Road and later moved to its current home at 15120 E. Hampden Ave. Newcomb sold the shop to Redding and DeLange in the fall of 2002, and spent about a month helping the then-20-somethings find their business legs.

Asked how he would grow the business if he were to keep it, Newcomb told the pair about a legal technicality he had pondered exploiting: under Colorado law, it’s permissible to have a tasting room in the front end of a brewery so long as it’s attached to a pre-existing retail outpost — such as a home brew store.

That was a game-changer.

“It was an absolutely invaluable piece of information he passed on to us, and that just says what kind of guy he is,” Redding said. “I don’t know where I’d be now — probably still working in corporate America as a corporate pension actuary — had Scott not given us that.”

Now, a handful of Great American Beer Festival medals, an expanded brew store, a couple tasting rooms and a colossal canning facility later, it’s tough to argue that the almost-fleeting comment from Newcomb and ensuing plunge into commercial brewing didn’t work out for the owners of Dry Dock.

Asked how he would grow the business if he were to keep it, Newcomb told the pair about a legal technicality he had pondered exploiting: under Colorado law, it’s permissible to have a tasting room in the front end of a brewery so long as it’s attached to a pre-existing retail outpost — such as a home brew store.

But Aurora’s pioneering beer barons haven’t forgotten their meager beginnings and helpful counseling Newcomb provided. On June 6, they’re celebrating The Brew Hut’s 20th anniversary with a party at the store, and they’re flying Newcomb in from Florida to join in the festivities.   

“They took that idea [to add a taproom] and ran with it,” Newcomb said in a statement. “I couldn’t be happier that it grew and the way that it did.”

He’s currently a real estate agent and property manager near Orlando, and working to open a new craft brewery in Port Canaveral.

The anniversary celebration will feature music, games and, of course, beers on tap from about a dozen metro area breweries, nearly all of which were started by former hops-obsessed customers of The Brew Hut.

“There are so many customers that have been coming here for far longer than we’ve owned this place,” DeLange said.

Newcomb said that he designed the store to offer nearly every ingredient a brewer could need, so they would be able to brew almost anything imaginable. In the years DeLange has run the shop, he said the widening availability of commercial ingredients has signaled a shift in the quality of beers brewed in basements, garages and suburban kitchens.

“Denver has such a big market, it’s amazing the easy access home brewers have to different hop varieties, yeast strains and malted barleys,” he said. “As a home brewer, you can get any ingredients a commercial brewer can get, and that’s the biggest change I’ve seen since taking over.”

The anniversary celebration will feature music, games and, of course, beers on tap from about a dozen metro area breweries, nearly all of which were started by former hops-obsessed customers of The Brew Hut.

There were more than 230 breweries in Colorado last year, according to the Brewer’s Association, though DeLange said that he believes the number has since surged north of 280.

“The beer market has changed in every single way possible, and it’s much more common to have a conversation with someone who says that they’ve made their own beer or wine than it was 13 years ago,” Redding said. “When we first opened Dry Dock, all the Brew Hut people knew about the brewery because they would just see it when they came by, but now people know about Dry Dock and not everyone knows about The Brew Hut. It’s been interesting to see such a home-brewing focus change to more of a craft beer focus.”

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