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When Jeffrey Smith left his day job as a mechanical engineer to open a circus-themed brewery in Arvada, he didn’t expect his years of meticulous planning to be thrown for quite such a drastic loop. But just as Smith was putting the finishing touches on Luki Brewery in March, the rest of the beer and hospitality industries were facing the rollout of a global pandemic.
But with Smith as ringleader, the Luki show went on, with the Arvada-based brewery officially opening on July 3. There, Smith and his crew serve a mix of classic brews inspired by 1990s Colorado beer culture (think: blonde ales, amber ales, and cranberry wheats), as well as patron’s favorites upon request. Smith’s vision for Luki is to provide the greater Arvada community with a place to gather in good times and bad, taking a cue from the camaraderie inspired by the circus—and his own family history.
After Smith’s great-grandmother passed away more than a decade ago, his father stumbled upon a surprising discovery. A box of photos revealed that she had been a snake-charming, elephant-riding star in her time—known as Mademoiselle Chloe of the Ringling Bros. circus—and that her husband had been a ticket taker with the same traveling troupe. Though Smith’s parents assumed that the pair had shied away from telling their story due to the scandalous nature of circus life in those days, Smith’s family revelled in piecing together the story, one of folks who stuck together to make a shared living during the difficult days of the Great Depression.
Smith began sharing this family history and chronicling his brewery’s journey in a series of blog posts, sent out to prospective customers and Arvadans via an email newsletter. In the monthly posts dating back to April 2019, Smith shared personal stories and began shaping his vision of Luki’s place in west Arvada—literally, he chose the brewery’s shopping center location because it’s an accessible, high-traffic spot. “It was really important for us to have a space that was visible, and not be in a taproom, in a warehouse, behind two other manufacturing buildings,” Smith says.
Luki brings the vintage, earthy look of the 1920s and ’30s circuses depicted in his family photos through old circus play bills on the walls and a big-top tent hanging over the bar. “I wanted the vibe to be sitting outside the circus tent on a nice warm night,” Smith says. Rather than covering the place in potentially nightmare-inducing clown figures, Smith chose to evoke what the circus meant to his own family: a shared experience of “we’re all in this together.”
This philosophy has helped guide most of the business-planning decisions that brought Luki to life. The name itself is a combination of Smith’s daughters’ names—Lu and Ki—and Smith has dreamed up myriad ways for patrons to get to know the Luki crew. In August, he offered customers a sweet deal: Come by the brewery for some socially distant peach-peeling and good conversation, and, in return, receive a free growler of the peach-infused brew upon its release. 180 pounds of Palisades peaches later, and Luki’s farmhouse ale “That’s Just Peachy” was born.
Since then, Luki has hosted pandemic-friendly events including an in-house Oktoberfest coloring contest; a virtual Lego-building competition; and most recently, he created a brand-new Election Day IPA based on a patron voting system. Timed to be released on November 3, Smith asked for customer feedback through a series of polls, through which more than 100 locals voted on aspects of the brew’s flavor profile—including bitterness, alcohol content, aroma, color, haziness, and barrel-aging (or not)—to create the aptly named Democracy IPA.
To comply with the latest indoor dining restrictions, the team at Luki expanded their outdoor seating area, scouring every nearby Home Depot for 10 propane-fueled fire pit tables. Along with folding chairs, Smith also purchased 30 giant blankets (sanitized between uses, of course) to keep patrons toasty while drinking outside.
Smith says he looks forward to dreaming up more community-based events and menu items, keeping customers updated every step of the way. “Do you ever have that life event such as a marriage or birth of a child, and you remember only the emotions? Details escape you because it was almost too much at the time to wrap your head around?” Smith wrote in a blog post from July 31. “That’s us right now. We are happy to be here. And we’re just getting started.”
Luki Brewery is open Monday–Saturday, 12–8 p.m. and Sunday, 12–7 p.m.; 14715 W. 64th Ave., Units A and B, Arvada; 303-421-2603