When Mark Job moved to Colorado in the fall of 1999, he decided to get back into homebrewing, a fulfilling hobby he’d taken up years earlier but had to put on hold because of his busy U.S. Air Force career.
His first stop? Brew Hut, a small-but-mighty homebrew shop in an Aurora strip mall. With ingredients, gear, and plenty of advice from Brew Hut’s staff—including the store’s co-owner and Dry Dock Brewing co-founder Kevin DeLange—Job grew more and more confident in his home-brewed beers, so much so that he even began contemplating opening his own brewery. And, a few years later, he did just that. In November 2018, Job and his business partner Paul Dampier went from homebrews to professional brewers when they opened Bent Barley Brewing Company in Aurora’s Southlands Mall. “Just seeing the camaraderie that guys like Kevin bring to the community of brewers made it an inviting hobby-to-professional-life jump for both of us,” says Job.
Bent Barley is just one of the local craft breweries founded by homebrewers who got their start at Brew Hut, a long-standing fixture in the Centennial State’s beer community. Also included on that roster are Lone Tree Brewing Company, Edgewater’s Joyride Brewing Company, Aurora’s Launch Pad Brewery, West Colfax’s Seedstock Brewing, and, of course, Dry Dock, the award-winning brewery DeLange opened next door to his homebrew shop.
The store, which first opened in 1995, marked 25 years in business in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to celebrate in person. To make up for last year’s cancelled celebration, Brew Hut is instead hosting a 26th anniversary bash on June 26, complete with guest appearances and special collaboration beers from some of the breweries the store helped shepherd into the world.
DeLange bought Brew Hut from its founder, Scott Newcomb, in 2002. DeLange, who moved to Colorado from his home state of Iowa after college, had been working various corporate jobs and homebrewing periodically for fun, but knew he wanted to run his own business. The then 28-year-old began researching business opportunities and learned that Brew Hut was for sale. He jumped at the chance to make his part-time homebrewing hobby a full-time career—and, almost immediately, he was glad he did. “That was right at the beginning of what I call the golden age of homebrewing,” says DeLange, now 47. “It really just exploded after that.”
In the early 2000s, craft beer was starting to take off too, but, at the time, there weren’t a lot of breweries yet. That meant that if beer-drinkers wanted to try a “weird beer,” DeLange says, they had to make it themselves. Homebrewing remained popular for the next 10 or so years, then began to plateau as more and more breweries opened up, he says.
In the meantime, DeLange started mulling over the idea of opening a brewery of his own. On the advice of Brew Hut’s former owner Newcomb, he called various regulatory offices to learn more about the prospect of opening a tasting room brewery—that is, a manufacturing brewery, without food, that can sell its own beer on-site. Once he got the go-ahead from the state, DeLange moved forward with what would eventually become Dry Dock. He had to do some negotiating with the City of Aurora, too, which eventually agreed to allow him to open an 800-square-foot manufacturing brewery as an accessory to the Brew Hut retail space (and, later, rewrote its zoning laws to make them more friendly to tasting room breweries).
DeLange and business partner Michelle Reding opened Dry Dock in October 2005, right next door to the homebrew shop. When all was said and done, DeLange launched one of the first Colorado breweries of its kind—a manufacturing brewery with the sole intent of selling beer by the glass—thus paving the way for modern craft beer tasting rooms as we know them today. “They’ve been extremely influential—Kevin pretty much invented the taproom model that the majority of breweries in the state operate under,” says Dave Bergen, a long-time Brew Hut customer who opened Joyride Brewing Company in 2014. “Before that, you were either a big brewer or a brewpub, and the fact that you could go this third route made [opening a craft brewery] possible for people like me.”
While DeLange had some homebrewing experience, he didn’t know much about professional brewing when he owned Dry Dock. Fortunately, because of the retail store, he had good working relationships with staff at some of Colorado’s brewpubs and they agreed to help him get off the ground. Even as Dry Dock has grown and garnered awards (more than two dozen from the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup), DeLange has always tried to carry through that spirit of collaboration, both at the brewery and the homebrew store.
DeLange and his staff are always willing to lend a hand, offer advice, help build relationships, and otherwise connect the dots for burgeoning hobbyists and pros alike. “What I fell in love with was just the camaraderie, the fact that they were all helpful—and this has been a trend since the beginning,” says John Winter, who founded Lone Tree Brewing Company in 2011 after homebrewing and shopping at Brew Hut for several years. “Everybody there works to make you better and makes suggestions and moves you forward in learning.”
Today, Dry Dock’s original location at Hampden Avenue and Chambers Road has grown to some 12,000 feet. The brewery relocated its manufacturing operations when it bought its 30,000-square-foot North Dock location about 10 miles north in 2012. Brew Hut, meanwhile, has expanded into wine- and cheese-making supplies. Customers who visit the brewery can buy a beer, then wander over to Brew Hut to peruse the shop’s wares, and vice versa. “For the first few years, the customers from the Brew Hut helped Dry Dock get on its feet—it was all these people making beer at home who were buying my beer,” DeLange says. “Now that Dry Dock has its own reputation, people come into Dry Dock and we say, ‘Hey, if you want to make your own beer, go over to Brew Hut and we’ll teach you how to do that.’ It’s a huge symbiosis.”
The pandemic was bad business for the brewery, but it sparked renewed interest in homebrewing, a trend that DeLange believes will continue into the future, even though people aren’t spending as much time at home. As restrictions ease, Brew Hut plans to relaunch its popular on-site classes that run the gamut from introductory wine- and cheese-making to advanced homebrewing topics. It’s also happy to welcome back the many homebrew clubs that held meetings there before the pandemic, as well as restart their regular homebrew nights, which are part social gathering, part informal beer critique session. “Definitely like other hobbies, once homebrewers find their people, they come in and love to chat with everybody,” DeLange says.
No matter what other unexpected curveballs life throws his way—and no matter how the popularity of homebrewing rises and falls—DeLange vows to maintain the same sense of warm hospitality and friendliness that Brew Hut has had since the beginning.
“It was always important to me, and we continue this tradition today, to make people feel welcome and not intimidated,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your very first batch of beer or wine or cheese or if you’re an expert. Our biggest thing has been to have fun and make people feel comfortable.”
Celebrate the Brew Hut’s 26th anniversary on June 26, when the shop will feature special guest brews from six different breweries—including Dry Dock, Bent Barley, and Launch Pad—live music and games; discounts on merchandise; and more; 15120 E. Hampden Ave., Aurora