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Not many people become fluent in a new language by talking about beer. But Denver native Sean Guerrero isn’t one to follow the standard path. “The area we were in was … mostly the local Chinese people. Nobody spoke English,” he remembers of Huzhou, a town in western China’s Zhejiang province he moved to in 2015. “I had to learn Chinese just by explaining beers and styles and flavors.”
It was Guerrero’s initial foray into blending Chinese, American, and brewing cultures, an ideology that permeates his Aurora-based Jade Mountain Brewery and Teahouse, which opened May 1.
Indeed, everything from the beers on tap to the name itself lives into the brewery’s “blending cultures” tagline. There’s of course the East-meets-West dual influence, but there’s also the yeast and bacterial cultures that are mixed to create Guerrero’s signature sours. And the moniker “Jade Mountain” pairs the mineral found in artwork across Asia with Denver’s iconic geographical features. That all plays into what Guerrero hopes will set his brewery apart.
“I want [people] to feel that this place is more than just good beer. Good beer is expected in a place like Denver,” Guerrero says. “I want to show something different and special [that’s] not just about beer but the community and culture and flavors.”
As with his language acquisition, Guerrero’s path into professional brewing was atypical. He’d been a committed homebrewer and had volunteered at local breweries, but a permanent position as a brewer proved elusive. When his wife, a Chinese citizen, suggested they move back to her home country, Guerrero saw an opportunity to bypass the biases of American brewing culture and introduce something “different and special” to the local Chinese population. “There’s really not much craft beer in China, even though it’s the largest consumer of beer in the world,” Guerrero says. “They just drink the macro lagers.”
After just two months in Huzhou, Guerrero bought a 300-square-foot, former tea house on the Huancheng River and turned it into a brewery dubbed Jade Mountain. The process wasn’t without its challenges. Sourcing ingredients was tricky—Guerrero remembers toting yeast back from the States in a suitcase because it was hard to buy in China—as was finding the right brewing equipment. He brewed his first batches in a 10-gallon brewing tank, what he calls a “glorified home-brew system.” And of course, there was that whole language barrier to overcome.
But Guerrero stuck with it, enjoying the ability to incorporate the bounty of Chinese fruits, rare teas, and native flowers readily accessible in his new home to his beers. The problem was, his customers were used to more traditional styles of beer like German lagers and Belgian ales—and Guerrero wanted to push the brewing boundaries further. “We ended up doing really well for what we did,” he says, “but the more experimental styles like sours … didn’t go over as well as I had hoped because they’re still getting used to what craft beer can taste like it.”
So at the end of 2017, Guerrero and his wife returned to Denver, where he could “flex my creative fingers” for an audience deeply familiar with craft beer. After some initial setbacks with what proved to be a lemon of a location, not to mention the global pandemic, Guerrero opened his new brewery named, of course, Jade Mountain.
The name isn’t the only cross-over from the original location. Many of Guerrero’s Colorado-brewed beers still purposefully incorporate rice to create a specific flavor profile. Sours, too, are a Jade Mountain specialty because they allow Guerrero to showcase traditionally Asian flavors like kumquat, lychee, and Sichuan chile. There’s also the selection of hard teas on the menu, what Guerrero describes as an alcoholic, seltzer-style beverage brewed with fruit and tea. And for non-drinkers, there are multiple varieties of organic, Chinese teas. Try the Yang Gui Fei, a lychee-infused fruit sour named after an ancient Chinese emperor’s imperial consort, or the Snow, a sipper brewed with toasted rice and jasmine flowers.
Guerrero’s path to Jade Mountain wasn’t direct, but it was worthwhile. “I’m thankful for the way I’ve come into this industry [because] it’s allowed me to have a different perspective,” he says, a perspective that sees the beauty and potential in blending traditions. “Beer is great, but we want people to have some type of emotional connection. We want to try to create a culture.”
Jade Mountain Brewery and Teahouse is open Sunday–Tuesday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m., and Wednesday–Saturday, 11 am.–10 p.m.; 4233 S. Buckley Rd., Aurora