Former Future Brewing is one of at least ten breweries that hope to open in Denver this year, and although owner James Howat hasn't settled on a location yet or even purchased a brewhouse, he's already made his first batch of beer: a chocolate milk stout.
To do that, Howat bought three small, four-barrel fermenting tanks from TRVE Brewing, which was upgrading its equipment, and then installed them at Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew, another tiny brewery that opened last October. In return for being able to use the fermenters, Our Mutual Friend is contract-brewing Howat's beer.
"Our plan is to open a taproom, but this is a way to generate some traction and get some feedback on our beers," Howat says. "It's really mutually beneficial."
It's also an unusual approach to starting a business, but innovation -- and collaboration -- has become standard for new nanobreweries in Denver and Boulder, many of which have had to come up with creative business plans to get off the ground.
"How you do it depends on what you have in place first," says Howat, a microbiologist who put his plans for a brewery into motion last fall. "Some people, like us, have the funding but not the location. Or you might have a space but no money. Or you might have both of those things, but you are waiting on permits or equipment."
Our Mutual Friend itself has had to walk a fine line since it went into business. Owners Brandon Proff, Bryan Leavelle and Andrew Strasburg found an awesome location in the River North area, but since they were all handling fulltime jobs and trying to raise money, they had to work on the side to get the brewery open.
And once they did, they only had enough manpower -- and beer -- to keep the brewery open on alternating weekends and with occasional hours. Eventually, they were able to build enough momentum and financing to keep a regular schedule.
In Boulder, Fate Brewing decided to open its restaurant in February before it even had a brewing system in place, in order to generate cash flow. To compensate, head brewer Jeff Griffith traveled to other local breweries and collaborated with the staff there on beers that he was able to serve at his own place on opening day. Fate has since purchased its own equipment and should be serving its own beer later this month.
Other examples include: Black Shirt Brewing, which took a similar approach to OMF; Prost Brewing, which began selling beer to draft accounts before its taproom was ready; and Crooked Stave, which brews its wort at other breweries and maintains a separate taproom where those beers are fermented and served.
Former Future takes its name from Howat's plan to brew "futuristic interpretations of historical style," an approach that he plans to incorporate into all aspects of his business, from the beers to the taproom to the logo to a tasting he wants to hold in April in the Presidential Suite at the Oxford Hotel; go to his Facebook page for information.
At the party, Howat will serve several of his beers, which are nineteenth-century recipes that he has modified with new twists. For instance, he'll have a "salted Gose-Porter," an English mild spiced with American hops, and a saison that Howat spiked with a strain of wild yeast that he cultivated himself from a Baker neighborhood apple tree.
If it takes longer than expected to find a space for his brewery, Former Future and Our Mutual Friend will enter into an agreement called an alternating proprietorship, which will allow Howat to brew his beers under his own name at OMF rather than having them contract-brewed. He and OMF have already started that paperwork.
Howat and his wife, Sarah, are looking for a location in either the Baker neighborhood, the Golden Triangle, South Washington Park or near Santa Fe Drive.
In the meantime, Former Future, Our Mutual Friend and TRVE are talking about doing a three-way collaboration beer to celebrate their connections.
"All of us are always losing our minds trying to keep up," OMF's Proff says. "So, this is what I like about the craft beer scene in Denver. You can always find five people willing to help you help out at any one time."