Without sounding too hyperbolic, COVID-19 was the largest disruption to the brewing industry since Prohibition: government-mandated stay-at-home orders, no on-premise consumption, no crowding of any kind and certainly not under a roof. The lion’s share of Boulder County breweries rely on taproom and over-the-counter sales, but for a solid 14 months, they had to pivot their entire business plan to packaging, to-go orders and distribution, a channel already clogged by big beer, regional breweries and limited shelf space. Yet, despite all that and the uncertainty of when anything would get back to “normal,” Eric Kean and Sam Scruby still decided to open their brewery.
“This was not a play for 2020 or 2021,” Kean says. “This was a play for the next 10 to 20 years of our careers.”
The two have been friends since college and are both Colorado natives who know the local scene inside and out: Kean from Left Hand Brewing, Scruby from Upslope. Now they’ve taken their talents to Lyons and converted the historic building at 450 Main St. into MainStage Brewing Co.
“People have been like: Why do you want to open a brewery right now?” Scruby says. “But if you looked at all the momentum in 2019, it was experience-driven. It was on-premise neighborhood spots. … We’re trying to pick back up where we left off before the pandemic.”
And where we left off was hyper-local beer, brewed and consumed on-site, most often to the accompaniment of live entertainment, which you might expect from a brewery named MainStage.
“Philosophically, I think everything has to be really good, whether it’s a beer or a band,” Kean says. “I’m just aiming at the best talent we can possibly put on stage, and then within that, as much local music as I can do.”
Their event calendar is already packed, and Kean says he still has a hundred or so booking emails to read.
“A lot of what we’re ending up with is acoustic Americana, a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll — which is really, really strong in Northern Colorado,” Kean continues. “That said, I’ll put anything up if it’s great.”
And with Scruby at the kettle, the beer is bound to be great, too. As Upslope’s head brewer, Scruby’s métier ran every which way, from English pub ales to German pilsner to a memorable saison brewed with Champagne yeast. As Adam Avery told the guys when he stopped to check out MainStage, “There’s always room for great beer.”
“It sounds cliché, but I truly believe that,” Scruby says. Scruby’s still working on getting a seven-barrel system into the historic building. The footprint is small, and the building has picked up a few quirks since it was built 140 years ago. But once he does, he’ll bring his playful R&D approach to MainStage’s lineup with lagers, hazies and barrel-aged beers.
“Music-wise and beer-wise, Sam and I line up a lot,” Kean adds. And with their new digs, 1,200 square feet inside, 3,000 out, they not only have “the largest patio in Lyons,” as Kean says, but the ideal location to provide “the best of what Colorado’s got: sunshine, beer, patio, music. … That was our goal.”
Now it’s their reality. MainStage Brewing Co. is open seven days a week, from noon to 10 p.m. More information at mainstagebrewing.com
It could have been so much worse
But it wasn’t. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, industry experts and economists predicted that the government mandate restricting in-person consumption would destroy the brewing industry. Maybe half of all breweries would close. The outlook was bleak.
“I think all of those prognosticators were probably right,” Kean says. “The information we didn’t have at the beginning of the pandemic was all the federal aid that was going to come down.”
Here in Boulder County, only three breweries permanently closed during the pandemic, and one will be home to a new brewery later this year. Two more breweries opened in 2020, one partnering in a preexisting location, another in a new building. Now MainStage opens up Boulder County’s 2021 cycle with at least two more breweries under construction. Additionally, Brewers Association economist Bart Watson reports that scan data is down, which he interprets as more customers returning to breweries and taprooms for beer instead of buying from grocery and liquor stores.
“The government did a great job helping out small businesses during COVID,” Kean says.
Now it’s our turn.