Tucked into an industrial corner of Peoria and I-70 is Brewability Lab. It could easily be mistaken for another one of Denver’s myriad beer start-ups if not for one thing: the population they serve. Owner and self-proclaimed brewery mother Tiffany stands at the bar, chuckling and scrolling through her phone as bartender Tony whizzes around her, pouring pints from the color-coded taps behind him.
“What would you like?” Tony asks me.
“What do you recommend?”
He reads the names of the four beers available from the chalkboard. Apparently, all the beer here is good. I grin and order a pale ale while my drinking companion requests samples of the Hefeweizen and amber. The beer shots arrive in tiny beakers, fitting for the chemistry-themed slant of the brewery.
I catch Tiffany’s hands moving in Tony’s direction and immediately recognize the sign language from a deeply subconscious part of my brain.
The gesture resembles the Hawaiian surf culture’s signal for “gnarly” followed by the swipe of an open hand. That’s when I finally get it—you order by color, not by beer name. It’s brilliant and simple as drinking ought to be. I’m embarrassed at myself for being so slow to catch onto the process.
But there’s no reprimand here.
“Tony’s a great tour guide,” says one of the regulars as he slouches over the bar top. Between twangy notes of the country music pouring from the speaker system, he adds, “I found this place a few weeks ago, and it’s right by my work. I come here every Friday.”
He’s not the only loyal customer. It’s 4 p.m. and a sprinkling of others occupy the bar stools: incredibly friendly folks who have nothing but glowing reviews of the place. They’re eager to tell me more about it while Tony pushes my pint across the counter with a slightly shaky hand.
Beer sloshes out.
Tiffany wipes it up nonchalantly before divulging her jitters about the upcoming event she’s planned that will fundraise for birds of prey, Drink with Owls. Already the event has gone viral, with a few thousand people interested on Facebook and still a week to go. Last week, she entertained two busloads of Canadian lesbians who came to the bar for karaoke.
Brewability’s event calendar is chock full of unexpected combinations. Though sadly the lizard selfies have come and gone, I drool at the upcoming Singles Awareness Day party on Feb. 14th featuring cathartic activities like beat-your-ex piñatas.
The bar space is cozy, with instant photos hanging from twine in one corner and the opposite nook stacked with labeled grain containers used in the beermaking process. My friend and I tote our drinks as Tony provides us with one of his famous tours, describing in fine detail the progression of raw material, from mash to flavoring the beer. We’re then led back to see the tanks where assistant brewer Devon is busy washing equipment. The tour ends with a quick whiff of something very fragrant, a herb used to infuse the brew, contained in a silver bag.
As I stroll back to the bar, I’m overcome with childhood memories of my brother Josh and how diligently my mom worked to integrate him into public school. The 90s weren’t the easiest time to raise a child with Down syndrome but she pioneered the journey, armed with the grit of a determined parent and a saintly degree of self-sacrifice.
Growing up with a special needs family member was a lesson in both humility and joy for my parents and me. That’s why I made a beeline to Brewability Lab when I heard their back story: a dedication to provide opportunities and employment for adults with cognitive challenges in one of Colorado’s most lucrative industries.
It takes courage to empower those who have been traditionally infantilized by society. People with cognitive disabilities weren’t ever encouraged to learn a trade or pursue a career, let alone enjoy the freedoms most adults take for granted like drinking beer, voting, getting married, and even driving.
Brewability is shifting that paradigm in their own unique way.
“You wouldn’t know how to contact P!nk, would you?” Tiffany smiles as she takes a swig from her glass. “We have one staff member who’s absolutely in love with her music. He’d be so excited if she came to perform for us. Like, maybe just one song?”
It’s the unabashed openness that I’m in love with at this bar. The come-as-you-are philosophy behind its founding, the playfulness and acceptance. It feels familiar to me because it was an example demonstrated to me by my brother. The joy with which he lives his life is also evident in the faces of Tony and Devon and Tiffany. Good people serving delicious beer, making the world a more tolerant and inclusive place. One pint at a time.
Established by a special needs teacher, Brewability Lab generates jobs and hands-on training for adults with disabilities so that they can excel through opportunities in Colorado’s expanding beverage industry. Learn more at brewabilitylab.com.