By Holly Gerard
Contributor Holly Gerard interviewed Brewability Lab owner Tiffany Fixter about being the first brewery in Denver to employ adults with developmental disabilities.
Q: We think it’s laudable that you employ adults with developmental disabilities at the brewery. Whose idea was it and why?
A: I was the one that came up with the idea because I was a special education teacher for 10 years. I moved here from Kansas City, Mo., to teach a day program for adults. I soon realized there was a lack of services and classes offered in special education after they reached age 21. I worked with a home brewer for inspiration on the concept of hiring special needs adults that could have job opportunities where they are front and center, and not just behind the scenes. We first tested the idea out at Grandma’s House brewery in Denver and got funding from a Kickstarter campaign. After that, we went ahead by taking over the location that Caution Brewing Co. had moved out of. I talked with Danny (Wang) at Caution and he thought it was a fantastic idea. Licensing took more than a year but finally, in October, 2016, we opened.
Q: How many people overall do you employ at the brewery?
A: Five employees, plus myself. We currently have a staff of all males (other than myself) and I am definitely looking to hire women.
Q: What type of positions do your disabled employees fill?
A: Tony, who is deaf, does the tours and bartends. We like to call his tours “Tony’s Tours.” He is very enthusiastic about showing everyone the space. Devon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is currently doing the assistant brewing. Patrick, who also has Asperger’s, is another one of our bartenders. Alex, who is blind, is one of our newest bartenders. We have a color-coded system for the taps, since not everyone reads. We thought color-coded ordering would be a simpler process for the guys. Each style is a different color.Strawberry Blond is red, Pale Ale is white, and so on. We also have the same color-coding system for our kegs. We also offer a braille menu and the very tops of the taps are braille. We have a photo-based point of sale program for the beer sales as well. The brewhouse has a visual checklist for cleaning tasks, as well as video examples. I wanted to employ elements of a classroom in a work setting.
Q: How has the community responded?
A: Everyone has been really nice. Unfortunately, our brewery is in a strange location and it has been hard to spread the word. For those who have visited, they have all been super supportive. We like to say, ‘new people come and everyone leaves as friends.’ The brewing community has also been very supportive. We also have a lot of teachers and therapists come in as well as a lot of people from out of state who have found us on Google. Our brewery motto is ‘we are accepting of all people.’
Brewability Lab is located at 12445 E. 39th Ave., No. 314, in Denver.
Holly Gerard is a Front Range photographer and journalist about town.