By Lindsay King-Miller
On a nondescript block in the Denver suburb of Mountain View is a tiny brewery that’s making a surprisingly large impact. There’s no taproom at Lady Justice Brewery, and you probably can’t find their beers at your local liquor store. They occasionally hold tap takeovers at local bars, but the most reliable way to get your hands on a Lady Justice beer is to join their Community-Supported Brewing program. Once a month, CSB members pull into the driveway of the little production space – if they don’t drive past it the way I almost did last Sunday – and pick up their share of Lady Justice’s recent creations.
Inspired by the increasingly popular Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, Lady Justice opened up their first round of CSB memberships in the fall of 2016. Members pay up front for a share of what the brewery produces throughout the season. Lady Justice’s inaugural CSB had 84 members; for the second season, which just began, membership has grown to an even hundred.
Community members purchase shares to support the brewery – and, in turn, the brewery supports the community. Lady Justice bills itself as a philanthropic brewery, an idea born of its co-founders’ background in nonprofit organizing and fundraising. All of their profits are funneled back into Denver in the form of grants to individuals and organizations to “foster opportunities and growth for women and girls.” In their first round of grant dispersals following the first CSB membership season, Lady Justice provided grants for three young women to participate in World Hoops Academy, which helps girls develop skills and confidence through basketball, as well as grants to Women’s Wilderness, Hope in Our City, and the Good Neighbor Garage. The brewery also donates beer to fundraising events for local nonprofits.
Is there anything more Colorado than selling tiny batches of craft beer to raise money for socially conscious non-profit organizations? Combining a passion for creativity and great beer with a dedication to giving back seems to embody the best aspects of this state. “Denver has proven to be a great place for this idea,” said Betsy Lay, co-founder and head brewer of Lady Justice. “This is a city full of people who care deeply about craft beer and about giving back to their communities. A lot of people were already familiar with the community-supported agriculture model and we received a lot of excitement from people interested in seeing how it would play out with beer.”
A commitment to reciprocity and sharing is part of the fabric of Lady Justice, and it doesn’t stop at their innovative combination of brewing and philanthropy. Their brewing process itself is community-oriented, and the way Lay talks about beer makes it clear that she thinks about members every step of the way. “Our members feel like part of the Lady J family to us,” Lay said. “We seek their input and ideas and they help us decide what to brew and when. They also help connect us with local non-profits and keep us in the loop of a lot of amazing work happening in Colorado.” As Lady Justice grows, members will have a role in shaping both the beer they make and the causes they support.
Yeah, yeah, I know you’re asking, but how’s the beer? For the first pickup of the second membership cycle, Lady Justice offered bombers of their Ready Set Red, which they describe as an “easy drinking Irish-ish red ale.” It’s caramelly with just enough hops to keep it from being too sweet, light enough for late spring while maintaining depth, and true to the brewery’s promise, it disappears in a flash and leaves you wanting another.
Alongside the Ready Set Red, Lady Justice members were treated to a 12-oz bottle of Sageson sage saison, a Lady Justice favorite originally commissioned by members of the first CSB. For Sageson’s second incarnation, the brewery has increased the sage and upped the ABV a bit. The result is pleasantly herbal but not overpoweringly sage-y, its sweetness backed by lots of funky saison complexity. A single twelve-ounce bottle of Sageson is a decidedly mixed blessing; nothing that tastes this good should be this limited in accessibility.
But if the greatest downside to Lady Justice membership is the lack of second helpings, that’s more than balanced out by all the points in its favor. It’s delicious, local, woman-owned, socially responsible – and let’s be honest: who doesn’t love trying something rare and feeling like a member of a very selective club? The “61 out of 100” tag around the neck of my bomber only made it taste that much better. If you have a chance to try Lady Justice, don’t pass it up.