From Pews to Pub 

Big Choice Brewing. Photo: Courtesy John Brisnehan Photography

Big Choice Brewing. Photo: Courtesy John Brisnehan Photography

Previous places of worship now producing quality beer

By Natasha Lovato and Jordyn MacDonald

Breweries around Colorado are found in an array of creative spaces from warehouses and fire stations to garages and previous places of worship.

The challenge is adapting a brewery to a historical space. The following former churches and temples are now well suited to pouring a different kind of holy water.

Photo: Natasha Lovato

Photo: Natasha Lovato

Local Relic

This Colorado Springs brewery began wholesaling beer before opening a tasting room.

“It’s a good way to test and see if you have a following, and we did,” co-owner Melissa Howard said.

When it became time to open the brewery, acquiring a structure seemed to involve a string of perfect coincidences, she said. The building, once known as The Carter Payne Chapel, stood in downtown Colorado Springs. With a bit of research, Howard discovered the owner lived near her hometown in Texas.

On a whim, Howard and her husband drove down to meet with the owner, who loved the vision the couple had for the old church’s future. In October 2017, they took possession of the building and began writing the Local Relic story.

“The universe is a fickle beast. We couldn’t believe it,” Howard said. “We finally had the beer and a place to sell it – and so, by golly, we did.”

Before it was Local Relic, the chapel once served as the Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first African-American congregation in Colorado Springs.

It was built in 1897 with stone collected and hand-carved from along the Front Range.

“I don’t feel like I own this building. I feel like we got chosen to be the stewards of it,” Howard said. “People always have lovely suggestions and I totally appreciate it but I think sometimes people miss that we are trying really hard to maintain the integrity of the fact it was a church. We want to respect what this space was created for.”

The church served as a gathering place filled with friends and family, which became the vision for Local Relic. “We wanted to restore it as a community hub and take out the religion and race pieces. We don’t care who you are. Everyone is welcome,” Howard said. “I hope we are achieving that. People keep coming back, so that’s a good sign.”

Big Choice Brewing Co.

Big Choice Brewing Co. wasn’t born in a Buddhist temple. Rather, it was an idea cooked up by Nathaniel Miller in 2008. Miller and partner Tyler Ruse found a building in Broomfield, roped in Miller’s wife, Andrea, and launched Big Choice Brewing in 2012.

But the success of the brewery called for a bigger space.

“Our old location was being sold, so we knew that we needed to move,” Andrea said. “We were in the process for two years with multiple locations falling through. We found this space in Brighton and fell in love with it.”

Big Choice moved into a vacant building that used to be a Buddhist temple. The couple had support from the Buddhist community to move into the space because it had been standing vacant for 10 years.

“The community’s response was all positive. People think that it is neat to do because it is a historical building and has been around since 1940,” Andrea said.

After re-opening in 2017, the owners found the space a bit nerve-racking because it was so much larger than the previous digs. But after acquiring a seven-barrel system with a maximum capacity of 2,500 barrels, they grew into the brewery, which features 17 to 20 beers on tap, and a pizza kitchen.

Acknowledging the Buddhist roots and Japanese influence, Big Choice created a New England IPA named Kabuki.

Photo: Natasha Lovato

Photo: Natasha Lovato

Oasis Brewing Co.

Oasis Brewing Co. was one of Colorado’s early microbreweries, opening in 1991. The company was revamped in 2015 after production halted in the late 1990s, and owner George Hanna scoured the market for a new space. Wishing to be in the Highlands Square area, the choices were limited. But a historically protected church was sitting vacant and awaiting a new owner.

“In all honesty, I have always looked at churches for very different things because they are really neat buildings,” Hanna said.

The church seemed perfect, with enough square footage for both brewery and taproom.

Because the former Beth Eden Baptist Church was listed as a historical building, it legally could not be demolished, and the façade could not be altered. Hanna reworked the insides by installing an HVAC system and plumbing, and removing the plastered walls, bringing forth the brick underneath.

“I think that everybody comes in with a question mark on how does it feel in there? Is it spiritual or is anyone buried in the basement?” Hanna joked. “I think what we have done with it has brought more people in. We have had a lot of people who attended church, got married or had babies christened here. People are intrigued by the building itself.”

Hanna and his team also worked together to create a beer that hints at the history of the brewery, St. Bernard’s French Saison. Hanna’s head brewer is also named Bernard (Tonning), so it is a tribute to him as well.

Native Natasha Lovato celebrates the Colorado lifestyle through hiking, biking or playing bingo while enjoying a sour ale or two. Jordyn MacDonald recently graduated from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.