By Gregory Daurer | Jul 05, 2021
"We really want the beer to do the talking," says Novel Strand's head brewer, Danon.
Still, Columna, the brewery's general manager, discusses how "making this place home and telling our story" needs to factor into the equation as well. She's referring to the couple's relocation to Denver -- and the subsequent establishment of their Baker neighborhood brewery.
The tale of Novel Strand centers around three tech-minded people, who developed a friendship while all attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York: Danon and Columna, now married, as well as the partner who introduced them to each other, brewery co-owner Ayana Coker. While sitting together at their favorite beer bar, The Ruck, Danon says they'd "joke about how fun it would be to have a brewery. And the joke's on us: Now we have one!"
One of the canned beers they serve is called Green Queen. The label features a regal-looking woman with a tall afro. Danon says of the image, "I always like to say it's Chantel. But, it could be, like anyone who feels it looks them, it's them." Speaking to their diversity, Columna -- of Afro-Caribbean descent -- was raised in the Dominican Republic, Danon is an Israeli Jew; additionally, Columna describes Coker, their business partner who lives in Baltimore, as "African-American -- and queer as well." Hence, another of their limited-edition beers was called Loud & Proud, and the label depicts rainbow-colored hops blasting from a megaphone held by a brown hand. "Show the world your colors!" it implores.
If there's one stylistic label that Novel Strand refuses to attach to those beers -- and others in a similar vein -- it's "I.P.A." Both Green Queen and Loud & Proud are described as simply "unfiltered hoppy beer" by the brewery. Danon says, "I think people get too caught up with categories." The brewery also produces an array of mixed-fermentation sour ales, as well as a saison and witbier. And there's a German-style pilsner, incorporating New Zealand hops (which they experiment with heavily, having established relationships with hop farmers in that country). Danon says, "When the beer tastes right, feels right, smells right, you don't need to be a beer nerd. You don't need to be a beer expert. You don't need to know [beer history to realize,] 'Oh, that's good!'"
Before ever opening its doors, Novel Strand began collaborating with other breweries (Call to Arms, Mockery, Our Mutual Friend) on co-releases. This July, the brewery will festively celebrate its third anniversary in the Baker neighborhood. The five-barrel brewery shares its space with Queen City Collective Coffee -- and Columna says the locale's become a neighborhood hub, frequented by Denver Health nurses, teachers after PTA meetings, and the occasional "mommy groups." The couple has established friendships with patrons; additionally, neighbors sometimes meet for the first time at the brewery. "The community comes in!" attests Danon.
Danon says he and Columna chose to relocate to Denver, in order to open a brewery, so they wouldn't have to "reinvent the wheel," in terms of educating the public about various types of beers. "Denver is a big beer city, Colorado is a big beer state," he adds.
Practically all the beer they make is sold on the premises, says Columna. In terms of metrics, Danon says Novel Strand sells "a lot!" He further observes, "We don't have enough beer -- and we have to make more. We run out of beer often. People are very thirsty!"
As the brewery was coming together, Columna, who studied civil engineering and has a background in construction management, put her skills to work dealing with "the architects and the engineers, making sure that the place was going to look like what we needed it to look like." Coker assists remotely from Maryland, says Columna, utilizing her skills in financial planning and accounting: "She watches over our books and coordinates with our accountants to make sure that everything is what it needs to be."
And Danon, a onetime microbiologist, makes the beer. Previously, he worked "modeling cancer states in [brewers] yeast -- and all sorts of crazy stuff like that." That technical experience has taught him "how to listen to microbes." Danon says, "The microbes can reveal to you a lot about what they're going to do to your beer . . . What you can expect to develop in terms of flavor or texture or mouthfeel or acidity or whatever." He adds about the brewery's approach, "If there's a traditional process, we'll look to still refine it. Sometimes, we'll just come up with our own processes for getting the results we want."
The name, Novel Strand, derives from a term used in microbiology. Danon says, "When there's a change in DNA, it's not necessarily good or necessarily bad -- but it could be different. So, that's what we are: We're not better than everyone [else], we're not worse than everyone [else]. But we do things differently -- our way -- because we're the Novel Strand."
Favorite beers: Danon says, "We have our friends we love -- and urge everyone -- to support: Baere Brewing, Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Our Mutual Friend, Hogshead, Call to Arms . . . Mockery we've worked with . . . Knotted Root up in the mountains. We have a lot of friends . . . Buddies of ours, Cohesion, are gearing up to make some Czech lager. Kelissa at Goldspot. If you show me a map, I can just keep going!"
Challenges: "Keeping up with beer demand," says Danon.
Opportunities: In order to meet growing demand, Columna says, "We are looking to get a contract barrel at another property just to expand our lautering capacity --"
"-- and increase some of the wood fermentation stuff," interjects Danon. "Then we're going to be able to pump out more hoppy beers at our spot -- what we jokingly call the 'bill-paying beer.'"
Columna also notes, "We're getting our own canner in a couple of months."
Needs: More production space, says Danon. "If I had a whole other building right behind mine that was already structured for me to make beer in."
Columna says it's to continue "doing the things that we do, being who we are, and then just being present. And that's how we will always run our business."