Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Owner Zach Rabun's brewery in the RiNo Art District draws a crowd by continuously exploring new styles, techniques, and ingredients.
Sometimes, good can come from bad. At least that was the case for Rabun when a serious motorcycle accident put him in a wheelchair for a few months. "I spent that time nailing down our business plan," he recalls, "and spent the money left over from the insurance settlement on brewery equipment."
After a close to two-year stint at the Siebel Institute -- filling in any gaps in the knowledge base he had developed while working as a brewer at Elk Mountain Brewing in suburban Parker -- and with additional funding supplied by family member co-owners, Rabun opened Mockery's doors in 2014.
"When we started looking for properties, we worked our way up along the Broadway corridor to the RiNo neighborhood," he says. "We really fell in love with the feel of it and knew there was a lot of development coming this way. It's amazing how much the neighborhood has changed since, and we are incredibly blessed to be a part of this growing area that is becoming such a major attraction for Denver."
At minimum, Mockery strives to have 12 different beers on draught in the taproom. "We brew a limitless number of styles," Rabun says. "Our menu is constantly rotating, and we treat each new batch as an opportunity to explore a new style, brewing technique, or ingredient."
Rabun and his team, including Head Brewer Justin Burnsed, pull recipe inspiration from a variety of sources. "Lately, we've been interested in very old brewing techniques that we're trying to modernize, like stein or hot rock beers or beers with foraged ingredients or spontaneous wild fermentations," he explains. "We like to think about we can do outside the normal brewing framework to make our beers different."
As for upcoming releases, Rabun is looking forward to a second version of a popular vanilla-barrel aged coffee stout and a Palisade peach sour golden. "We drive to Palisade and buy several hundred pounds of peaches every year," he says. "Then we put them in a new base beer so we can explore different styles."
They brewed 650 barrels of their innovative offerings on their 15-barrel Premier Stainless system in 2016 and are on track to produce 750 to 800 barrels for 2017. While they are "not super focused on massive distribution," they aim for one limited bottle release a month in their taproom and also self-distribute kegs to bars and pubs in the Denver metro area and Eagle County. "Outside sales are a good way to get some brand recognition," Rabun explains, "but the end goal is to drive that back to the taproom."
Favorite beers: "I don't have to go far to find world-class beers. In our neighborhood alone we have about a dozen breweries with Odell, New Belgium, and Red Truck still on the way," says Rabun. "My favorites are usually new releases from the breweries around me. Some of the sour beers that Our Mutual Friend is putting out are really phenomenal. And Baere Brewing down on Broadway is making some really interesting barrel-aged stuff."
Challenges: Rabun says that the brewery's most pressing challenge depends on who you ask. While his wife, who deals with the bookkeeping and other "unsexy, unfun portions of the business," might point to cash flow, Rabun is more focused on maximizing creative capacity. "Finding room for our sour and wild program has been a challenge," he explains. "For the most part, we've been using our external building that is more or less a detached garage. We're keeping both our barrel aging and wild ferments out there."
Opportunities: Rabun sees a lot of opportunity in the RiNo neighborhood itself. "We've loved becoming an integral part of this neighborhood," he says. "It's changing and growing so fast, and it has been really fun to be an early adopter."
Needs: "Sustainable growth without losing our identity," says Rabun. "We've had requests for our beers in more areas, and it's an appealing opportunity to push into more markets, but the sacrifices that would be necessary include our constantly rotating menu. If we start making a couple beers consistently for distribution, that's fewer beers we can play around and experiment with."