Dave Thibodeau is one of the founders of Ska Brewing. Courtesy Ska Brewing

Fate paves way for new ‘brewstillery’

BOULDER — The 1944 musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” introduced the wartime-wistful ode, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Now a holiday-season standard, the song includes the lyric, “Someday soon, we all will be together — if the fates allow.”

That line might also resonate for Dave Thibodeau, whose dream of uniting his two businesses — Durango-based Ska Brewing Co. and Palisade-based Peach Street Distillers — is coming together in Boulder in a space vacated by the bankrupt Fate Brewing Co.

The hybrid venture, Ska Street Brewstillery, could open as early as next spring in the 1600 38th St. location that had been home to Fate Brewing until May. Fate filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late 2018 and closed its 38th Street facility after an unsuccessful reorganization effort.

Ska Brewing and Peach Street Distillers have been run “fairly independently,” Thibodeau said. “They’re sister companies because our ownership overlaps a little bit, but we always had this dream of integrating the two in more of a physical way than we really had the opportunity to do in the past.”

The Fate space provided the perfect answer.

“A lot of pieces came together, and now it feels like the perfect thing, like the answer we’ve been looking for for a decade now,” said Thibodeau. “We’re not really changing anything with the equipment. We’re leaving all the brewery stuff right where it was, and basically the furnishings, and we’re not really doing anything differently as far as the operations other than adding the still. If we were licensed, we could start cooking food and brewing beer and distilling spirits pretty quick.”

The idea for Ska Brewing was born in the 1980s when Thibodeau and Bill Graham were students at Wheat Ridge High School.

“We were punk rock kind of kids,” Thibodeau said, “and we got into ska music,” which originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and combined Caribbean influences with American jazz and rhythm and blues.

In 1985, he said, “we ran across an old notebook on my dad’s bookshelves, and it just said ‘Brew Log.’ We weren’t the most responsible high school students, so when we saw something that said ‘beer’ on it, it piqued our interest. It turned out my dad had started homebrewing in 1969, and this was all of his log sheets up until his last brew in 1980.

“There weren’t any homebrew shops yet, and we were juniors in high school when we found this. We started flipping through it, and we were trying to figure out where he added the alcohol and how he did this, when we realized he was buying the ingredients he was using at the grocery store, and he wasn’t adding alcohol; he was making alcohol.

“For a couple of high school students who partied a lot and were underage, it was light bulbs going on,” Thibodeau said. “So we started brewing beer in high school, and because we were into ska music, it was kind of our routine. It was a superstition we had. We felt like if we didn’t listen to ska music while we were brewing, the beer wouldn’t turn out any good.”

They made their own labels, and called their product Ska.

Fast forward 10 years, and Thibodeau and Graham are grownups in Durango, planning to open a brewery.

“I was thinking, ‘What mountain or river or dog should we name our brewery after?’ Bill was like, ‘No, we’ve got to keep it Ska Brewing,’ ” Thibodeau said. “But no one in Durango knew what ska was. Because it’s so rural and there’s so many cowboys, we just told everybody it was an acronym for Shit-Kickin’ Ales.”

The friends opened Ska Brewing in 1995 and Peach Street Distillers in 2005. Peach Street capitalizes on the area’s reputation for growing quality fruit by using it in its gin, whiskey, vodka and brandy.

The partners soon began exploring the idea of a “brewstillery” or a brewery and a distillery in one location with one pub that served both their beers and their spirits.

But where to put it? They looked at other mountain towns, but had an affinity for Boulder, he said, because it “feels a lot like a bigger version of Durango.” Then there was Boulder’s reputation in the craft beer world, as home to the Brewers Association as well as Boulder Beer, the first craft brewer in the state. Additionally, Steve Breezley, Ska’s chief operating officer, had been COO at Avery Brewing in Boulder.

Their only reservations about opening there were that “it’s expensive,” Thibodeau said, “and

we didn’t really want to go into the Front Range, where we sell a lot of our beer, until we had a good plan to help our accounts that have already supported us. We wanted to be able to do it in a way that could reciprocate and help them sell more of our beer too. You look at Hazel’s, Liquor Mart — is there a way we could help them really increase their sales of Ska beer if we came into the neighborhood.”

That’s when fate stepped in — literally.

“We’ve got all these ties to Boulder, and then Fate Brewing unfortunately closes down,” Thibodeau said, “and then, as fate would have it, Breezley’s good friends are involved with the ownership of that building that Fate was in. So he knows the owners really well. We were able to stay in touch, so as soon as we heard Fate might be closing down, we talked to those guys and asked about the equipment and the space.

“All of the kitchen equipment and furnishings belonged to the building, the landlord, but then the state seized the brewing equipment,” he said. “So there’s a whole pretty-much turnkey brewery in there.”

Thibodeau and Graham attended the bankruptcy auction in July, won all that equipment in a bulk bid and worked with the building’s landlord to secure a suitable lease. The next step has been working with the city.

“Planning and zoning has already licensed it once,” he said, “and so we’ve just given them all the same plans and said we’re not changing this, we’re not changing that — and they said as long as you’re not really changing anything, this should be relatively easy.”

The plan for the Boulder pub is to have 30 Ska beers on tap at all times, along with gluten-free options such as ciders and hard seltzers and the spirits produced by Palisade.

“At Palisade, all our spirits are made with local grains and local fruits. It’s pretty much a grain-to-glass distillery. It’s as much farm-to-table and grain-to-glass as we can,” Thibodeau said. “So in Boulder, we’ll use produce from whatever Boulder farms that we can work with.

The food menu will reflect ska music’s early roots in Boulder, he said, with “a lot of jerked food, blackened food, a lot of Caribbean spices. So it’ll be kind of a juxtaposition of farm-to-table with a subtle nod toward the Caribbean.”

The Boulder site provides a much larger kitchen to expand on that theme, given that it’s about three to four times as large as the one in Durango, which was built out of a 40-foot shipping container.

One change will be in licensing because of state rules, he said.

Both the Durango brewery and the Palisade distillery “operate with state liquor manufacturing licenses,” he said. “Because Boulder is going to be a pub license, you’re not allowed to have an interest in both a pub license and a manufacturer. So we are changing our licenses in Durango and in Palisade to pub licenses. You can still manufacture, but you’re capped on the amount of production you can do. You’re capped at 60,000 barrels a year at a pub, per license, and we’re brewing about 30,000 barrels now in Durango. That’s a fair amount of beer, so once we start brewing inside Boulder, there’s no chance that we’ll ever come near that number.”

Ska Street Brewstillery will produce Ska beers in a 10-barrel brewhouse and Peach Street spirits in a 450-liter still.

“We’re going to be doing some really fun, experimental stuff” at the Boulder brewery, Thibodeau said, “and that will be supplemented by our flagship beers we make in Durango.”

And he fully expects to be successful — if the fates allow.

BOULDER — The 1944 musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” introduced the wartime-wistful ode, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Now a holiday-season standard, the song includes the lyric, “Someday soon, we all will be together — if the fates allow.”

That line might also resonate for Dave Thibodeau, whose dream of uniting his two businesses — Durango-based Ska Brewing Co. and Palisade-based Peach Street Distillers — is coming together in Boulder in a space vacated by the bankrupt Fate Brewing Co.

The hybrid venture, Ska Street Brewstillery, could open as early as next spring in the 1600 38th St. location that had been home to Fate Brewing until May. Fate filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late 2018 and closed its 38th Street facility after an unsuccessful reorganization effort.

Ska Brewing and Peach Street Distillers have been run “fairly independently,” Thibodeau said. “They’re sister companies because our ownership overlaps a little bit, but we always had this dream of integrating the two in more of a physical way than we really had the opportunity to do in the past.”

The Fate space provided the perfect answer.

“A lot of pieces came together, and now it feels like the perfect thing, like the answer we’ve been looking for for a decade now,” said Thibodeau. “We’re not really changing anything with the equipment. We’re leaving all the brewery stuff right where it was, and basically the furnishings, and we’re not really doing…