Jeff Crabtree brewed beer as a way to unwind from his job as a financial analyst for Comcast. Even when he decided to upgrade his hobby into a business, he approached Crabtree Brewing with the same mindset: He experimented with chocolate beers, beers lighter than Colorado’s sunshine and dark beers that could get you drunk at the first whiff. He just happened to be selling it.
That explains why Crabtree and his wife, Stephanie, considered their place a brewery, not a bar. It was across the tracks, with an outdoor patio that mingled with cracked pavement and a few haphazard parking spaces. Inside, they threw together a tasting room in between batches, with his huge, steel brewing tanks and some plastic chairs as the ambiance. They didn’t even have a cash register at first. Crabtree admitted that he was a touch embarrassed to welcome out-of-town visitors to the brewery for a drink.
Now, six years after he opened, Crabtree still considers himself a brewer first, but the tasting room is no longer an afterthought. It’s the main attraction. Welcome to the new digs, 2961 29th St., west of the Greeley Mall.
“We basically did everything on our bucket list,” Crabtree said. “I wanted something to showcase Greeley. I wanted people to say, ‘Wow.’”
The tasting room, he said, is a culmination of six years of thinking about what they should have done to the old place. It’s still not a bar. Though he got into beer because he loves to cook, Crabtree isn’t serving food. But his place opened for business Aug. 8, and he wants customers. On weekends, he’s open until midnight. He’ll take you on a tour if you ask, with the glee of a rapper showing off his crib on MTV.
The tables are fixed to the floor, and the chairs aren’t plastic. There are five “zones” for customers, including a “loft” and the “nook,” a place with benches, not tables, where you might play cards. The nook is Crabtree’s favorite. It’s a place, he said, designed to stimulate conversation. All his award-winning beers are on tap. He’s offering drink specials now, including one for teachers on Friday nights.
The centerpiece of the outdoor patio is a water feature with fish, a few plants (he doesn’t know what they are) and a waterfall that pours like a porter out of a barrel that aged beer brewed for his fifth anniversary celebration. By itself, the patio gives him almost as much room as his old tasting room, let alone the swanky digs indoors with air conditioning, another new luxury.
Crabtree figured out a few years ago that he needed a new tasting room, as every other northern Colorado brewery had one, especially the more famous ones like New Belgium in Fort Collins. Tasting rooms, he said, are the new coffee shops for beer drinkers. He still approached the idea with a little reluctance, especially when a general contractor looked around the old Life Source building and told Crabtree he could do something with the place for a half-million dollars. After he closed his mouth, he and his wife decided to do most of it themselves.
As the opening approached, Crabtree spent 10 hours a day getting it ready, in addition to working at his old downtown location. Now that most of the work is done, he had to buy new clothes, as most were trashed to the point that he “looked like a hobo.” He blew out his shoes, too. And despite getting almost nightly deliveries from Old Chicago, as pizza and Italian nachos fueled the late-night work, he lost 7 pounds. Still, the work was worth it: It cost half of what the general contractor thought it would. Maybe even a tenth.
The big project is over, but in some ways it’s only half over. He needs to build a brewery. It might take a year. In the meantime, the brewing takes place at his old location, which is no longer open to the public, and he’s cool with that. He doesn’t want to rush the new brewery, as that remains his bread and butter. If he does, and the beer is lousy as a result, no one would want to drink it no matter how fancy the tasting room.
There’s still some minor work to be done. He’ll finish a meeting room for power brokers in a couple weeks. He can host his home brewery club there.
Speaking of the club, he’s also offering Juice of the Barley, a segment of his business that sells raw material for other brewers like himself, people looking to unwind after a long day at work and quite possibly dreaming big in their kitchens and garages.