GRAND LAKE — The Grand Lake Brewing Company is hauling its Taphouse operation to the Front Range, and taking a heap of controversy along with it.
Formerly located along Highway 34, the brewery Taphouse permanently shuttered its doors on Saturday, Oct. 26. According to kitchen manager and chef Mike Currington, he received a call breaking the news the Monday before. The brewery owners also requested he tell employees they wouldn’t be receiving their final paychecks.
“They could’ve handled it a little better by coming up here themselves, rather than doing it through me,” Currington said. “It put me in an awkward situation. I live here. I have to see these people.”
Karen and Richard Wood live in Golden and have owned Grand Lake Brewing Company for 11 years. They opened the Taphouse in 2011 as a separate restaurant and bar. While they’ve managed to distribute beers to every county in Colorado, the Woods said Grand Lake’s slow winters made it difficult to justify keeping the Taphouse open.
“The important thing for people to know is Grand Lake (Brewing Co.) is still doing its thing up there, and we’re still distributing throughout Colorado,” Karen said. “We just don’t have our taphouse.”
The Woods hope to have a tasting room where locals can buy kegs and fill their growlers by the holidays. But their long-term goal is to open a new taphouse in the Denver metro area.
“Somewhere we can get our beers out to the public, where there’s more traffic and business,” Karen said. “That should go well, it’s a no-brainer. People love our beer.”
The Woods confirmed they don’t plan to pay most of their employees their final wages. That’s because they suspect several employees of embezzlement and looting, she said.
“We’re looking into fraud and theft of money,” Karen said. “We weren’t up there physically.”
Karen said after the Taphouse doors closed, the owners found that money, food and merchandise had gone missing. She said she doubts she’ll be able to recoup it all. But the Woods said it’s difficult to prove the theft and they don’t intend to file charges against employees.
“I don’t think it will do any of us any good to pursue anything,” Karen said.
Currington, one of the Taphouse’s few salaried employees, figures he’s owed around $5,000. Front-of-house manager Sonja Schmidt estimates all together, the Woods owe employees around $15,000.
“As I’m sure you know, most people live paycheck to paycheck in this county, and this has caused many of us to now be behind,” Schmidt said in an email.
According to Bill Thoennes with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the Woods are legally required to pay employee wages, regardless of their theft suspicions. Retribution isn’t an excuse that would hold up in court. Thoennes said employees should seek compensation by filing wage claims with his department.
“We’ll work with them to find out what’s going on and demand payment for the employees,” he said.
The only case where the Department of Labor and Employment can’t compel an employer to pay is when the company files bankruptcy.
After the Woods find a suitable location for their new taphouse on the Front Range, Karen said it’s possible they’ll move the brewing operation as well.
“Ideally we’d like to have it all in one place,” she said. “At this point, we expect to keep the brewery up there for a year, maybe more.”
After moving their entire operation from the Colorado River headwaters to the metro area, the Woods might need to reconsider their motto, “It’s all downhill from here.”
And they might find themselves without another of their brew mainstays. Eric Kohl has been Grand Lake Brewing Company’s brewmaster since 2002. He helped the Woods physically build both their first brewing operation on Grand Avenue and at their current location off Highway 34, near the now-abandoned Taphouse. He agrees the seasonal nature of the Grand Lake area made operating a taphouse difficult, but the wide distribution of Grand Lake’s bottled beers have kept the company running. He has no intention of leaving his home in the mountains.
“I know this much, my wife and I love Grand County,” he said. “If the brewery moves to the Front Range, I’ll go back to wiring houses here.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.