Now is the winter of our discontent—and our discount tent (and our cabana, our igloo, our greenhouse, our yurt, and whatever else we can convince drinkers and diners to sit in while it’s 20 degrees and snowing).
Last autumn saw a mad scramble to install outdoor dining structures of all kinds at restaurants and taprooms. Come late January, it might seem that ship has sailed. But Coloradans know winter can easily stretch into May, and Idaho Springs’ Westbound & Down Brewing Co. launched its take on the indoors-in-the-outdoors seating—giant barrels—the last weekend of February.
Westbound’s brand manager Keghan Hurst says the team originally wanted to erect small greenhouses for outdoor dining, and the town of Idaho Springs gave preliminary approval for the project. But after more research, Marcel Templet (the taproom’s GM), realized any structure had to be able to withstand 120 mile per hour winds. “It’s an incredible wind tunnel,” Hurst says, “so we couldn’t do the same things Denver was doing.” Westbound’s parking lot, where the structures would be located, also provided no siding or windblock.
So cute little greenhouses were out; burly, brawny barrels were in. The barrels are not, sadly, actual beer barrels (though Westbound does barrel age about 15 percent of its beer). They’re barrel saunas the brewpub ordered from Salus Saunas, tricked out with custom tables, overhead heaters, and Bluetooth speakers, that can easily seat six adults plus well-behaved pooches.
Westbound purchased four barrels with a grant it received from Clear Creek County (base prices on Salus’ website range from $3,900 to $9,700, and with upgrades can soar as high as $19,600 each). They had to be assembled—stave by stave—onsite, before a local carpenter could be called in to build custom picnic tables and turn the sealed windows into sliding glass windows for ventilation. In all, the process took three months from order to opening.
The one-hour “barrel experience,” as Westbound has dubbed it, is by reservation only and has already been booked out weeks in advance. The taproom is offering its full food and drink menu in addition to a “fondue experience”; it’s also considering doing tappings of specialty barrel-aged brews for drinkers who reserve the space. There are no food and drink minimums; the only prepayment required is a $25 deposit, which goes toward the tab. “We can’t lock in a fixed price point,” says Hurst, citing the example of putting together a mandatory food and beverage package. “We can’t have someone get stuck in traffic and then lose that, or make the trek and not be able to get exactly what they want.”
While the $25 nonrefundable deposit has gotten some pushback (even though the brewery tries to be flexible as long as customers aren’t no-call, no-shows), Hurst says another thing Westbound was concerned about, the one-hour time limit, has been a non-issue. “Most people drink what they want and get back on the highway,” she says of customers, who are often on their way to or from the mountains and are already dressed for the outdoors. “It’s ample time.”
Westbound hopes to utilize the barrels through at least May; the brewery also invested in outdoor-outdoor seating in the form of a beer garden that can be used in the summer months. Some of the barrels may be used at Westbound’s future Lafayette location, but, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” Overall, Hurst emphasizes, “We found we didn’t need all the bells and whistles. We just want to create something that’s unique and worthy of [customers’] time.”
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