Brewery builds community in Highlands Ranch

Seniors tap into craft industry

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A unique new addition is joining Colorado’s more than 420 craft brewery options, dreamt up by the residents and staff of a Highlands Ranch senior living community.

This week, the microbrewery at Vi at Highlands Ranch is planning to serve up its first brew, a honey wheat beer named “Bees Knees.” It will be the culmination of months of conversations, planning, brewing and perfecting that all started with a homebrewing hobby.

“A resident really encouraged me that if I was brewing at home, I should be doing it (at Vi’s),” Executive Chef Greg Strickland laughed. “So I did a few batches a few years ago and we just had so much fun with it.”

Inspired by Strickland’s homebrewed creations, a group of residents pushed for a community microbrewery and were successful in making the idea a reality earlier this year. 

Once the equipment had a place at Vi, the process for deciding what to brew began. 

With residents’ affinity for local ingredients and Vi’s access to fresh honey from the seven beehives on-site, Strickland said the honey wheat was an easy sell. 

“This is a very accessible beer and you don’t have to be a hard-core beer lover to drink wheat beer because it’s very approachable,” he said. 

Ginger Kleerup, a member of the resident advisory council and a brewery ambassador at Vi, said a large group got involved with the microbrewery, eager to learn the ins and outs of ales, stouts and lagers.

“We’re very excited about it,” Kleerup, 84, said. “What you can do here are things that you sometimes weren’t able to do before and I don’t know of another neighborhood doing this.”

To name the beer, residents submitted suggestions including “Greg’s Geriatric Brew” and “Honey Brew.” 

Kleerup said she doesn’t typically drink beer, but is planning to make an exception for “Bees Knees” and future Vi brews because she’s confident in Strickland’s skills and ideas.

“I’ve never even liked beer,” she laughed. “Chef’s next brew, once this one gets bottled, he wants to make a cherry beer. I would love to taste that and I’m sure it will be interesting. There’s no limit with this.”

On top of the plans for a cherry ale using Colorado fruit, Strickland is eying an Oktoberfest special. Each of the varieties will get showcased during Vi’s events, such as their summer Farmer’s Market and weekly BBQs.

Ideally, Strickland would love to grow as many ingredients for the microbrewery on-site as possible and he recently planted hops in one of Vi’s gardens to test how successful he could be.

“At some point, we plan to grow as many of our own hops as we can … and of course the residents are involved in that as well,” he said.

Vi’s microbrewery is likely one-of-a-kind or one of just a handful of its kind of venture, according to Jack Buffington, director of supply chain and sustainability at First Key, a brewing industry consulting company.

Buffington said the level of investment for a microbrewery can be prohibitive, limiting the number of senior living facilities that could offer the amenity. However, he noted that brewing has often been associated with building community and connections, which makes it a good fit for a senior neighborhood.

“(Brewing beer) is an experience more than it’s a product, from making it to selling it, it’s a story,” Buffington said.

Should there ever be the chance to bottle or can Vi’s brews for purchase, Strickland thinks Vi has a pretty good story. Ultimately, he would love to sell the beer to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s research.

“(Canning or bottling) it is the dream,” he said. “It would be really great to get our story out there, raise money for a great cause and the residents would be so proud.”

Regardless of its commercial future, Vi’s Lifestyle Director Angela Owens said the microbrewery will stick around as long as residents enjoy it and benefit from it. 

“We really try to give residents something to wake up excited about and I think the brewery does that and gives residents a sense of purpose,” she said. “What makes the brewery special is that it’s meaningful for residents.”

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