In 2010, in the midst of a recession, three friends regularly got together for a few beers despite living at the poverty level as AmeriCorps volunteers. Betsy Lay, Kate Power, and Jen Cuesta looked around at all the other people who were also prioritizing buying a beer despite money being so tight, and brewed up an idea. What if they could create a non-profit that would take beer money and give it back to the community?
After their stint in AmeriCorps ended in 2011, Power took a business law class and used their non-profit idea as the model for a business plan assignment. After graduation, the three friends decided to see if they could turn the assignment into reality by writing an extensive plan, raising money for the project, and opening a small beer production facility. They sold 75 beer memberships in their first year with a package that provided monthly 4-packs of crowlers. That model continued until the opportunity to open a full-fledged brewery and taproom became available at 9735 E. Colfax Avenue in Aurora. They signed the lease on March 15, 2020. A few days later, Covid shutdowns brought their plans to an abrupt halt and required them to overcome that unexpected challenge.
“We realized we had a really strong to-go model already and had a built-in customer base of people who were used to getting to-go beer from us,” says Lay. “We just had to figure out how to scale it up in a way that would let us make enough money to stay afloat.”
From the start, the primary mission of Lady Justice was to use beer and their physical space to give back to the local community, support social causes, and empower girls and women throughout Colorado. At the brewery and taproom, they do that in a few ways. Their Pouring Goodness program is a designated in-house tap line that donates $1 from every 13-ounce pour to a different non-profit. Tabs can also be rounded up to be donated. And the biggest funding-driver is their Community-Supported Beer (CSB) Membership, which donates 100 percent of its profits over cost directly to a non-profit partner.
As of this year, Lady Justice Brewing has donated $50,000 to 85 organizations, $45,000 of which has happened since they moved into the taproom.
“The work we do has to go back into the community. So, we’re a social enterprise that happens to serve beer as a tool to get that done,” explains Lay. “But on the flipside, we care deeply about the beer and we want the beer experience to be enjoyable to people.”
Lady Justice Brewing Company’s core lineup follows classic American and English styles of beer, tending to brew what the team likes to drink. Lay says a lot of people come in to support their mission, to back a queer-owned business, or to patronize a woman-owned brewery. But many customers don’t necessarily know a lot about beer or if they even like it.
“We find a lot of people tend to prefer the more straightforward styles of beer,” says Lay. “Part of our approach is to be as inclusive of as many people as we can so it allows us to introduce people to beers who might not have been comfortable with it before.”
That doesn’t mean they only brew for newbies. Lay says those well-versed in beer also appreciate Lady Justice’s offerings because their brews represent what those styles should be. An example is their ESB, an English-style amber ale, which enables them to use brewing methods that ensure it tastes authentic to its English heritage. Lay says a lot of people come in just to have that beer.
Non-alcoholic beer, soda, kombucha, whiskey, wine, and cocktails are also served, along with bar snacks that include Rosenberg’s Pizza Bagels. Guests can also bring carry-in food and order through one of the brewery’s free delivery partnerships with neighborhood restaurants, including Bánh & Butter Café. Three of their sandwiches are sold in the brewery every weekend.
“There’s a dedication from business owners and residents in the area to keep this part of Colfax strong, vibrant, and a little bit weird,” says Lay. “We get to use our mission of being community-focused by actually being in a place where we can be a part of the community.
“We get people coming in here who just want to do good for the neighborhood they live in and they get to do it while they’re having a great time with other like-minded people,” Lay continues. “It feels really good to take a step back and see that we’re able to hold a space that allows people to do that, especially after being small and behind-the-scenes for so many years. It’s really wonderful to have the embodiment of our mission happen right in this room.”
For more information on Lady Justice Brewing, go to www.ladyjusticebrewing.com.
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch