Open for business: Colorado's only dedicated gluten-free brewery

May 23, 2017

A gathering of folks kicking back and enjoying delicious libations is the hallmark of any craft brewery worth its hops. It’s certainly the normal scene at a new brewpub in Golden that goes by the sunny name of Holidaily Brewing.

Karen Hertz chief brewista of Holidaily Brewing
Karen Hertz opened Holidaily Brewing in Golden in February 2016.

Emotions here, however, also tend to run on the profound side, as business founder Karen Hertz, a CU Denver alumna, has pleasantly discovered. Hertz and her staff have noticed that a combination of surprise discovery – eureka! – and heartfelt gratitude – finally! – often pour out of patrons.

“We have a term for them here: ‘We’ve got a crier,’” Hertz said with a smile. “These big guys come into the tap room and they love it. They drink an IPA and get all choked up.”

A welcome relief

Why the strong emotions? Because something that wreaks havoc with many a beer lover’s gut – gluten – is a non-factor, as in grain non grata, at Holidaily Brewing. The brewpub, which opened just over a year ago, is one of only five dedicated gluten-free breweries in the nation, and it’s Colorado’s only brewery filling that niche.

“We’re in this perfect overlap of a huge craft-brewing industry and huge health-and-wellness and gluten-free industry, so we serve the crossover of those two areas,” said Hertz, who received her MBA from the Business School in 2005.

Over a decade ago, she wasn’t looking to open a brewery, but then life – in the form of health struggles – started sending messages. In 2009, Hertz was diagnosed with thyroid cancer as well as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition related to celiac disease. Surgery and radiation successfully treated the cancer, while to relieve the Hashimoto’s, doctors suggested she drop gluten from her diet. In a matter of weeks, Hertz, who had also battled allergies all her life, began feeling all-around better.

“I likely had a sensitivity to gluten for a long time,” she said. “It just took a while to figure it out.”

Confidence brewing

Hertz had been a homebrewer in addition to working as a distribution manager at MillerCoors, so the craft was in her wheelhouse. “I was drinking gluten-free beers and felt there has to be better beer than what was being made,” she said. “Plus, I had the MBA from CU Denver, including an Entrepreneurship Certificate, so I just put it all together.”

Stack of cans at Holidaily
Cans that will be filled with Favorite Blonde are stacked on shelves at Holidaily Brewing.

The MBA program strengthened her confidence in starting her own business. “That was huge,” Hertz said. “Also big was the experience writing a solid business plan. Because I’d been in the program, I’d written three or four business plans. Now I’m working on five-year business plans every year.”

Holidaily, nestled against the foothills just north of Golden, is an airy and comfortable tasting room and brewery. With its health-conscious philosophy, growing menu of brews, and grateful customers ­– many of whom, after landing at DIA, make a pit-stop en route to the mountains ­– the brewery exudes a welcoming, yet pioneering, vibe.

The chief brewista and cancer survivor loves chatting with regulars and newcomers alike, and she’s the perfect sympathizer for the belly-rumbler crowd. Hertz also enjoys sharing the story of how she launched one of the largest gluten-free breweries anywhere in the nation.

Building one of the largest gluten-free breweries in the country

She described how a couple pieces fell into place to ensure that gluten falls by the wayside, but great beer flavor does not. While investigating gluten-free beer ingredients, Hertz discovered a Colorado company, Grouse Malt House in Wellington, that malts exclusively gluten-free grain. Grouse’s malted millet and buckwheat are in Holidaily’s beers, and the brewery plans to experiment with other gluten-free grains – rice, quinoa, etc. – in future recipes.  “We’re still really learning and totally on the cusp of all of this,” Hertz said, “which is really cool and makes it really fun.”

Although Hertz had created recipes as a homebrewer, she knew she needed more expertise for the brewing process, which is considerably more specialized when using gluten-free grains. She found just the professional in Wayne Burns. A commercial brewer with 25 years of experience, Burns moved from Michigan to Colorado several years ago to join the state’s craft-brewing boom.

“A lot of this was blood, sweat and tears, but the luckiest thing was him looking for a job when I was looking for a brewer,” Hertz said. “He saw this opportunity (to brew gluten-free beer) as a professional challenge.”

Celebrating every day

Holidaily, which opened with three brews on tap, had 10 beers on tap at its recent one-year anniversary. Two beers are being distributed to liquor stores and restaurants in pint-size cans – Favorite Blonde and Fat Randy’s IPA (every beer name comes with a story) – and Holidaily even has a couple tap accounts. Those are trickier, because Hertz requires that the establishments use a dedicated Holidaily line to prevent cross-contamination from gluten-based brews.

In early May, the brewery released a summer seasonal, Buckwit Belgian, a wit-style beer with orange peel and coriander notes, that is also available in cans.

Many businesses and bars serve gluten-reduced beer, but it’s through an enzymatic process and doesn’t typically relieve customers who suffer from severe gluten intolerance. So the gluten-free market is wide open and gives Hertz an easy way to “differentiate us from the hundreds of other breweries around.”

That difference means major digestive relief for many Holidaily customers and it gets to the heart of the brewery’s fun-loving name. “Celebrate every single day,” Hertz said, with a cold one in hand. “And if you want to drink a beer, now you can drink one!”