One of the most important things modern America shares with the people who founded the country is the sense of community and fellowship that comes with sharing time at the local tavern. Our Founders frequented taverns and public houses throughout their travels, exchanged ideas and visions for the future of our nation. They even created the occasional Articles of Confederation, state charter, or even our Constitution within the walls of the same general types of local taverns and tap rooms we gather in today.
As Jim and Deb Fallows note in their conclusions to Our Towns, in speaking of craft breweries in particular, a community or “town that has them, also has a certain kind of entrepreneur, and a critical mass of mainly young.” The concept of “young” may be in the mind of the beholder (“beer-holder?”) but it’s hard to imagine any group of folks more entrepreneurial than those who served as our nation’s founders and supporters.
I won’t claim to have met any authors of founding national or state documents in the pubs and taverns I frequent in Colorado, but I have met some great thinkers, entrepreneurs, and “regular Americans” who form the backbone of our communities, states, and even our nation. And while this is not a story about a particular town’s craft brewery, it is about a distinctive type of “public house” nestled in the area south of Denver in Highlands Ranch and Centennial that represents the finest of an entire state’s offerings in local craft breweries and even wineries: Max Taps.
Max Taps founders Dave Gardner and wife/partner Shelly operate over 50 taps for exclusively Colorado beers and wines, distributing the experiences and talents of craft breweries and wineries from all over the state. They established their first tap room in August 2017, naming it after their dog, Maxine, who, as noted on the establishment’s website, “was the greatest dog ever and was truly deserving of her own craft beer bar!” Originally from Sugarland, Texas, Dave and Shelly said they went to Colorado because, in their minds, that’s where the best of beers in the U.S. were. They are truly two of those “entrepreneurs” that Jim and Deb describe so eloquently in Our Towns,and being two transplants, they decided to establish some real “street cred” with both true Coloradans and their fellow transplants by serving only Colorado beer, wine, and spirits.
“I’ve had an interest in the craft beer industry since my college days in South Texas State, in San Marcos,” Dave, now 41, said. He and Shelly, whom he met in middle school, shared that interest, and knew they’d eventually put their goals into reality. “I was always the big picture guy who knew where we should go with this grand plan, but Shelly is the one who understood the details and how things should work together to make the vision real,” Dave said. “Max Taps is as much her as it is me.”
Shelly got me straight on the real nitty-gritty of Dave and Max Taps. “Dave does move pretty fast, and I do occasionally have to pick up the pieces in his wake, but I’ve really grown to love this place and the people that we serve,” she explained. “I was kind of an introvert, the opposite of Dave, but these people and our community really encourage me to fully embrace what we’re doing here. We love being part of this community and our customers, friends really, being part of our family. I love how many people come here to hang out with us and their friends and just share their lives and stories with us and each other.”
Dave drafted the idea of Max Taps when he first got into the industry, tending bar at Living the Dream brewery in Littleton, the next town over from Centennial. While there, he was working his way through a MBA program at Colorado State University.
“Working at Living the Dream while attending business school really revved up my interest in opening my own taproom, serving only Colorado beers and wines,” Dave said. And while Max Taps also serves seltzers and canned cocktails, the spirits on the shelves come exclusively from Colorado distilleries.
Max Taps is much more than a gathering place to drink excellent craft beer while watching Rockies, Broncos, and Avalanche games. Thanks to great relationships with a stable of excellent food trucks, Dave and Shelly also provide their customers access to food trucks within the Denver area that typically serve Colorado foods, often made with local ingredients.
“It’s all about an authentic, local-sourced vibe,” Dave said. And the local vibe is strong and welcoming. And so are both the Max Taps team and its customers.
In fact, with strong encouragement from their loyal customer base and being the entrepreneurs they are, Dave and Shelly are breaking new ground on community partnerships throughout the South Denver Metro area. In addition to the original location in Highlands Ranch, they are opening the second iteration of Max Taps in Centennial, about 10 miles away. Right in the heart of the Denver Technology Center, it is one of the most significant hubs of innovative enterprise and entrepreneurship in the Denver region. The new Max Taps will take its place among a large variety of innovative businesses and community centers.
Who makes up the community of Max Taps customers and the team that serves them? That may be the most important element of success of this growing business. They are all part of this great family Shelly told me about, and the feelings are mutual.
“Max Taps is really devoted to community support and providing the best variety of Colorado beers and wines to our community,” Malcom Anderson, Max Taps Tap Room Manager, told me. “We build family and community in everything we do.”
Malcolm was born in Flagstaff, Arizona but travelled all over U.S., working in food and beverage industry since his dad was a chef. Malcolm came to Max Taps from another local brewery, Grist, about three and a half years ago, and said he’s loved working at Max Taps more than any other place he’s worked.
I’ve had the privilege of interacting with some of the others of the wonderful Max Taps service team: Scott, Sam (Samantha), Kira, Avery, Casey, and Josh. In my experiences, every one of these young people are dedicated to the Max Taps community and to each other. It’s a wonderful team that keeps the flow, both intellectual and liquid, going strong.
WeldWerks Brewery in Greeley, Colorado, known for its flagship IPAs, lagers, and stouts, is one of the most consistent suppliers for Max Taps. WeldWerks has been in business for about six years.
“We love being one of Dave’s regular suppliers and have a great collaboration with Max Taps,” Dess Leeper, the Denver area Sales Representative for the brewery told me.
WeldWerks recently supplied 10 taps during a weekly “tap takeover” that’s part of Dave and Shelly’s collaboration and support for the state craft brew industry. “We really appreciate doing business with Dave and Shelly,” Dess said. I’m delighted to say that I can fully attest to the popularity of tap takeovers, particularly when they include such excellent beers and merch giveaways to promote the state’s breweries.
Bill Giffen is one of those regular patrons who really understands the depth of what Max Taps does for the community. “These people really care about each other – all of them: the Max Taps team, the customers and the community they support,” said Bill, a former soldier stationed at Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs. “They help each other and even take care of each other. During the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dave and Shelly kept everyone on the payroll even though they had to change the business model to mostly take-out and outside service, once that was allowed. These guys care about both their team and their patrons and made sure everyone was taken care of, including the community at large. They have done so many charity events for so many causes!”
Bill added that Max Taps has held community benefits over their four years that resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in donations to community organizations and charities. Both Dave and Shelly told me that the figure was actually about $265,000 and included benefits for fallen police officers, fire fighters, and other local heroes and families.
Shawn Hilbig, another regular patron said that for him “the biggest draw was how welcome dogs are and how well everyone interacts with them. The dogs even seem to feel like part of the family here!” Shawn has been coming to Max Taps for about a year and feels very close to the team. “I love Dave and Shelly…they are so friendly, so community focused and really forward looking. I’ve built what you might call wonderful ‘barships’ if I can coin a term that combines bars and friendships and have helped to solve some great world problems with my Max Taps family. This place is the goldilocks of craft brewing.”
I suspect many great world problems have been solved at taprooms throughout the country, just like Max Taps. Places like Max Taps, while providing some mental lubrication, also accommodates wide-open thinking; having your tavern family and budding ‘barships’ around you to encourage and participate in such dialogues can only strengthen the intellectual pursuits, as our Founders would have likely told us during one of their own world problem-solving sessions in the early days of America.
“Public houses, and more specifically taverns, played an especially important role — they weren’t simply places to drink. Rather, they served as a venue to meet like-minded individuals, and functioned as clearinghouses and test beds of revolutionary ideas,” as War on the Rocks National Security Review writer Salvatore Colleluori wrote in “The Colonial Tavern, Crucible of the American Revolution.”
As sage advice, he concluded “The next time you’re in a bar with friends, talking about what you may think is nothing in particular, remember the impact and significance that alcohol and taverns have had on American society — maybe you too can come up with something revolutionary.”
Max Taps fits that bill as much as any place I’ve visited in Colorado. They are a great team and a wonderful family and ideal place to form your next barship.
Carl W. Hunt is a retired US Army officer and graduate of the National Defense University’s National War College. He devoted the final half of his 30-year military career to the study and practice of the sciences of complex systems within military and government settings. Hunt is the principal co-author and editor of Paradoxes of Power, Amazon, 2020. He is also the co-author of the five-part series in Our Town Foundations on power and leadership in small towns and cities. His son, and Paradoxes of Power co-author, Joshua Hunt, is a part-time employee at Max Taps.