Great Frontier Brewing Co. in Lakewood has everything a typical craft brewery would have: A variety of small-batch beers, pub-style decor, food trucks, trivia nights and a core group of regulars.
But one thing is missing: gluten (mostly, anyway).
In a market full of keen competitors, the hand-crafted brewer offers a gluten-free beer, along with reduced-gluten brews, giving the family-run operation a loyal clientele.
“I’d say a quarter to a third come in for the gluten-free options,” said Beau Plungis, the 27-year-old taproom manager. “Lots of people come in here for (gluten-free) because it’s all they can stomach.”
People with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, as well as people with gluten allergies, have an inability to process the gluten protein found in regular beer. An estimated 3.5 million Americans struggle with celiac disease. Symptoms include painful digestive and stomach issues, and nutritional deficiencies, which can result in fatigue, weight loss, depression and rash.
Celiac is known to cluster in families, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Great Frontier head brewer Mike Plungis pursued gluten-free brewing after his wife, Annie, and several family members and friends, were diagnosed with celiac or gluten intolerance.
About 15 years ago, Plungis was given a home-brewing kit as a Father’s Day gift. After that, he was hooked. Brewing became a passion.
Naturally, he called his first gluten-free beer Blonde Annie, after his wife. In 2011, Blonde Annie scored 43 out of 50 possible points at the 2011 National Home Brewing Competition. A few months later, brewed with a local Denver brewery, it won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival.
Based in part on the success of Blonde Annie, Great Frontier was founded in September 2015. Blonde Annie remains the brewer’s signature gluten-free beer. Gluten-reduced beers include a cream ale, an Irish red ale and an American pale ale.
“Honestly, the gluten-free beers we have, you really can’t tell the difference” between them and traditional beers, Mike Plungis said. Curious customers who try Blonde Annie and the gluten-reduced beers often become regulars, he said.
The brewing company, 2010 S. Oak St., is in a former muffler shop. Two commercial-sized garage doors with southern exposure bathe the room in winter sunlight. Wooden planks repurposed from a 100-year-old barn in Longmont line the face of the bar and a wall behind the bar. Planks are also used to make some of the tables in the taproom.
Brewers grain, a waste byproduct, or spent grain from the brewing process, is also repurposed. A poultry and ostrich farmer in Pueblo hauls the spent grain south to feed his animals. An Old West wagon sits on a slightly elevated patch of grass south of the building, a piece of history that subtly announces — Great Frontier.
The name Great Frontier is a deliberate part of the business plan. The upper case G in Great also stands for Gluten; and the upper case F in Frontier for Free, Mike Plungis said.
Of course, Great Frontier also offers an array of traditional beers including Oak Street IPA, Preacher’s Coconut Porter and Leo’s Lager, an Octoberfest/Marzen.
Food served at the brewing company is cooked by area food trucks, including Sizzle Food Truck, Stella Blue Food Truck and La Crepe a Papa. Food truck schedules are posted on Great Frontier’s website. Board games are available at Great Frontier. Trivia night is popular and local fundraisers, like Colorado Gives Day benefiting the Second Wind Fund, mark the calendar. Children and dogs are welcome.
“It’s a real family environment, sort of like a European pub — that public house atmosphere,” Mike Plungis said. “Relationships connect and grow here. We are a local hangout. We are part of the neighborhood, and that’s part of the fun of it.”
Plungis family members work both the brew house, or back room, where the beers are brewed; and the front, or taproom, where their work is savored. Annie, of Blonde Annie fame, tackles social media, merchandising and office work. Kelly, the couple’s daughter, tends bar and Tommy, the youngest, works in the brew house with his dad.
“They’ve all been a part of it, a big part of it, since we got going,” Mike Plungis said. “It’s good to see them, good to talk to them. It’s kind of cool” to work with your family.