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Wah Gwaan Brewing marries Caribbean flavors and the Colorado lifestyle

//Illustration by Madison Lauterbach | mlauterbach@msmayhem.com

A tamarind Red Ale, a jackfruit Kolsch, a pomegranate Hefeweizen— these are just a few of the beers that have circulated through Wah Gwaan Brewing Company’s tap list since its inception in 2020. Founded by husband-and-wife team Jesse Brown and Harsha Maragh, Wah Gwaan pays homage to Maragh’s lineage by crafting these Jamaican-inspired beers and serving the people of beer-centric Denver.

Wah Gwaan aptly means “what’s up” or “what’s going on” in Jamaican Patois, the English dialect spoken by the majority of the country’s population, and reflects the friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the brewery. Nestled in Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, the brewery is painted in vibrant colors to match the Jamaican flag and feels instantaneously distinctive from other local breweries.

Co-owners Maragh and Brown first met at Avery Brewing Company in Boulder in 2017 while working their separate corporate jobs. From that moment on, they shared an interest in and a fascination with beer. The two began mapping out a path to a hazy future. When the pandemic forced career changes for the pair, they saw it as a sign to put their plan into motion.

“We realized that we wanted something else out of our careers and out of our lives, so we pivoted over to the brewery,” Maragh said. 

New to the brewing industry, the pair practiced home brewing and tested out some of the recipes they hoped to see on tap. Alongside planning their establishment, they took online brewing science classes and did their own research into the art of craft brewing.

Before moving to Denver about five years ago, Maragh had lived in New York City her whole life. Having settled in the West, Maragh has noticed that New York has a much larger population of Caribbean immigrants and Caribbean-Americans than Colorado.

As a first-generation American, Maragh’s goal was to infuse the brewery with her Jamaican heritage, and she quite literally did just that. To her, “Jamaican-inspired” means using fruits and spices that are found on the island, taking inspiration from different mixed drinks and cultural foods and incorporating them into the beers.

“For each beer, we try to pair it with a fruit that will support and help that beer style along,” Maragh said of the brewing process. “We want it to be a complementary combination of flavors.”

It’s that process that Maragh says is her favorite part about owning Wah Gwaan—the ability to be creative with the different flavors, to bring her culture and the things that she grew up with into the brewery and for the public to enjoy them. 

Take Maragh’s favorite Wah Gwaan beer—Trop Queen—a jackfruit Kolsch she described as “very interesting, really unique and a super-easy drinker.” There’s a particular tender loving care that goes into Wah Gwaan’s beers, and Maragh takes pride in their quality.

“We want to make excellent beer, whether that’s with fruit additions or without,” Maragh said. “On top of that, we want each beer style to show through, so we don’t over-fruit any of our beers.”

More than just brewing great beer, which is certainly their top priority, Maragh and Brown also find the community aspect of owning a local business equally as important as delivering a good product. They say a huge part of their business plan was to be “community-focused and mission-driven.”

Being a beneficial and productive player in their community is of the utmost importance to Maragh and Brown. In the past, the pair has partnered with their neighborhood coffee shop on a coffee-flavored brew and collaborated with like-minded breweries. The brewery is also a pick-up spot for the community-supported agriculture nonprofit LittleJohn Produce. 

Diversity and inclusion in the brewing industry is something the pair strive to achieve, and part of that is incorporating the local Caribbean community and fostering their relationship with local Caribbean immigrants. 

Maragh sees a crossover between Denver and Jamaican lifestyles. Though Jamaica is not a beer hub, both places have a similar drinking culture that places an emphasis on community.

“It’s that drinking culture of being surrounded by your friends and family and being super laid-back and chill,” Maragah said.

To further intertwine the two cultures, Maragh keeps events rolling through, like inviting Jamaican DJs to get the vibe going every first Friday of the month. On November 10 at 6:30 p.m., the brewery is partnering with Boozy Jerky for a jerky and beer pairing. On November 14 starting at 10 a.m., they’re hosting a Caribbean brunch, taking Denver’s brunch culture and “putting a little twist on it.” The day will include Caribbean-inspired lunch items, beer shandies and the right music to get things going.

 

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