I had no idea what to expect when I walked into Novel Strand Brewing during an epic four days in Denver last October.
But when Novel Strand Co-Founder Tamir Danon greeted me with his debatably tri-colored dark blonde, red, and white beard, I knew almost right away that this place was going to be different.
An Israeli native with a degree in biochemistry and biophysics and a graduate degree in microbiology, Danon’s views on life are as deep and complex as the genetic code of the beers he’s making.
You could probably spend days talking to him about both. And he encourages that.
It’s how he and his co-founder and wife Chantel Columna and third business partner Ayana Coker started Novel Strand. By meeting up at a bar in Troy, NY, while studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, to drink beers, talk about beers, and dream of opening a place all about beer.
Good thing too. Because on that late autumn evening, I walked out of Novel Strand two beers and over two hours later with my palate wowed, my mind blown, and my heart set on unraveling the mysterious threads (of Danon’s beard 😂) that when carefully intertwined make up the DNA of Novel Strand.
Baskets of Wings, Dogfish Head Tap Takeovers, and Dreams at The Ruck
The journey to open Novel Strand can be traced back almost thirteen years to an unassuming bar in upstate New York: The Ruck.
A low-key rugby dive bar with a penchant for craft beer, The Ruck became the go-to hangout for these three.
“We spent a lot of nights there playing shuffleboard, eating wings, and drinking amazing beer,” says Columna.
How does an old-school bar named after a tactical maneuver in rugby get some of the best beer in the state?
“Because Dave doesn’t do anything half assed,” laughs Danon, referring to The Ruck’s founder Dave Gardell. “With a lot of work and determination he slowly turned [The Ruck] into basically one of the best bars in the entire state at a time when it was incredibly difficult to get rare beer.”
The Ruck had this rare quality, marrying its casual scrum-like charm with a craft beer camaraderie.
A place where you could simultaneously watch people do Irish car bombs with Dogfish Head’s 18% ABV World Wide Stout or sit and slowly sip on an entire lineup of Dogfish, Hill Farmstead, or The Alchemist beers on tap.
The trio spent many a full day at The Ruck slowly working their way through a tap takeover.
“We’d get there early and I’d put my card down,” says Coker. “They knew when we came we’d just sit there and taste down the line.”
Here Danon, Columna, and Coker started to dream.
“It was simple back then,” says Coker. “We liked beer, we liked drinking good beer, we could make good beer for good people and that was the crux of it.”
When Beer Makes It Into Your Bones
Just a little idea at the time, the thought kept spinning in the minds of all three, eventually making its way into their flesh and bones.
Until somewhere in between the full-day tap takeovers and late-night hangouts, Columna and Danon became more than drinking buddies.
Since Coker technically first brought Columna to The Ruck, the now-married duo still give her credit for their story.
“Cupid Coker, she’s our matchmaker,” laughs Danon.
Together the two eventually took their travels beyond The Ruck, venturing out across the Capitol Region, Vermont, and NYC to find new breweries.
So when Columna and Danon took a chance trip to Colorado in 2014, visiting and exploring breweries around town, something just clicked.
“I fell in love,” says Columna. “That trip was the catalyst.”
One year later, they made the official move and by 2016 were solidifying plans to open Novel Strand.
Spinning One Idea Into a Trio of Strands
From the very beginning it’s pretty easy to see how each person’s DNA makes up a different fiber of Novel Strand.
For instance, Coker graduated RPI with a B.S. in Architecture and Columna with one in Civil Engineering and a minor in Architecture. Meaning when it came time to find a space and build out the brewery, they had a leg up.
Looking for something in a homier spot away from the more chaotic RiNo and LoDo areas, the Novel Strand crew found an unfinished space in the Baker neighborhood that seemed perfect, but needed a little love.
“Myself and Ayana were able to picture the space, what it would look like, the flow, where things were going to go, and ask the [right] questions,” says Columna, who ended up working out a three-model plan, figuring out how spatially the brewery would be set up in back.
Which is where Danon would be spending most of his time, leveraging his degree in biochemistry and biophysics and graduate degree in microbiology to brew.
“That’s the team, everyone brings something to the table,” says Danon, alluding to how the brewery’s name Novel Strand started to take shape. “At the time we were new DNA in the game; we were a little mutation in the beer industry. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse; just different. We were doing our own little thing.”
In 2018, Novel Strand opened, doing their “own little thing”: brewing beers with an unapologetic focus on lagers and hoppy ales.
And it all starts with one teeny, tiny word that often keeps Danon up at night: hops.
That Thing That Goes ‘Hop’ in the Night
Danon is the first to admit that he’s obsessed with humulus lupulus. Although he’s still unclear if that’s a good thing.
For Danon, hops are the “final frontier,” an ever-expanding exploration. “I don’t think anyone gets hops, myself included,” says Danon. “There is always…a reason to wake up at night and say, ‘Oh shit, what if I do this?’ Hops are all about capturing fleeting moments of magic.”
At Novel Strand, hops are a constant exploration. For instance, Danon thinks Novel Strand was probably the first brewery in the state (if not the country) to use Nectaron, a killer cultivar from New Zealand that Dr. Ron Beatson from Plant & Food Research first developed a couple years ago (the name comes from a combination of “Nectar of the Gods” and Dr. Beatson’s first name, Ron). “It’s a really strong pineapple flavor,” says Danon. “It’s a great hop.”
With Novel Strand, Danon has made it his life’s mission to be the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain figuring out how to unlock “a minimum of tens of hundreds of compounds that are capable of affecting your tongue in different ways,” he says.
Which Danon does through Novel Strand’s self-proclaimed “Hoppy” part of the menu, where at any given time you’ll usually find two or three of the fruits of Danon’s very technical research.
What he calls “unfiltered hoppy beer.”
Not IPA, not hazy, not New England-style, and not double dry-hopped this or that.
Just simply: unfiltered hoppy beer
What Is Unfiltered Hoppy Beer?
Danon consciously avoids those common monikers to describe Novel Strands’ hoppier beers because he feels there are too many misconceptions around what “hoppy” means.
“Are you telling me you don’t like mango, pineapple, and berries?” says Danon. “Of course you do! You don’t like bitterness. Me either. But hoppy doesn’t automatically mean bitter.”
Which is why you won’t see the three little letters IPA or even IBU anywhere on Novel Strands’ menu. “We’re not going to put in a certain number of whatever the f**k the qualification is because I think there are different things for me to focus on to make the beer taste good,” says Danon.
Like keeping the hoppy ales unfiltered. “If you think about the texture of beer as a way flavor is delivered, it makes more sense,” he says.
Let’s say Danon wants to take your palate on a smooth journey from ripe mandarin to blueberry/weed to mango at the finish. “To do that…we want the beer to be softer and very slowly roll,” he says. “Because if it happens quickly, it’s jarring, and if it’s jarring, you drink it more slowly, and if you drink it more slowly you drink less of it.”
Danon isn’t brewing unfiltered hoppy beer for a certain look (hello hazy beer). He’s doing it because that’s what makes the beer taste best.
Danon likens it to hearing a catchy pop song in your car—the lyrics or rhythm often stick in your mind. “There is a way for us to create these flavors that will…immediately make the brain go, ‘That feels familiar, I like that,’” says Danon. “To get the hops the way we want them to taste…the beer ends up looking a little hazy, glowy, and bright.”
Starting to understand how Danon’s diabolic bine-filled brain works?
F**king Hops, Am I Right?
By now, you should realize that these little green cones are on Danon’s mind 24/7.
Ask Danon which beer he’s most proud of and he’ll say, “Whichever hoppy beer I’m trying to f**king figure out and obsess over.”
Always a new hop to try, an old one to perfect, or a moment to capture, the quest goes on and on…coincidentally like a strand of DNA. “I want to taste the terpenes, I want to taste the alpha acids, I want to taste all these chemicals that come from the plant itself… I want the yeast to be like shhhh and let the hops talk,” says Danon, confessing his favorite hop is probably Nelson Sauvin. “When it’s good, it’s just so f**king good.”
Lucky for us, that means we get to drink f**king incredible unfiltered hoppy ales (minus the insomnia or mania).
Like Green Showers, “which we always joke is our house beer that’s never home,” says Danon. Meaning you might not always find it on the menu.
But if you do, get it.
A beer brewed at Novel Strand from the beginning, Green Showers is perhaps one of the most popular beers and a perfect representation of the brewery. “We came in not calling anything hazy, New England, DDH, or saying some weird shit,” says Danon. But people still loved that beer anyway.
Likewise with Queen of All Everything, the beer Columna is most proud of at Novel Strand that features a dry hop with the South African hop African Queen. Columna says, “I hadn’t ever had anything in my life that was a hoppy beer that had such complex flavors—the way the dark fruits and tea character came out of that beer—the moment I tried it was like, ‘Oh wow, what is this?’”
Pulling on and Unraveling the ‘Novel’ Strand
Incredibly, hoppy ales are just one filament to pull on and unravel at Novel Strand.
As much as Danon loves the hoppy side of life, these aren’t the only beers he brews.
Take for example the “Classiques” side of the menu, where you’ll find an assortment of lagers.
Danon engineers these beers to be “snappy, crisp, quick, and easy on the palate because that’s what will make you want more of the flavor,” he says. “We don’t want a gentle roll…we want to give you [a] poof of flavor, go away, and make you want to revisit that right now.”
But playing with lagers doesn’t mean pushing hops into the bottom of the toy chest. Danon gets excited by taking traditional styles and introducing new hops in them.
For instance, in the brewery’s pilsner. With a traditional Czech or German pilsner, you’d find either Saaz or Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops, respectively. But Novel Strand’s version gets a contemporary curve, with Danon adding his favorite hop Nelson Sauvin instead.
“Obviously Nelson Sauvin is different from Hallertau, so you get the lager, pilsner character of the style but with a fun flavor twist because it’s Nelson,” laughs Danon.
Or in the kölsch, which gets a dose of the southern hemisphere hop Motueka. In the past, Danon has also done versions with the aforementioned Nectaron or African Queen.
But he isn’t just approaching this willy-nilly. Danon truly takes the time to analytically think where he can color outside the lines and where he needs to stay within them.
Classiques, Hoppy Stuff, Sour & Funky Stuff, Oh My
For example, Danon says that for more traditional German lagers like their altbier, they stay truer to the original.
“A style like hoppy red doesn’t make sense,” he says. “The malt is going to cover the hops and the hops will get in the way of the malt. You have to pick… Not that they always have to clash, but you can’t emphasize hops if you also have malt and sweetness.”
These are the almost existential debates that Danon considers with each beer he brews.
Whether that’s a lager on the “Classiques” side of the menu, a rotating single hop series under “Hoppy Stuff,” or even a sour series called Vicious Delicious that always features real fruit under “Sour & Funky Stuff.”
Danon also likes to f**k around with barrel aging when we can get his hands on some. For instance, Dancing With the Moon, a sour ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from David Arthur Vineyards in St. Helena, CA.
“It’s insane,” says Danon, who admits this one also moonlighted as his wedding beer, so he may be a bit biased. “It tastes like all the beers in Belgium I’d drink and admire when I was way younger. It’s crazy to have captured that flavor profile in a beer.”
But more than that, it’s the way Dancing With the Moon has changed over time that blows Danon’s mind because “that’s what I try to do as a brewer…refine year after year, improve and change, and see what happens.”
Why You Won’t Find any Flights at Novel Strand
With the wide breadth of styles on tap at Novel Strand, a first timer might walk in thinking they can order a flight to try everything.
“Everything we do is based on the idea that beer is something communal, generally lower ABV, and regardless of style or execution is something you want to drink more than one of,” says Danon.
To Danon, flights don’t fit into that picture (in fact, he thinks that’s about all flights are good for: taking a nice picture).
As Danon tells it, let’s say you come into the taproom in November or December when they most likely have an imperial stout, some lighter lagers, a rotating fruited sour, and then a selection of hoppy beers. If you hypothetically order a flight and for some reason try the imperial stout first, “well, then it’s over, we’re done, we had a good time but the rest of those beers you won’t really taste,” says Danon.
Which is why he generally crafts the beers to be lower in ABV. So you can enjoy a full version of two or three of them without feeling too heavy or getting a headache.
“If a flight is what’s important to you more than anything, there are hundreds of breweries in the world that would do that for you,” says Danon. But not Novel Strand.
Look, if you haven’t figured it out already, Danon has a distinct brewing perspective. When you’re at Novel Strand, you walk into his, Columna’s, and Coker’s world.
We highly recommend you just strap in, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
“If people are coming here, enjoying beer and smiling, coming back and bringing new people, that’s a five-star review from me,” says Danon.
And so far Novel Strand has far exceeded expectations.
Where the Beer Loves You Back No Matter Who You Are
Over the last five years, Novel Strand has become a pillar of the community, “a brewery where the beer loves you back,” says Danon.
People in the neighborhood have become friends over a beer at the taproom (something Danon, Columna, and Coker are intimately familiar with).
And their beers have gained national recognition.
Back in 2020, PorchDrinking founder Tristan Chan named Novel Strand one of “The 20 Most Underrated Breweries of 2020.” And over the last couple years, we’ve featured both their unfiltered hoppy ales and more classic lagers in everything from “The 20 Best Beers to Drink in Summer 2021” to “The Top 10 Beers We Drank in October.”
Everything culminated in Hop Culture naming Novel Strand our favorite brewery of 2022.
Because yes, the beer across the spectrum is mind blowing. But also because, at Novel Strand, folks from all walks of life are encouraged to put down their phones, pick up a pint, and participate in a conversation, whether about beer, the world, your views on life, your passions, or anything else.
Brewing Beyond Boxes
Yet somehow a brewery that’s a space for everyone has frequently found itself pigeonholed by outside influences. The media often latches onto the fact that Novel Strand is BIPOC-owned.
And only that fact.
“I’ve seen articles where the first thing they say is we’re a BIPOC-owned brewery,” says Coker. “But we are so much more than that.”
Is Coker a brown, Queer brewery owner? Technically yes. Is Columna a brewery owner with roots in the Dominican Republic? Again, technically yes. Is Danon an Israeli, Jewish brewery owner? We think you know the answer.
But Novel Strand isn’t just a brewery owned by two BIPOC women and a Jew (a great idea for a TV show, jokes Danon).
“The way I see it is the way I see myself,” says Coker. “Yes, I’m Brown. Yes, I’m Queer, but I offer so much more than just those titles.”
Coker says that, as people get to know her, those identities may come up in conversation, but it’s not the pivotal intro of, “Hey, my name is Ayana, I’m a Black, Queer person.”
And that’s their approach at the brewery.
“Yes, we are a BIPOC-owned and -operated brewery, but first and foremost we are a brewery dedicated to crafting good beer and educating people on good beer,” Coker says.
By actually taking that approach first, Novel Strand can allow for those deeper conversations to happen in their space.
“We never brought focus to any minority aspect of any of the three owners,” says Columna. “Everyone else said that.”
She hopes that the narrative gets back to why Novel Strand started in the first place: coming into the neighborhood to create community.
“We want to go about it collectively in a way that makes sense for the community, not simply just putting a tag on it and because of that you should support me,” says Columna. “We actually care about making changes proactively in our way and that is authentic to us.”
Sometimes the Quietest Voice Is the Strongest
This means at Novel Stand you won’t find them posting a black square on Instagram.
Instead, you’ll see all representation of the human species on their beer labels, for example. “There will be people with dark skin, light skin, we’ll do a beer with the name in Spanish and you’ll have to say it every time because people who speak Spanish drink beer too,” says Danon.
Or brewing a beer like Laila, which means night in Hebrew.
Danon calls it making “quiet noise.”
“You can’t go yell at someone and expect them to listen,” says Danon. Instead, Novel Strand lets the beer do the talking first.
For the last five years, Novel Strand has brought folks of all backgrounds into its corner spot, enjoying incredible beer first and foremost.
And if they want to stay and chat about why they love Riwaka or Nelson Sauvin hops more while drinking Novel Strand’s Weapon of Choice: Riwaka?
Or if they want to chat about how they can help drive more representation in craft beer while consuming Ninja Sh!T, a schwarzbier with all-German malt and Hallertau Tradition hops?
“People ask us: How can the craft brewing industry help solve racism? That is an insane question,” says Danon. “Beer isn’t going to solve racism. We’re going to solve racism. And then beer will change.”
Danon recommends drinking a beer with someone different than you.
“It’s not abstract math,” he says. “It’s you, me, and a buddy going places where this group of people are really nice, welcoming, warm, accepting, and the beer is so good you want to support them.”
After all, isn’t that how Novel Strand started?
With a few friends all from different cultures meeting up to enjoy some amazing beer?
The Future of Novel Strand
Celebrating their fifth anniversary this year in July, Novel Strand thinks the future means getting back to business as usual, especially since the last two pandemic-stricken years have been an endless series of unexpected twists and turns.
More than that though, Columna, Danon, and Coker stay one hundred percent committed to their original vision.
This is and always will be the DNA of Novel Strand: bringing together all these disparate threads to form one unique strand.
Because much like experimenting with hops or striving for a more equitable industry, the journey never ends.
At Novel Strand, they just make a difference by brewing one beer at a time.
“Hopefully, when we drink a beer we can share a moment of our time together,” says Danon. “And maybe leave each other better than when we found each other.”