Beer has the power to bring people together. Through different brewing styles and the additions of fruits and spices, you can experience new flavors and learn about the stories, and cultures, behind them. At Wah Gwaan Brewing, Harsha Maragh and Jesse Brown introduce guests to Jamaican culture through vibrant, flavorful beers, colorful murals and Jamaican Patois — the dialect of English spoken in Jamaica.
When Maragh moved to Colorado from New York City, she found it difficult to connect with her Jamaican heritage. In New York, the Caribbean community was established and most people knew about Jamaican culture through the restaurants, bars and language spoken around the neighborhood. “You are surrounded by Caribbean culture wherever you go. Here it isn’t as prevalent,” said Maragh. After moving to Colorado to earn her master’s degree in sustainability from CU Boulder, she developed her passion for beer and eventually met her now-husband — Brown — at Avery Brewing. “Beer has been a big part of our relationship,” said Brown, “we would go to breweries on the weekends and eventually started home-brewing.”
The couple had always wanted to start their own business and would come up with business ideas together for fun. It wasn’t until the pandemic left Maragh without a job that the idea for Wah Gwaan came to fruition. In a saturated craft beer market they weren’t sure if a brewery was feasible, but with a lack of Jamaican influence in Denver, they knew they had a unique idea.
“We knew we wanted to create that community here,” said Maragh. “There is a lack of diversity in the craft beer industry and this community has a lot to offer,” added Brown.
From the name of the brewery — which means “what’s up?” in Jamaican Patois — to the murals adorning the interior and exterior walls, you’re introduced to the Caribbean culture even before you take your first sip of beer. Each mural has a tie back to Jamaica — the lion is a symbol of “rasta,” the crocodile is on the Jamaican national seal, the doctor hummingbird is Jamaica’s national bird and the island girl embodies confidence and beauty. Inside the brewery you’ll find three reggae musicians — Koffee, Damian Marley and Shaggy — gracing the walls. “We wanted to put little touches of Jamaica without being over the top,” said Maragh. While the murals are more obvious decor, there are some aspects that are less obvious, like the blue “river” running along the bartop, chosen because the name Jamaica comes from the Arawak Indian word “Xaymaca” which means “the land of wood and water.”
The beers at Wah Gwaan utilize Jamaican ingredients as well. Trop Queen is a jackfruit kolsch — a light and refreshing beer that has a subtle jackfruit taste without the sweetness. Wash Belly is a pomegranate hefeweizen named after Maragh’s little sister and father, who are both the wash bellies — a Jamaican slang word for the youngest child — in their families. “ We are really trying to incorporate some pop culture references with Jamaican dialect so people can learn Jamaican words that I grew up hearing all the time,” said Maragh. The beer is tart from the pomegranate without being as sour as a traditional sour beer. The couple is also excited about a coffee IPA that will be the first beer in the brewery’s coffee series. It has strong notes of coffee on the nose with the distinct hoppy flavor of an IPA.
While Wah Gwaan does not have a kitchen, you’ll be able to order from food trucks on the weekends as well as from several of the surrounding restaurants in the area. “We want to incorporate Black-owned businesses when we do partnerships. When Indians were brought over to Jamaica they assimilated in some ways and were influenced by the Africans that were there, so Jamaican culture is very similar to African culture,” said Maragh. In addition to being a minority and women-owned business, Wah Gwaan is also veteran-owned. Brown served in the Marine Corps for over five years and is excited to work with veterans at VFW Post One — a global veteran organization located just a block from the brewery. This post of the VFW is the first one in the country — founded in 1899 — and helps to organize benefits and rights for veterans. “Not everyone is aware of how it is to transition out of the military, you can feel lost,” said Brown.
Wah Gwaan plans to host a grand opening party on June 19 — Juneteenth — to not only celebrate the grand opening of the brewery but the emancipation of historically enslaved people in America. “It’s all we’ve been talking about, thinking about and dreaming about for a long time,” said Maragh. Head over to the Santa Fe arts district on June 19 to learn about Jamaican culture, enjoy a cold beer and celebrate the expanding diversity of the Denver craft beer scene.
Wah Gwaan Brewing is located at 925 W. 8th Ave, Denver. Hours are to be announced.
All Photography by Roxanna Carrasco.