Microbreweries: Good for Colorado

2011 November 30
by David Schlichter

A tasting flight of craft beers from the new Renegade Brewing Company in Denver

I had a chance to visit the new Renegade Brewing Company in Denver the other day, and, wanting to get to know the brewery for all it’s worth, I ordered a tasting flight of each beer on the menu.  Eight four-ounce glasses later, I was quite happy with my decision.  All of the beers were Good; my favorites were the Ryeteous (a nice rye IPA), the Una Mas (a Mexican amber ale with a poblano pepper taste), and the Another Thrill (an imperial porter at 9% alcohol by volume).  While my taste buds were certainly pleased with my visit, I was even more excited by my sense of possibility of what microbreweries like Renegade can (continue to) do to enhance our city and our state.

In terms of quality beer, here in Colorado we’ve got it Good.  Our state produces more beer than any other in the country, we have the fourth-most microbreweries per capita, and we’re third in total number of breweries per state.  Our 124+ breweries run the size gamut: ranging from small microbreweries such as Renegade, to seasoned home-grown breweries with large distribution networks such as New Belgium Brewery, to massive operations with an international presence such as Coors.

We’re doing well as a state, but it gets even better.  The American craft brewing industry is rapidly expanding.  Last year, in spite of a shaky economy and a 1% decrease in overall U.S. beer sales by volume, the craft brewing industry grew by 12%.  Over the same year, microbreweries’ total share of the beer market increased from 4.3% to 4.9%.  And this year again, craft beer sales were up 15% in the first half of 2011.  (For more data on the beer industry see the Beer Institute for the 2011 Brewer’s Almanac and the Brewer’s Association for craft brewing statistics.)

I’m excited by the growth of microbreweries, and I’m excited that Colorado is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the growth of the industry and the new jobs and revenue that come along with it.  Many people already refer to Colorado as the “Napa Valley of beer,” and, while we’ve certainly established a Good reputation for our state’s quality beer, we should aim even higher.  I’d like to see Colorado not only be the top beer producing state in the country, but also have the highest number of microbreweries per capita and per state.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were a microbrewery in every Colorado town?  Perhaps, then, instead of being referred to as the “Napa Valley of beer,” we’d be referred to as “Colorado, beer capital of the world.”

It will probably take a bit of time (20 years?) to become the beer capital of the world, but here are five easy steps we can take in the mean time to speed up the process:

  1. Restaurants and bars: offer local.  Many Colorado restaurants and bars already offer a wide selection of local beers.  Those that don’t, should.  Customers are seeking out craft beer more and more–why not give them what they want, recycle money into the Colorado economy, and make more bang for your buck?
  2. Consumers: buy local.  Treat your taste buds and try out a new Colorado brew.  Chances are you’ll enjoy it, and the more success Colorado beers experience in Colorado, the more Colorado beers you’ll see in Colorado, in the rest of the country, and around the world.
  3. Established brewers: collaborate.  Just as food trucks in Denver (while still being competitive) experienced unprecedented success in Denver through collaborating on initiatives such as Civic Center Eats, you, too, can find strength in numbers.  Identify ways to share resources, develop common supply/distribution channels, put on shared beer festivals, and try out other innovative ways to decrease your cost, increase your reach, add to your profitability, and help develop our state’s reputation as the beer capital of the world.
  4. Homebrewers: keep it up.  Coloradans love to try out new craft beers.  Our sense of curiosity and appreciation for quality is what enabled Jeff Lebesch to take New Belgium Brewery from his basement twenty years ago to the incredible success story that it is today.  I was in St. Louis this past week and every bar I went to, without exception, served New Belgium beer.  Follow your passion, focus on quality, and success for you and our state will follow.
  5. State and local government entities: harness the potential.  The largest ticketed domestic beer festival, the Great American Beer Festival, is held in Denver every year and sells out in a matter of weeks; this year’s GABF featured 466 breweries and 2,375 beers, and an estimated 49,000 people attended.  With the craft beer industry expanding while so many industries are on the decline–and with Colorado so uniquely positioned to take advantage of this industry’s growth–state and local governments would be wise to market, incentivize, and support the development of the Colorado craft beer industry in order to help provide Colorado with a more sustainable economic future…and support the continued production of new, delicious, Good beer.

Cheers to our microbreweries—and to the idea that 2031 is the year that Colorado is declared the beer capital of the world! 

The Good Life Denver is written by David Schlichter.  To stay in the loop, like The Good Life Denver on Facebook and follow @thegoodlifeden on Twitter.

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An additional note: Not only is Colorado home to many Good microbreweries, it is also home to a burgeoning group of Good microdistilleries and Good wineries.  I encourage you to read my post about Leopold Bros. Distillery, a recent New York Times blog post on Colorado microdistilleries, and Fulcrum Publishing’s Guide to Colorado Wineries.  You might also be interested in a Good craft beer blog written by Denver resident Billy Broa called BillyBrew.

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