Craft Crazy Colorado

Nearly 400 breweries and distilleries raise the bar

By Joe Ross

A true lover of craft beer would have to plan more than 300 stops to visit all Colorado breweries this fall. Who wouldn’t want to jump aboard that train?

Some would argue that it’s no coincidence that the Super Bowl of the beer world – The Great American
Beer Festival – is held in the state that is absolutely crazy for new tastes in crafted beverages. 

Will the growth trend continue? There’s not much doubt, says John Carlson, executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild. “At the end of the day, if the operator is brewing flavorful ales and lagers, I think that it can go on in perpetuity.”

Creating a great product is part of the equation, but as Carlson points out, the breweries are also serving a greater purpose. “Breweries are creating a sense of place and community – it’s wonderful.”

This fall the Brewers Guild, which is a trade group that advocates for breweries, reported 309 licenses had been issued to breweries within the state.

But the explosion of crafted drinks isn’t limited to beer. Cocktails, once a lost art, have become mainstream again, dipping into the past to revamp the drinks of yesteryear. The ingredients found in those drinks often consist of the offerings from more than 80-plus distilleries that are in operation. Maybe the train ride should include 400 stops. 

In Durango, where the population is less than 18,000, there are six breweries and two distilleries operating. In Fort Collins, 15 locations are brewing beer and three distilleries are operating in the city of 155,000 residents. 

The libations craze also has spilled into other aspects of our business communities. Gone are the days of mass-produced beer sufficing at restaurants and bars. Although beer sales overall have been flat nationally, craft beer sales have shown double-digit increases in recent years. 

As a result, the state’s economy has received a boost because of our crafty nature. According to the Beer Institute, a national trade association in Washington D.C. that represents all sizes of breweries, the industry in Colorado represents more than 5,000 jobs ($422 million in wages), which doesn’t include those employed in wholesaling and retailing. Without a doubt, our small breweries and distilleries have become big business.