Boozy coffee. Canned wine and cocktails. Hopped water. THC- and/or CBD-infused beverages. And, of course, the S-word. Today, retail shelves hold seemingly countless ready-to-drink products—all with the potential to lure away craft beer consumers. Producers large and small are taking notice: Oskar Blues Brewery sold 40,000 barrels of Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water in 2019, and the inventor of Blue Moon, Keith Villa, is producing a line of nonalcoholic West Coast IPAs and Belgian-style white ales dosed with CBD and/or THC called Ceria. What does such competition mean for Colorado beer? “These other beverages are forcing us to refine our brand, find our true core customers, and figure out how to speak to them effectively,” Bonfire Brewing co-founder Andy Jessen says. “If we don’t, we’ll be left behind.”
Although less than four percent of American craft breweries are Latino-owned, Colorado is home to nearly a dozen. The state’s first, three-year-old Cheluna Brewing Co. (inside Stanley Marketplace in Aurora), pours “chelas” (beers) inspired by the cultural heritage of Oaxaca, Mexico. Dos Luces Brewery, which opened on South Broadway in 2018, crafts gluten-free chicha and pulque brews from locally malted blue corn. At Atrevida Beer Co. in Colorado Springs, brewer Jessica Fierro infuses cervezas with Mexican chocolate, guava, and other Latin American adjuncts. Last summer, all of the above headlined Suave Fest—the first Latino brew bash in the country—at Denver’s most recent addition to the trend, Raíces Brewing Co.
For smaller craft brewers faced with distribution challenges, slim margins, and competition for shelf and tap space, sometimes building another taproom is the best path to growth. Denver Beer Co. has two metro-area taprooms, is building a third, and also owns Cervecería Colorado, located next to its Platte Street location. Dry Dock Brewing Co. pours from two Aurora taprooms, and Grist Brewing Company serves Highlands Ranch, Littleton, and Lone Tree, where it launched Rare by Grist, a taproom starring high-ABV beer and seltzer cocktails inspired by spirits like tequila and whiskey, in December.
Beer is, essentially, an agricultural product. As such, caring for the planet is a part of many local brewers’ DNA. New Belgium Brewing has been powered entirely by renewable energies since 1999 and also diverts 99.9 percent of its waste from landfills. On a smaller scale, year-old Colorado Farm Brewery in Alamosa is the first farm-to-tap business in the world, brewing several estate beers using ingredients sourced entirely from its 300-acre farm.
Business As (Un)usual
Even giants have to adapt to the times, as evidenced by November’s news that New Belgium Brewing had been sold to an international conglomerate. Smaller breweries are making creative alliances, too: In 2018, Idaho Springs’ Westbound & Down Brewing Company and Amalgam opened the Cultural Center, where the companies host intimate monthly public tastings, share equipment and supplies, and collaborate on barrel-aged sour brews. And this past fall, Good River Beer, Renegade Brewing, and Rocky Mountain Sector established the Brewer’s Co-Hop, a collective production facility where multiple companies work together on administrative, marketing, and sales efforts.