As it turns out, craft beer is not pandemic-proof. According to the latest numbers from the Colorado Brewers Guild (CBG), 33 craft breweries closed last year and sales are down an average of 30 to 40 percent across the state. But wait, weren’t many of us drinking more, not less, during the mess that was 2020?
“Many of these breweries have a taproom model,” says CBG executive director Shawnee Adelson. “With the closures during 2020 and limits on capacity, they felt a pinch because of that…I know that a lot of the news articles say people are drinking more during the pandemic, but based off the stats I’ve seen, it’s not that people are drinking more, they’re just shifting their drinking habits.”
So instead of heading to our favorite craft brewery for a pint, we’ve been stocking up at the liquor and grocery store on larger packs and brands that are more likely to land on retail store shelves. That shuts out a lot of the little breweries we love, many of which didn’t can or bottle their brews before the pandemic hit. Pivoting became the buzzword for craft beer, too, with 20 to 25 percent more breweries packaging their beers for the first time in 2020 as a way to stay in business.
Even if a brewery didn’t see a major cut in volume, Adelson says profits can still be down because costs went up. It costs more in labor, materials, and transportation to package and sell a six-pack of beer than it does to send a keg over to a restaurant or to pour from the taproom. “Their costs have gone up, even if they’re selling the same amount of beer,” she says.
Although craft breweries all across the state have been hit hard, Adelson says that it’s especially bad for those located in more urban areas. Without people going to sporting events or to the office, consumer traffic is much slower in, say, downtown Denver, than it’s been in previous years.
Still, some breweries are expanding: Denver Beer Co. just opened a sprawling third location in Rosedale; Ratio Beerworks will move into a second taproom in Overland (the previous location of now-shuttered Declaration Brewing) this summer; and Longmont-based Left Hand Brewing announced it will open an additional outpost in RiNo early next year.
To bolster the craft brewing industry as a whole and to remind people that local breweries need help until things get return to normal, the CBG has launched the Safer With Foam marketing campaign. A great way you can help? Hit up a local brewery on the sixth annual Colorado Pint Day on April 7. A record number of participating breweries—over 150—will be selling special glasses (designed by Brooks Engel of Nowhere Land Supply), with $1 from each pint sold going to the CBG.
“The No. 1 way to help is to go support your local craft brewery,” Adelson says. “It could be buying beer onsite if you feel comfortable doing so, or buying beer to-go. Or you can always buy merchandise or gift cards. Looking at those numbers—the average of breweries being down 30 to 40 percent in Colorado—proves that not everybody in the liquor industry is doing well, and it’s important to continue to support your local brewery.”