The next time you’re strolling down the beer aisle at Molly’s Spirits or King Soopers, slow down and take a good look at what’s on the refrigerated racks. There’s. A. Lot. There. Shelves sag under the weight of fruited sours, peanut-butter-cup porters, countless varieties of IPAs, wheats, lagers, and everything in between. The beer biz must be booming, right? Not exactly. After years of double-digit growth, American beer sales have leveled out, and despite craft beer’s modest four percent gain in overall sales in 2018, many local craft breweries are seeing slight declines. As a result, beer brands—from Colorado-born Goliath Molson Coors Beverage Company to David-esque WeldWerks Brewing Co.—are changing the ways they do business. Some are evolving into full-fledged beverage companies that make other drinks, too (ahem, seltzer); others have been sold to global firms (we’re looking at you, New Belgium Brewing); and many are focusing on regional loyalties and opening multiple taprooms to reach more local consumers. Add in the recent enactment of Colorado Senate Bill 16-197, which allows full-strength beer to be sold in grocery and convenience stores, and breweries of all sizes are grappling with harsh new realities relating to distribution, marketing, and production.
So, yes, things are in flux. But many Colorado brewers also see this moment as a window of (h)opportunity. (Couldn’t resist.) Although competition for drinkers is at an all-time high, so too are innovation and pure skill. National beer journalist Joshua M. Bernstein offers this perspective, and we can’t help but agree: “There are challenges in the industry right now—and it’s perilous if [brewers] don’t make changes—but we’ve been drinking beer for thousands of years, and we’re not going to stop tomorrow.”