Colorado's independently-owned breweries and liquor stores love the fact that supermarkets and convenience stores here aren't allowed to sell full-strength beer at most of their locations: the decades-old system, they say, protects small and medium-sized businesses and allows for a much wider selection of beers on store shelves. It's a message that they will begin pushing hard this year — even if they have to spike your beer with a healthy dose of politics to get it across.
On Thursday, Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora made the first batch of Colorado LocALE, a beer that was created solely to help spread the word about Keep Colorado Local, a coalition of breweries and liquor stores who are fighting the latest effort by the supermarket chains to sell full-strength beer and possibly wine at multiple locations. The groceries have formed their own group, called Colorado Consumers for Choice, which is looking at creating a ballot initiative that would go before voters in November 2016.
The recipe for LocALE was designed by Tim Evon, the head brewer at Dry Dock's original location on Hampden Avenue, who included malts from Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa in the first batch, along with Cascade and Chinook hops. It is described as "a bright, citrusy, and fruity pale ale with a hoppy nose and a sweet malt backbone." In the fall, Dry Dock will make a fresh-hopped version of the beer' they are planning to use hops from two in-state growers, Voss Farms in Arvada and High Wire Hops in Paonia.
After Dry Dock makes and taps its first seven-barrel batch (sometime later this month) the recipe will be shared with each and every brewery in Colorado that wants to participate in the Keep Colorado Local campaign. "The idea is to get us all to make the same beer and to start some conversations in taprooms," says Kevin DeLange, who owns Dry Dock with Michelle Reding; DeLange is the co-chairman of the Colorado Brewers Guild's government affairs committee. "I think we can get sixty to eighty breweries across Colorado to do it."
After that, Keep Colorado Local will challenge homebrewers to make their own version of the beer, using local ingredients, and adding their own twist; the organization plans to sponsor a related homebrew competition.
The beer itself was designed to be fairly simple to brew so that it could be re-created in any kind of location, says Evon, who had never worked with malts from Colorado Malting Company before, but was impressed by them. "Every system is different... And I'll throw myself open to questions if anyone has them. But it should be a pretty simple [recipe] to follow."
Although breweries in Colorado and elsewhere frequently collaborate on beers and on political causes, Keep Colorado Local's Denise Baron says she doesn't know of any other campaign like this one.
Backers of Keep Colorado Local believe that if King Soopers and Safeway are allowed to sell full-strength beer, wine and spirits at each one of their stores, it could put 700 Colorado independent liquor stores out of business. They also believe it would inhibit small breweries from finding shelf space and keep the larger ones from offering a wide variety of beers. Right now, groceries can only sell these libations at one location; they are allowed to offer 3.2 percent beer in all of their stores, though.
But a spokesman for Colorado Consumers for Choice told Westword in March that he believes liquor stores and supermarkets could easily co-exist if the law were changed, pointing out that they do in many other states. Changing the law would simply give consumers more of a choice and more convenience. He said the groceries would work hard to sell as much Colorado craft beer as they could.
The issue of full-strength sales in grocery stores has come up repeatedly over the past five years in the legislature. It has been voted down each time. This is the first time that the chains have talked seriously about taking the issue directly to voters.