One of the best parts about Colorado's craft beer scene is that it changes constantly. From one week to the next, beer geeks can hit a new taproom, try an innovative new brew, head to a packed festival and generally make friends in other states jealous. The last year saw a lot of big news -- some bad, but mostly good -- in the craft universe (see our "Ten biggest Colorado craft beer stories of 2012"), and 2013 will likely be just as big. Here are a few of the trends you can look forward to this year -- in no particular order. Cheers.
See also: - Video: the Rackhouse Pub gets to know Strange Brewing as trademark dispute continues - Avery Brewing experiments with low-alcohol "session" beers it plans to can - Who's keeping local hop farmers in business?
1) Limited Distribution Packaging Depending on which liquor store you go to, you can sometimes find bottles or cans of beer packaged by small breweries in other cities. Eddyline Brewing in Buena Vista has cans at Argonaut; Boulder's Crystal Springs has bottles and cans at Mondo Vino; Trinity bottles can be found at Mr. B's; Prost sells growlers to Joy Liquors and a few other spots; Bru has bottles at Boulder Wine and Spirits; and Golden City sometimes has stuff at Mile High Wine and Spirits in Lakewood. That trend is going to increase in 2013 as lower-cost packaging options, like Mobile Canning, increase, and smaller breweries look to get their stuff out there on a limited basis, even as the space for new beers gets more and more crowded. In addition to the breweries named above, look for beer from Lone Tree Brewing, Hall Brewing, Strange Brewing, Backcountry in Frisco, the Bull & Bush, Three Barrel, Grimm Brothers, Big Choice Brewing and others on the occasional shelf around Denver this year. This is in addition to breweries like Renegade, Crooked Stave, River North and Dad & Dude's, which have already carved out niches in the freezers of numerous local liquor stores.
2) Nanobreweries and Microbreweries When Strange Brewing opened in 2010, the first of what would become dozens of small breweries in the Denver metro area, they made everything on a one-barrel system. When Wit's end opened a year and half later, it was with a half-barrel system. Some barstool economists figured that model wouldn't work - that the breweries simply wouldn't be able to make enough beer to pay off loans. But so far, those economists have been wrong. In the meantime, numerous other small breweries have opened, some with smaller and smaller brewing systems and off- or occasional hours. You can expect to see more of that in 2013 as part-time breweries flourish because of the demand for crafty local hangouts in small neighborhoods or towns. Already, three new breweries -- in Boulder, Loveland and Golden -- have opened their doors in 2013; more than fifteen others are on the horizon for the first half of the year up and down the Front Range. Make sure you call for hours first.
3) AC Golden's next big hit Full disclosure: AC Golden is owned wholely and entirely by MillerCoors. But the "crafty" brewery, located deep inside the megabrewer's massive Golden plant, is cranking out fantastic beers on several levels. For small-batch fans, there are the sours, barrel-aged stouts and other flavor-packed brews that rival Colorado's best independent microbrewers. For those looking for the next "approachable beer," AC Golden is also winning - literally - having brought home six Great American Beer Festival medals in the past few years for its lagers. At some point, the parent company is going to notice what a good thing they have going and take one of these beers national, as it did with Blue Moon. When that happens, craft brewers may have a real fight on their hands.
4) Pelletized hops Colorado's hop farming industry is almost entirely supported by AC Golden, the MillerCoors small-batch incubator that makes Colorado Native. But the farmers are adding acreage every year - and adding customers among Colorado's craft breweries. The biggest obstacle for expansion, though, is that Colorado's growers aren't able to form their hops into pellets, which is the primary way that brewers use them. This year, the largest farmer, Misty Mountain Hops in Olathe, sent some of its hops out of state to be pelletized, however, and there is talk among other growers of buying a pelletizing machine in the near future. Seems like a perfect industry for Colorado.
5) Low ABV beers Sometime this spring or summer, Avery Brewing is expected to start canning a new beer, 3Point5, a session lager with a name that says it all. The beer could be the first of a trilogy of low-alcohol beers from Avery, which is know more for its boundary-pushing big beers than their smaller counterparts. But Avery won't be alone. Odell and Breckenridge have both been experimenting with lower-alcohol beers and it's likely that there are other brewers out there who are flirting with the idea of making and packaging beers that their customers can drink three or four of without getting drunk.
The craft beer industry has always been community minded - not to mention budget conscious. Although, there are many big craft brewers, there are many more tiny ones, and many of them only came about because someone risked everything by maxing out their credit card and cashing in their 401k, savings account and parental points. Which is why the idea of brewery co-ops and incubators is beginning to catch on in places like Texas (like the one above) and Washington and Michigan - and possibly in Colorado. Although each model is different, the idea behind these co-ops and incubators is that they are collaboratively run by people with different skill sets who all pitch in knowledge, work, money, equipment or other resources. There are two groups looking to form in Colorado right now, an incubator model that could spin off several different nanobreweries, and a co-op, which would operate as a brewery, as well as a meeting place for craft-minded drinkers.
7) Trademark battles Denver's Strange Brewing got the most attention last year in the trademark arena when it was threatened by a Massachusetts hombrew shop with a similar name (a situation that is ongoing), but many other trademark battles and skirmishes were fought - some of them with bitter consequences and others with happy endings. They won't be last. As the number of breweries in Colorado (more than 160) and across the country (more than 2,260) continues to rise, so will the quantity of legal tussles over brewery names, beer names and even concepts and logos on labels.
8) Oversaturation or Undersaturation? How much craft beer is too much. Everyone has a different opinion on the issue. Are there too many breweries, too many cans and bottles in liquor stores, too many festivals, too many taps? Every time I think that craft brewers might be getting close to saturating the market, another new taproom opens with lines out the door, another existing brewer finds a way to get its bottles or cans on liquor store shelves, another festival sells out in minutes. Demand for craft beer is very strong, and I don't think its going to go away this year - or next year. Some of its popularity may be due to trendiness, but most of it comes from the fact that locally-made beer feels good and tastes good, and if every neighborhood in Denver can support a couple of local bars, then they can support a local taproom as well. And don't get me started on how fast GABF will sell out in 2013.
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