Making predictions is a fool's gambit, a snake charmer's folly, a buffoon's beguilement. This is true even more so these days, when students, teachers, business owners, service workers, journalists and just about everyone else has no idea what to expect from day to day, let alone week to week or over the course of a year.
The brewery and restaurant industries, in particular, have suffered a sort of whiplash as rules for what they can and cannot do change overnight — often without warning or guidance. So call me a fool...a snake charmer...a buffoon. Because these are my predictions for the brewing and beer worlds in Colorado for 2021:
The Return of Outdoor Beer Festivals
Am I being optimistic? Perhaps. But I think that between the vaccine, frustration, summertime and boredom, outdoor beer festivals may return in some form this summer (indoor fests are another matter entirely). Last August, the Vail Craft Beer Classic hosted an example of a socially distanced fest, where people stayed at tables while beer was brought to them in single-use cups. This avoided lines and large groupings. But it's possible that festival organizers and/or breweries will have to charge more since fewer tickets can be sold under this model.
Continued Brewery Delivery
The state suspended a number of rules in 2020 and into 2021 so that breweries could deliver beer directly to customers' doors and sell online. They were also allowed to use space in streets, parking lots and sidewalks for outdoor patios. Restaurants, meanwhile, were allowed to sell beer and other alcohol to go as long as the vessels were sealed in some form. In order to continue, however, the legislature will have to allow these rule changes to become permanent — always a dicey proposition. But of all of the changes that could become permanent, I see brewery delivery as most likely to stick (unless liquor opposition is too strong).
More Creative Outdoor Drinking
Full indoor seating is a ways away — even with the vaccine. So, breweries will be looking once again to make the best use of their space to seat customers outside. While 2020 was a trial run, with many creative pivots, 2021 may see more permanent, all-season alternatives, including tents and other structures, along with the continued and possibly more permanent use of parking lots with creative pop-ups. Take, for example, TRVE Brewing Co.'s pop-up that serves only cans and bottles in a neighboring business's parking lot, or the massive beer-garden-like spread that Bierstadt Lagerhaus set up in front of its brewery.
Last year was hard on the pocketbook for millions of people, especially those in the service industry, not to mention brewery, bar and restaurant owners. But it wasn't hard on everyone, and many entrepreneurs and businesses are still doing well — maybe even better than before. And they will be looking to buy cheap, not necessarily in a vulture-like way, but in a capitalism way. There will be plenty to buy, including leases, equipment and entire breweries or beer bars that have already closed or are looking for a way out.
Brewery Back-Office Mergers
Another possibility for when (and if) the dust settles for breweries is back-office mergers in which one brewery invests in or buys out another brewery but keeps both brands alive. Good River Beer Company and Renegade Brewing had something like this in the works early last year before COVID and other issues scuttled those plans. Station 26 Brewing and New Image Brewing, meanwhile, combined their sales forces in late 2019. Mergers like these might be able to keep some taprooms open and some people employed.
Continued Creative Packaging
With an aluminum capacity shortage and heavy demand for packaged beer, many local breweries felt the pinch in 2020 when it came to finding ways to sell beer. Some wrapped unused beer cans in new labels, while others returned to bottles or used other unusual containers. Although the aluminum shortage should ease by the middle of 2021, packaging will still be as important, if not more so, and breweries will have to continue to be creative. That could include unusually sized or shaped cans, like the twist-top version used by Lone Tree Brewing Company or the eight-ounce cans at Resolute, or even tiny bottles, like the 187ml minis that Primitive Beer Company is planning to use. Capri Sun pouches probably won’t make the cut, but you never know!
Strict Sanitation and Touchless Everything Becomes Standard
Breweries were already pretty clean places before the pandemic. They have to be in order to keep bugs out of the beer, so strict sanitation practices in the taproom have been the norm. But industrial air filtration systems, along with gloves, masks and touchless doors, sinks and menus may become standard selling points over the next few years. Because although the vaccine may help, coronavirus breakouts will likely be around for a while — and after a year of washing our hands, we are all going to emerge back into the world as germaphobes.
BIPOC Scholarships and Involvement
Things change slowly in this world, but they do change. Last year saw the beginning of a small cultural revolution that is trying to right some of the wrongs of the past — or at least take account of them. For the brewing industry, a focus on diversity, inclusion and action has taken hold. Station 26 Brewing, for instance, started a scholarship program at Regis University, while AC Golden started one at Colorado State University. The Brewers Association will continue its diversity grants — and other organizations, events and companies will step up to bring a wider variety of people and diversity of backgrounds and experiences into craft brewing.
Local, Local, Local
Some breweries have managed to stay alive this far thanks to a core group of local customers who show up day after day to keep their local watering hole alive. These folks like to have a place to go where everybody knows their name — or at least their beer preference — and they appreciate perks like memberships and mug clubs (which also help breweries by locking in a certain amount of revenue and building community support). Breweries will respond to that even more in 2021, with increased benefits for their mug club members and other perks for locals. Joyride Brewing, for instance, has been brewing a new beer each month named after each of the north-south streets in Edgewater and giving people who live on those streets discounts on the beer.
Continuing Evolution of Breweries Into Beverage Companies
Beer makers became beverage makers in 2019 and 2020 as hard seltzers became a regular offering for many breweries, not to mention the occasional CBD or non-alcoholic beverage. Odell is now making wine, Ska has merged its brewing and distilling operations, and Wiley Roots Brewing is making, well, alcoholic fruit purée smoothies that are based on beer. This will continue in 2021 on a wide variety of levels as breweries continue to experiment with ways to attract non-beer drinkers and stay in business.
More Flavorful Lagers
Lagers have gained slow but steady ground among craft brewers and craft-beer drinkers over the past few years, and now those brewers are branching out more and more beyond pilsners and basic light American lagers into darker, more flavorful styles like bocks, dunkels and Czech dark and half-dark lagers, and into new territory, like the hoppier "Italian-style pilsner," which gained some traction in 2020. 4 Noses Brewing helped with this trend in 2020 when it opened the Wild Provisions Beer Project in Boulder, serving Czech lagers, and former Odd13 Brewing head brewer Eric Larkin will add to the trend in 2021 with Cohesion Beers, which he plans to open this summer in Denver. Ska just introduced a new dark lager, as well.
Beers at or Below 4 Percent ABV
Yes, we have seen low-cal beers, low-carb beers and low-ABV beers, but 2021 will see a surge of beers below 4 percent ABV. This will happen as three separate factors converge: 1) The popularity of low-cal, low-carb beers; 2) The rise of non-alcoholic beers, which are capturing more attention as abstainers gain more market traction; and 3) the fact that since January 1, 2019, liquor stores and restaurants have been allowed to sell beverages containing less than 4 percent ABV, whereas previous laws prevented that. That last change came about as a result of supermarkets and convenience stores gaining the right to sell full-strength beer — and the ensuing disappearance of 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (which equates to 4 percent ABV). As such, breweries are now free to make and sell those beers outside their taprooms. Some coming examples: beers from Elevation, Crooked Stave and Pikes Peak Brewing.