Q&A: Colorado Brewers Guild Executive Director Shawnee Adelson on the State of Local Beer

Colorado Brewers Guild Executive Director Shawnee Adelson.
Colorado Brewers Guild Executive Director Shawnee Adelson. Brewtography Project
With roughly 400 brewery and allied trade members, the Colorado Brewers Guild represents and supports Colorado craft breweries by advocating for positive legislation, shaping local rules and providing an insurance co-op for members. It raises money by running popular festivals such as Collaboration Fest and the Colorado Brewers Rendezvous and organizing Colorado Pint Day. It also raises money through membership dues and its annual conference held in November.

Shawnee Adelson is the executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild and has been with the organization for seven years. She was originally hired as a membership coordinator, but has moved up the ranks over time, from membership director to deputy director and, finally, to her current role as executive director, where she's been for the past three years.

We sat down with Adelson to discuss what the Guild has been doing for local breweries recently, what it plans to do in the future, the state of Colorado craft beer and more.
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Shawnee Adelson (right) representing the Colorado Brewers Guild.
Colorado Brewers Guild
Westword: What has the Guild done during COVID for local breweries?

Shawnee Adelson: At the beginning of COVID, one of our main focuses was to support Colorado breweries and just make sure that they could survive. When restaurants were reopening, we worked heavily to include breweries in that. We worked hard educating [public servants] on how breweries were similar to restaurants and how they were unique, and that they can be safe spaces with the right rules and regulations. We also advocated for a sales tax credit, which has continued into its third year, and allowing a set number of months each year when breweries can retain their state sales tax.

We also helped pass legislation to permit to-go and delivery temporarily to allow breweries to get beer into consumers' hands when they weren't allowed to be open. We also worked a lot on temporary outdoor modifications, to allow people to expand in the streets, sidewalks and parking lots more easily to allow people to spread out. We've continued to advocate to allow people to utilize those spaces where appropriate, because people enjoy sitting outside in Colorado.

In 2021 we passed a bill that allows breweries to pull festival permits. Previously, this was only open to wineries. We opened it up to breweries, distilleries, restaurants and bars. They can participate in up to nine festival permits a year now. It allows breweries to partner with distilleries, wineries and restaurants if they want, and allows them to do anything their current license allows, including tastings, sell for on-site and sell for to-go.

How challenging is it to pass this type of legislation?

It's not easy. It took three to four years to pass the festival permits bill. We started that before the pandemic.

It takes a lot of stakeholding with other people in the alcohol and beverage industry, as well as the liquor enforcement division and legislators.

What is the Guild currently working on?

The [Colorado] Department of Revenue, which runs the liquor enforcement division, has convened a task force that is reviewing the entire liquor code with a goal of modernizing and harmonizing Colorado's liquor code and providing a recommendation to the state legislature on changes they would recommend. And that report is due at the end of December 2023. We'll be spending a lot of time keeping an eye on that.

Internally, we're working on a strategic plan for the next three to five years so that we can continue to show value to our members and adapt to the changing marketplace.

With GABF coming back for the first time since the pandemic, where do you see the current state of Colorado craft beer?

Craft breweries in Colorado took a big hit during the pandemic, with reduced sales and production in 2020. In 2020 we saw the most breweries close since prohibition, about 33 from March 2020 to March 2021. We're starting to see that stabilize. Breweries are still closing, but breweries were closing prior to the pandemic, too. Numbers are not as low as they were, and we're seeing breweries open up, which is great. Per the Brewers Association's economic impact study, craft breweries' economic impact increased about 20 percent between 2020 and 2021. There's definitely recovery here in Colorado. We have over 450 breweries in Colorado, and we like to call ourselves the state of craft beer for numerous reasons. I think craft beer is always going to be a part of the culture in Colorado, and it's not going away.
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A brew day at Barrels & Bottles for Collaboration Fest, which is run by the Colorado Brewers Guild.
Nikki A. Rae Photography
What sort of work do you do with the Brewers Association?

I like to say that what the BA does on a national level, we do on a state level. We have a good working relationship with them. I sit on a subcommittee with the BA that meets quarterly and represents guilds across the country and how we can support each other. We support them on their national legislative initiatives. For example, right now they're pushing for the USPS shipping equity act, that would allow breweries, wineries and distilleries in states that allow the shipping of alcohol to use USPS, which isn't currently allowed.

What's a brewery that is maybe under the radar a bit and deserves more attention?

There are so many great small breweries around Colorado. I was just down in Telluride for the Blues and Brews Fest, and Stronghouse Brew Pub is doing a great job down there. The brewer came from Telluride, and they make excellent clean beers, and they're new. Also, it may seem unconventional, but I spent some time with Aaron at BJ's Restaurant last week. He's the director of R&D for BJ's. He's won over 37 awards, and he brews on a three-barrel system in Boulder. It's the only R&D system they have.

What do you think resonates with the average casual drinker when choosing between local vs larger regional breweries versus corporate breweries?

First, beer drinkers should look for the independent seal, because that signifies that this is a small and independent craft brewery, regardless of where they are located. The nice thing about Colorado is that we have taprooms, and people can get to know their brewery before making their purchases. And many small and independent liquor stores like to work directly with our local breweries. Usually when you go into a liquor store, the Colorado breweries are together in one area. Colorado also allows for self-distribution, which allows for a lot of these small breweries to get into liquor stores.
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Ryan Pachmayer is a beer writer living in Arvada. He has written for publications such as Craft Beer & Brewing, Zymurgy, Porch Drinking, Homebrewing DIY and Punch. He is also the head brewer at Yak & Yeti Brewpub, marketing director at New Image Brewing and a BJCP Certified Judge.

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