But, hey, I can give it a shot, right? So, here are ten predictions for the Colorado craft-beer scene in 2019. A few are easy to see coming, while others might be totally wrong. But all of them are worth considering.
Many big and medium sized craft breweries have struggled over the past two years — not just in Colorado, but nationwide. They faced increased competition on store shelves as well as from the sheer number of small breweries popping up everywhere. But the new Colorado law that allows supermarkets and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer is going to help these breweries immensely by allowing them to sell much more of their already best-selling flagship beers and by introducing their brands to entirely new audiences. Avery Brewing and Great Divide Brewing, which have both been hit by flat or declining sales over the past few years, should benefit in particular. The two breweries have also introduced new packaging and strategies that should work out well. But the rest of the state's largest breweries will also benefit. These include New Belgium Brewing, Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Odell, Dry Dock, Upslope, Ska Brewing and Boulder Beer.
While it's been widely known — among longtime Colorado residents, at least — that since 1933, consumers could only buy beer that was below 3.2 percent alcohol by weight (or 4 percent by volume) in supermarkets, very few people knew that the opposite was also true: Liquor stores and restaurants were only allowed to sell alcohol that was above 3.2 percent ABW (or 4 percent ABV). It's an incredibly dumb rule — and one that wasn't enforced for decades until supermarkets, craft brewers and liquor stores began waging war in the state legislature in 2010. That all changed on January 1, when the 3.2 designation disappeared. But lower-alcohol beer? That's going to stick around. In fact, it may drop even lower than 3.2 percent. Why? For starters, many people like lower-ABV brews because they don't get you drunk as quickly and they're lower in calories. But there is also a growing low-ABV movement among craft breweries. Part of it is for the same reasons that Bud, Coors and Corona drinkers like the easy-drinking brands. But lower-alcohol craft styles, like tart goses and delicate pilsners, have become much more popular in the past two years (replacing the session ale trend in some ways). So rather than seeing low-ABV beers disappear, we will see them proliferate — especially since liquor stores and restaurants will now be allowed to carry them. Odell, New Belgium and Upslope already brew beers that flirt with 3.2 percent; many others will follow.
On December 3, Oskar Blues announced that it would introduce a new line of hard seltzers, Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water, nationwide in 2019. Just over a week later, the Brewers Association revealed that it was changing its sometimes controversial craft-brewer definition and dropping the requirement that its members only make "traditional" beers. The two bits of news weren't coincidental. The BA's biggest member, Boston Beer Company, the maker of Sam Adams, has been relying on sales of hard iced tea and cider for several years now, and other breweries are beginning to explore that avenue as a way to diversify into hard root beer, hard iced tea and lemonade, hard seltzer, cider, THC beer, kombucha and other non-traditional products. It is a way to stay relevant, they say, as competition increases. Oskar Blues, not surprisingly, is a leader in this movement. Wild Basin will include five flavors (Classic Lime, Cucumber Peach, Lemon Agave Hibiscus and Melon Basil) of 100-calorie, 5 percent ABV seltzers in skinny cans. It's a good guess that other breweries will be following suit.
Here's the Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definition of beer: "1: an alcoholic beverage usually made from malted cereal grain (such as barley), flavored with hops, and brewed by slow fermentation, and 2: a carbonated nonalcoholic or a fermented slightly alcoholic beverage with flavoring from roots or other plant parts." Well, I guess its fine for Merriam-Webster to have two definitions for beer, but my personal definition ends after the first. I'm probably in the minority, however. This month, former Coors superstar and Blue Moon Brewing founder Keith Villa will begin selling Grainwave, the first beer from his brand-new Ceria Brewing. It's non-alcoholic — but loaded with five grams of THC. But Ceria isn't the first — and it will be far from the last — non-alcoholic pot beer on the market: All of the major brewers ( the makers of Bud, Miller, Coors and Corona, etc.) are also involved in the industry, and will have products on shelves — if they don't already — by year's end. Oddly, cannabis-based beers that DO contain alcohol but no THC and just CBD are having a harder time gaining approval. While the new Farm Bill includes some hemp provisions, the FDA still doesn't like it in food — or beer. So 2019 could continue to see breweries like Dad & Dude's struggling with legal issues as they try to bring these products to market.
Innovation and experimentation have always been the hallmarks of the craft-beer industry, and while old-school innovators now wage curmudgeonly battle with new-school innovators, the drive to do something different remains. Creativity and inspiration, however, got a volatile new ally in 2017 and 2018: money. Brewery owners have realized they can increase sales by originating or staying on top of trends — and catering to drinkers who are always seeking the latest thing. The positive effect of that is fascinating or delicious new beers. The negative effect is that a brewery can stray from what it is good at — and what its brewers actually want to make. Brut IPAs, fruited sours, basic lagers and sour rosés gained popularity in 2018, and many were very good. The new year could see an abundance of unusual lagers, fruited goses, low-alcohol beers and who knows what else.