Beer Man

Colorado Craft-Beer Groups Have Tentative Agreement to Mend Their Differences

Four months after the Colorado Brewers Guild was ruptured by a dispute over leadership, membership and direction, the two sides have agreed, at leasts in principle, to reconcile their differences. But first, the CBG will need to get at least 51 percent of its 220 or so members to agree to the plan.

“We want to have a single voice. That is the foundation of what we are doing, and we are asking our members to get involved and help figure out the details as we go forward,” says Chris Wright, the founder of Pikes Peak brewing in Monument, who is serving as the Guild's board chairman. “We want to stop talking about the Guild and start talking about craft beer in Colorado.”

If the membership agrees, the twenty-year-old CBG and a breakaway group called Craft Beer Colorado would reunite, using the Guild’s name and the bylaws of the new organization. Craft Beer Colorado split off from the Guild in June for several reasons, including frustration with the leadership of longtime Guild director John Carlson and the continuing presence of Breckenridge Brewery in the group. Its fourteen members include New Belgium Brewing, Left Hand Brewing, Odell Brewing and Oskar Blues.

The new organization will not have “a spot” for Carlson, Wright says. Carlson stepped down temporarily in August to let the process play out; he has since left the Guild for good.

Nor will the new organization have a place for Breckenridge Brewery, which was bought out by Anheuser-Busch InBev last December. Many craft brewers believe they are in a battle with AB InBev, which makes Budweiser, among other beers, so Breckenridge’s continuing presence in the organization caused concern. The new group’s bylaws will mirror those of the national Brewers Association so that large — more than six million barrels per year — corporate-owned breweries like Breckenridge can’t be members.

Other than that, the policy goals of the two organizations “are in lockstep,” says Laura Long, the former Guild lobbyist who now represents Craft Beer Colorado. “But the 2017 legislative session is looming. Hopefully we will be speaking with one voice by then.” The CBG has its work cut out for it as it tries to persuade members to ratify the union, she notes, but adds that she's looking forward to moving ahead in tandem.

Colorado's $1.7 billion craft-beer industry will face a number of challenges during the upcoming legislative session, including rules for the slow roll-out of SB 197, which will allow beer sales in grocery stores.

If the agreement goes through, the new organization would likely have eleven boardmembers, five from each group and one appointed in a different way. A new executive director would also be hired.

Some of the details were hammered out during a three-hour meeting that took place on Friday, October 7, before the second day of the Great American Beer Festival.

There's no timeline yet for the Guild vote, Wright says, but he hopes to get the process moving quickly.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes