Beer Man

Ten Colorado Craft Beer Predictions for 2022

River North Brewery is making clear but juicy IPAs.
River North Brewery is making clear but juicy IPAs. River North Brewery
If you had told me just two and a half years ago that Bierstadt Lagerhaus would be canning its pilsner, that New Belgium Brewing and Bell's Brewery would both be owned by Kirin, that the Great American Beer Festival would have been canceled two years running, and that the Falling Rock Tap House would be just a memory, I probably would have tilted my head to one side and figured you for a crazy person.

Thus is the benefit of hindsight. And the folly of making predictions.

Still, it isn't difficult to imagine a few of the larger trends and changes that appear to be on the horizon for craft beer in 2022; some are already here. Here are twelve predictions for the new year:
click to enlarge Ball's new policies may send craft beer prices over the top. - BALL MANUFACTURING
Ball's new policies may send craft beer prices over the top.
Ball Manufacturing
1. Higher prices for beer — maybe a lot higher
A lot of difficult factors have converged over the past few months that could result in prices for beer — even cheaper beer — going up, anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. The first is a barley shortage that will definitely affect how much brewers have to pay for this key ingredient. The second is continuing manufacturing problems in China and shipping woes, which have led to prohibitive pricing for overseas products in some cases. The third factor is the aluminum can shortage, which got much more severe at the end of 2021 when Ball Canning announced new policies that will have an immediate impact on craft brewers. But there are other inflationary pressures as well, including a renewed effort by employees for better wages and benefits — and the agreement of some brewery owners. Another problem? See #2 below.

click to enlarge Woods Boss was able to turn lemons into lemonade, but other breweries may struggle. - WOODS BOSS BREWING
Woods Boss was able to turn lemons into lemonade, but other breweries may struggle.
Woods Boss Brewing
2. The end of emergency funding could lead to trouble
A good number of small breweries were able to stay alive through 2020 and into 2021 because of a combination of state and federal loans and funding, rent forgiveness by landlords, a quick shift to canning beer and other changes to their business models. But many of those emergency measures have run their course, and now small businesses are going to have to make it without them. In addition, the benefits of canning beer may be wearing thin, as it is extremely difficult to compete in Colorado, and can and label prices are probably going to be rising for everyone in 2022 thanks to the aluminum shortage. What will that mean for breweries? It may be the end of the line for some, though it seems that others are waiting in the wings.
click to enlarge ODD13 BREWING
Odd13 Brewing
3. Continuing consolidation among breweries
In the last quarter of 2021, Colorado saw a series of brewery consolidations of different scales and impacts. First, 4 Noses Brewing bought Odd13, whose owners no longer had the risk-tolerance for the stress of pandemic-era beer making. Then, New Belgium's parent company bought famed Michigan brewery Bell's and merged the two operations. And finally, Canadian marijuana company Tilray, which owns the new Sweetwater Brewing facility in Fort Collins, rolled up both Breckenridge Distillery and two well-known San Diego Breweries. And while on the outside these moves may not look much different than the brewery buying sprees of a few years ago, they appear more related to consolidation rather than expansion. The table is set for 2022 to see even more consolidation on every level.

click to enlarge CEREBRAL BREWING
Cerebral Brewing
4) Vaccine requirements
Will the Great American Beer Festival take place in 2022 (dates are scheduled for October 6-8), or will it be canceled for the third year in a row due to the pandemic? No one knows for sure, but if it does happen, attendees, brewers, exhibitors and volunteers will be required to show proof of vaccination to enter. The move is likely to attract some people who might not attend otherwise — and its bound to alienate those who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19. But GABF won't be the only festival or venue that wrestles with this choice as proof vaccination becomes more normal this year. Black Project, TRVE Brewing, Cerebral, Cohesion Brewing, Joyride Brewing, Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Novel Strand Brewing and Primitive Beer are among those who have already made it mandatory. Several festivals and recurring events have also done so. Only time will tell about how this will affect public health and the bottom line.
click to enlarge West Flanders Brewing was one of several breweries that closed in 2021. Will more follow in 2022? - WEST FLANDERS BREWING
West Flanders Brewing was one of several breweries that closed in 2021. Will more follow in 2022?
West Flanders Brewing
5) Burnout
If you've read this far, then you already understand why small brewery owners may have reached the limit of what they can handle — or what they want to handle. Running a brewery is tough in normal times, and these times are much, much tougher. Things appeared to be getting better for a while as breweries adapted to the need for packaging, sanitation rules, customers changes and more. But the hits keep coming: inflation, can shortages, vitriolic customers and vaccine requirements. So, with the specter of the pandemic turning into a never-ending endemic, some brewery owners — even those who would have otherwise be okay financially — may simply call it quits in order to save their sanity.

Mikkeller HQ Facebook page
6) Uninviting breweries from festivals
If and when beer festivals do start again on a regular basis, organizers will have a new maze to navigate: how to handle the inviting or uninviting of breweries and brewery employees who are accused of sexism, harassment, racism and/or creating uncomfortable or poor working conditions. On the opposite side, breweries themselves will have to decide whether or not to attend festivals organized by people who have been accused of the same. The issue didn't really exist —publicly — before the pandemic, but it has come to the fore after a series of Instagram posts detailing hundreds of allegations of sexual harassment, sexism and sexual assault in the beer and brewing business nationwide went viral last May. Now, the people behind the Weldwerks Invitational, Big Beers and Pints for Prostates (and even GABF) among others, will have some decisions to make. One gauge of how things might go is last October's Mikkeller Beer Celebration in Copenhagen. Dozens of breweries pulled out after a group of former Mikkeller employees accused the company of sexual harassment, discrimination or bullying. Some of those who had already sent beer chose not to attend, even after having spent money on reservations and plane tickets.

click to enlarge ODELL BREWING
Odell Brewing
7) Sours — well, tart beers anyway
It used to be that sour beers were a very small niche. Brewed, fermented and aged with Brettanomyces and/or wild yeasts along with bacteria, these mouth-puckering beers were mostly the domain of Belgian breweries and later, specialty American breweries. But the word "sour," once a turn-off, is now turning on the beer-drinking public as breweries have begun using it in the names of much more approachable — and sellable — offerings, most of them heavily fruited, refreshing and tart, but not really sour. The most notable example locally is Odell's Sippin' Pretty Sour Ale, which is actually more of a contemporary-style Gose. Others in this category still use their real (if obscure, to most) style names, such as gose or Berliner weisse or "kettle sour" in their names, but that is changing — and "sour" is coming to mean something else entirely.

click to enlarge MOCKERY BREWING
Mockery Brewing
8) Non-hazy juicy IPAs
Starting about five or six years ago, a wave of newish hop varieties with luscious tropical flavors began growing in popularity with brewers and beer drinkers at the same time as two other trends. The first was IPAs with a hazy or even cloudy look — the result of brewers wanting to produce as much flavor and aroma as they could. The second was the practice of entirely dry-hopping an IPA (adding hops after beer wort has cooled rather than while boiling), which removes a lot of bitterness. But these three things don't necessarily have to go together. You can dry-hop a beer with new hops varieties without making a beer hazy — an appearance that is still polarizing among beer lovers — and that is what many breweries have begun to do. Two favorites from last year were Mockery's Rock the Fuck on Forever and River North's First Ascent.

9) Multiple beers in a brand
When the world gets all shaky, people tend to revert what feels familiar as a way to provide themselves with comfort. Add that to a crowded, competitive craft beer market, and large and mid-size breweries are discovering that consumers want to stick with a brand they know and trust. One of the results is that beer makers are taking a cue from New Belgium, which has been quickly adding new beers under its Voodoo brand — which began as one IPA and now includes a whole "family" of different Voodoo beers. Examples locally include: Odell, which added Sippin' Tropical to Sippin' Pretty; Denver Beer Co., which hopes to introduce multiple versions of its Yum Yum Kolsch in 2022; and Avery Brewing, which is consolidating and expanding some of its beers under the Rascal heading.
click to enlarge ZUNI STREET BREWING
Zuni Street Brewing
10) Moving to the mountains
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, people from the city fled to the country to get away. In Colorado, the country means the mountains, where many are still living and working remotely. And where people go, beer follows. There are at least six metro area breweries currently looking for second locations in the hills, including New Image Brewing, Jade Mountain Brewery, Goldspot Brewing and Joyride Brewing, who have all made public mention of their desire for more altitude. Zuni Street Brewing, meanwhile, announced last year that it is opening a second location in Crested Butte — making it one of the first to look that far west.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes