Beer Man

The Ten Biggest Colorado Craft-Beer Stories of 2018

The Ten Biggest Colorado Craft-Beer Stories of 2018 (3)
Weldwerks Brewing

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click to enlarge DANIELLE LIRETTE
Danielle Lirette
Festival Fatigue
Tickets to the Great American Beer Festival sold out in 67 minutes in 2016 and in four hours and fifteen minutes in 2017. But they didn't sell out in 2018 until the day the festival started. For anyone who's been following craft beer since at least 2012, that's an unheard-of, almost shocking fact. The Brewers Association said the slower sales were a result of better online anti-scalping measures, 2,000 extra tickets on the market this year and media coverage of previous sellouts. But there may be something else at play: festival fatigue. As the craft-beer scene has grown exponentially over the past eight years, the number of festivals, invitationals, special events and tap takeovers has grown with it — to the point where beer lovers have to choose. Other examples included
Great Divide, which chose not to host an anniversary party last year; Avery Brewing, which got rid of two longtime festivals (Strong Ale and Sour) in favor of the Avery Invitational; and the All Colorado Beer Festival, which recently announced that it is shutting down: "With the proliferation of beer festivals over the past five years or so, our attendance has softened, and without a growing attendance, we cannot meet the primary goal of the event: large donations to our beneficiaries. Thus, we will move forward with a series of specialized events."

click to enlarge ODELL BREWING
Odell Brewing
Lagers and More Lagers
I suppose it was inevitable. America fell in love with lagers in the 1950s when a wave of German immigrants fled their homeland for political reasons and brought bottom-fermenting lager yeast with them. The lighter, crisper beer almost immediately supplanted heavier, English-style ales and gave birth to the famous brand names and beer companies that produce today's light lagers. Craft beer was born, in part, to get away from flavorless beer, but now we've come back to where we started. Big and small brewers alike began producing more lagers in 2018, including packaged offerings from Odell (Colorado Lager), Avery (Avery Lager), and Station 26 (303 Lager), among others. And more are on the way (New Belgium Mountain Time). In addition, Colorado scored two big medals at GABF for lagers this year; Cannonball Creek Brewing, known for its powerful, hoppy beers, won gold for Netflix and Pils, a German-style pilsner, and the Post Brewing Co. won bronze for Howdy Beer Western Pilsner, an American-style lager. This trend is going to really explode in 2019 as craft breweries begin competing with the big boys for supermarket shelf space and America's tastes shift downward.

click to enlarge A Denver Safeway readies its shelves for craft beer. - JONATHAN SHIKES
A Denver Safeway readies its shelves for craft beer.
Jonathan Shikes
Supermarket Sales Preparation
The legislature pulled a fast one on Colorado liquor stores in 2018, devising legislation that will allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer at every one of their locations. While the new law is likely to spell the demise of many small businesses, it has been a long time coming, since Colorado was one of the last states that still maintained a Prohibition-era 3.2 beer code. But the details of what this new world will look like — and how it will affect craft breweries — is anyone's guess. Many beer makers spent the last half of 2018 scrambling to figure out how to prepare to sell in supermarkets, whether this model will work for them, reimagining their product offerings, and what the meaning of life after 3.2 could be. More than forty are now ready to jump into this game, while others have decided to sit it out — or to watch and wait.

GREAT DIVIDE BREWING
Great Divide Brewing
Hazy IPAs Get Style Guidelines
After two long years, the Brewers Association finally added several style categories in March for what had become one of the most sought-after, most controversial beer styles in the country: New England-style IPAs. And just like that, the beers took over the festival. The total number of entries in the three new categories (Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale, Juicy or Hazy IPA and Juicy or Hazy Double IPA) reached 706, with the middle one totaling 414 entries in itself. It marked the first time in more than fifteen years that American IPAs weren't the top category at the annual fest. Oddly, no actual New England breweries won awards for the hazy beers, in part because most didn't show up to the festival, but Denver's Fiction Brewing took home bronze for Madame Psychosis. The new guidelines will probably be tinkered with somewhat, but the style, which features tropical flavors, very low bitterness and a hazy appearance, is here to stay.

BERYL'S BEER COMPANY
Beryl's Beer Company
Small Brewery Closings and Sell-Offs
Although people in the industry have been warning about a "craft-beer bubble" for a few years now, 2018 was the first year that Colorado saw any real corrections in the industry. Large and medium-sized breweries were forced to scale back operations and expectations, while a number of smaller breweries either closed or sold off their leases and equipment to other would-be brewery operators. Among the casualties were Beryl's Beer, Caution Brewing and FanDraught, which all closed and were sold to other brewers; Goldspot, which was sold; Fate Brewing, which closed one of two locations and filed for bankruptcy; Crazy Mountain Brewing, which closed its original Edwards brewery along with two small taprooms; and Powder Keg, Vindication, Three Four, Skeye, Open Door and Nighthawk Brewing, which all closed their doors for good.

click to enlarge WELDWERKS BREWING
Weldwerks Brewing
WeldWerks, WeldWerks, WeldWerks
It would be hard to overstate the year that WeldWerks Brewing had. The Greeley beer maker, which is both phenomenal and a phenomenon, had capped 2017 by winning a gold medal for its barrel-aged Medianoche at GABF — and then went on to completely tear down its marketing strategy and build a new one in the beginning of 2018. The goal: to brew one hundred beers over the course of the year. Weldwerks accomplished that task, and then some, ending up at around 130 beers, each with a buzz that drove frenzied fans to Greeley or to liquor stores on a weekly basis. But that was just the beginning. WeldWerks also won a medal for its Peach Climacteric at the World Beer Cup and then drew the longest lines in the house at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival. It also hosted a July festival of its own, the WeldWerks Invitational, which was widely hailed as one of the best of the year. Later, it became one of just six Colorado breweries to be invited to the Shelton Brothers Festival, which took place in Denver. And finally, the brewery's success — its flagships Juicy Bits and Double Dry Hopped Juicy Bits are rated as the top two Colorado IPAs on BeerAdvocate.com, and there are lines outside the brewery's doors almost every weekend — allowed WeldWerks to buy its building and almost the entire city block surrounding it in November. By the end of the year, other breweries had begun to chafe a bit at the perception that WeldWerks can simply do no wrong, but what's not to like about a brewery that continues to be lovable and accessible through it all?
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes