Beer Man

Colorado's Ten Biggest Breweries — Now That Coors and New Belgium Are Gone

Courtesy Upslope Brewing
A wild three weeks have upturned the Colorado brewery scene. First Boulder Beer Company — the oldest craft producer in the state — announced that it would lay off 21 people and stop canning and bottling beer. Then Coors, an icon so big as to be almost indistinguishable from the Rocky Mountains themselves, said it would shutter the Molson Coors Colorado headquarters and move them to Milwaukee and Chicago. And finally, New Belgium Brewing revealed that it plans to sell the company to a division of another division of Japanese conglomerate Kirin.

Good news? Bad news? That depends on your perspective, but with Coors and New Belgium no longer officially based here (pending New Belgium's purchase at the end of the year), the list of Colorado's largest breweries with headquarters inside the state just underwent a major shift. Not only that, but previous denizens of the list, Avery Brewing and Breckenridge Brewery, are also now owned by overseas companies.

Here's an updated roster of the biggest breweries with headquarters within Colorado state lines, ranked by annual barrels produced, based mostly on 2018 statistics from the Brewers Association.

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Courtesy Oskar Blues Brewing

1. Oskar Blues Brewing*

421,200 barrels per year

Yes, that's an asterisk. Colorado's biggest brewery may not be a Colorado brewery at all, depending on how you look at it. Oskar Blues, which was founded in Lyons in 1997, is part of a larger, six-state consortium of breweries called Canarchy. Although Canarchy is led and partially run by Oskar Blues, the owner is a private investment firm in Massachusetts called Fireman Capital Partners, and the entire operation is incorporated, for tax purposes, in Delaware. So is Oskar Blues based in Colorado? We're going with it for now.

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Courtesy Odell Brewing

2. Odell Brewing

Fort Collins
126,400 barrels

One of the oldest breweries in Colorado, Odell was founded in 1989 by Doug, Wynne and Corkie Odell. And although the founders plan to step back soon, the employee-owned company is still going strong. Odell opened a second taproom in Denver last year and plans to unveil a third in 2020.

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Courtesy Lefthand Brewing Co.

3. Left Hand Brewing Co.

64,000 barrels

Known for its lineup of canned Nitro beers, Left Hand is a fiercely independent brewery that opened in 1994 on the banks of "the mighty St. Vrain River." Co-founder Eric Wallace has been quite outspoken, both locally and nationally, when it comes to breweries selling to larger corporations. He doesn't like it.

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Courtesy Sleeping Giant Brewing Company

4. Sleeping Giant Brewing Company

55,000 barrels

Sleeping Giant is an anomaly. The brewery only makes beer for other breweries (both local and national) on a contract basis, but doesn't have any brands of its own. The company didn't provide barrel numbers to the Brewers Association, but a recent interview with Westword put it at around 55,000 per year.

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Courtesy Great Divide Brewing

5. Great Divide Brewing

31,500 barrels

Founded in 1994, Great Divide is perhaps Denver's best-known brewery. With two locations, the brewery has been up and down over the past five years when it comes to barrel counts because of stiff competition in the industry. The numbers are currently on the upswing, though, with good taproom sales and new offerings.

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Courtesy Ska Brewing

6. Ska Brewing

30,800 barrels

While a few of Colorado's other large breweries have struggled over the past few years, Ska — founded in 1995 — has managed to keep its head down and mostly stay out of trouble. As a result, it plans to expand in Boulder with a second brewery, pub and distillery by early next year.

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Courtesy Upslope Brewing

7. Upslope Brewing

29,000 barrels

Unassuming and sometimes quiet, Upslope has methodically plowed forward since it was founded eleven years ago, establishing two taprooms (with a third on the way) and building a huge following for its canned beers. And all of this without venturing outside Colorado's borders until about three years ago.

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Courtesy Crazy Mountain Brewery

8. Crazy Mountain Brewery

23,500 barrels

Crazy Mountain Brewery has led a somewhat tumultuous life since it opened in the Vail Valley in 2009. In the interim, it has grown quickly, shrunk back, been evicted from three locations and finally settled into a rhythm at the former Breckenridge Brewery location on Kalamath Street. Some of its annual production total is from contract brewing.

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Courtesy Dry Dock Brewing Co.

9. Dry Dock Brewing Co.

21,500 barrels

The first brewery in Colorado to open solely as a taproom (without packaging or food), Dry Dock has grown since 2005 to become a Colorado classic. The company doesn't distribute out of state, which speaks to its ability to soak into the Colorado market with a wide variety of well-loved offerings.

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Courtesy Denver Beer Co.

10. Denver Beer Co.

Denver and Arvada
15,700 barrels

Only eight years old, Denver Beer Co. has succeeded thanks to a mix of savvy marketing, shrewd tactics, gorgeous locations and some hit beers, including Graham Cracker Porter. Today, the brewery has two taprooms, in Denver and Arvada, and a large production facility where the beer is canned.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes