The nation made its choice yesterday, but Colorado’s craft breweries have been casting ballots of a different nature — voting last week in favor of reconciliation between two craft-beer groups that had been at odds with one another since June.
The outcome of the votes is that the Colorado Brewers Guild, which has represented the interests of craft breweries for two decades, will be merged into Craft Beer Colorado, an upstart organization that was created five months ago because of frustration with the Guild’s leadership and some of its policies. The resulting organization will use CBC’s bylaws, but will operate under the Guild name.
“What’s done is done. What’s in the past is in the past. It’s more important that we are a single entity and that we move forward with a single voice,” says current Guild board chairman Chris Wright. “I think it is safe to say that we can stop talking about [beer politics] and start talking about beer.” That point is important as the legislative session approaches in the new year. Craft breweries are likely to have several battles in front of them when it comes to competition and regulation.
Wright reports that 70 percent of the Guild’s membership — which totals 220 or so breweries — voted in the Guild election, and that 91 percent of those who voted supported the merger.
Craft Beer Colorado spokeswoman Laura Long didn't return a call seeking comment, but we'll add that in if she does. Odell Brewing co-owner Wynne Odell didn't return a phone call, either. Odell was one of fourteen breweries that split off from the Guild in June, including the state's four largest. The others were Left Hand, New Belgium, Funkwerks, Renegade, Oskar Blues, Epic Brewing, Great Divide Brewing, Bristol Brewing, Mountain Sun, Grimm Brothers, TRVE Brewing, Four Noses and Wibby.
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The breweries cited several reasons for their action, including frustration with the leadership of longtime Guild director John Carlson, the continuing presence of Breckenridge Brewery (which was purchased by Budweiser parent company AB InBev last year) in the group, and a lack of effective advocacy and transparency in the Guild. In July, the Guild voted to cut off voting rights for Breckenridge, which is no longer considered to be a craft brewer, according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association. Corporate-owned breweries like Breckenridge will not be allowed to join the new organization at all.
Five current members of the Guild and the representatives of five breweries in CBC will make up a new board in the new organization. An eleventh member will also be selected. One of the first priorities for the new group will be to find a new leader. Carlson stepped down over the summer after it became clear that a merger wouldn't take place unless he did.
Here is the statement from the Guild, which was released this morning.
Brewery members of the Colorado Brewers Guild and Craft Beer Colorado have agreed to join forces and merge into one organization to represent independent Colorado craft brewers. Last week both organizations’ members voted to work together. The organization will do business as the Colorado Brewers Guild and the new board will be made up of representatives from the previous boards of both organizations.
“Advocacy and marketing just got a lot stronger on behalf of Colorado craft brewers,” said Brian O’Connell, Founder of Renegade Brewing Company and board member. “There is no question that we are stronger as one.”
Current staff will remain intact through the transition. “I’m looking forward to a very dynamic 2017 for the CBG,” said Steve Kurowski, Operations Director of the guild, “the momentum is already starting to build.” The search for an Executive Director will begin soon.
One of the Guild’s leading priorities is to organize for the 2017 legislative session. “We have a lot of work to do to protect Colorado’s independent craft brewers in a rapidly changing regulatory and legislative environment,” said Chris Wright, Founder of Pikes Peak Brewing and board member. “We need to ensure all breweries in Colorado are fairly and effectively represented.”