When Strange Craft Beer Company poured its first beer in Denver in 2010, the little craft brewery kicked off a big wave of small brewery openings that has continued for a decade. Back then, there were no more than ten breweries within the Denver city limits. There are now more than eighty spread out across the Mile High City.
Each year during the past decade, beer drinkers, brewery owners, restaurateurs and social-media commenters have wondered whether the market was saturated, and every year, the answer to the question ended up being "No" as more and more breweries found homes in a wide variety of neighborhoods and buildings, old and new.
But over the past two years, something has changed. Although the number of brewery openings continued unabated in 2019 — at least half a dozen taprooms debuted over the past twelve months — a similar number have closed outright, moved, merged, co-located or scaled back on previously announced plans to expand.
The result has been a significant slowdown in the growth of the total number of breweries in Denver. In late 2017, Westword reported that there were 72 breweries within the city limits (including production breweries without taprooms; brewery-owned taprooms without brewing equipment; and breweries that paid other breweries to make their beer). By the end of 2019, there will be between 80 and 85 breweries — a gain of only ten to thirteen.
And next year’s crop of breweries-in-planning is somewhat sparse. There are only three with definitive plans: Odell Brewing Sloan’s Lake, Jade Mountain and Satellite Brewing. Another handful are in the works, but none of those are definite as of yet. Normally by this time of year, there are eight to twelve new breweries under construction.
What does all this mean? For starters, Denver may have finally reached that much-speculated-upon saturation point at around 85 breweries. That’s not to say that new breweries won’t continue to open — they definitely will — but it's highly likely that just as many will close, move or merge, keeping the total number static. (By the way, the total number of breweries in Boulder and Fort Collins has leveled out as well.)
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Only two breweries closed outright in Denver in 2019: Fermaentra and Co-Brew. But the Brewability Lab moved to Englewood, while Renegade and Good River merged, using existing space and equipment. Both Great Divide and 14er Brewing, meanwhile, chose not to go forward with planned expansions, while Lady Justice Brewing took a hiatus while it searches for a location somewhere in the metro area.
Who opened in 2019? FlyteCo Brewing, Empourium Brewing, Raices Brewing, Counter Culture Brewing and River North Brewery (with its new Blake Street taproom) are among the startups. Rocky Mountain Sector began contracting out of Good River/Renegade, while Bruz Beers still hopes to open a taproom (without brewing equipment) on East Colfax Avenue by the end of the year.
Yes, craft beer has been "trendy" this decade (and the decade before that), but breweries have also replaced dive bars, Irish pubs and other watering holes as neighborhood gathering places and community centers. So there's a good chance that most will stick around for a while — in one form or another.