Colorado craft breweries and their many fans enjoyed a spectacular year in 2012, as the options for consuming locally made beer continued to grow and fill our tastebuds with joy. If the state's 160-plus breweries weren't expanding, then they were adding new beers or welcoming friendly competitors. And there were plenty of those as small neighborhood breweries popped up all over the place. But a few cracks have started to show as well under the weight of craft beer's popularity. These took the form of everything from business disputes to trademark battles and politics.
Here's our look at Colorado's ten biggest craft beer stories in 2012.
See also: - The ten best new Colorado beers of 2012 - Coors, Miller, Bud will keep sponsoring GABF, despite craft vs. crafty controversy - Oskar Blues goes big with its 19.2-ounce Royal Pints of Dale's Pale Ale
10) Oskar Blues celebrates a decade of canning with new cans Oskar Blues kicked off the Canned Beer Apocalypse in 2002 by becoming the first U.S. craft brewer to squeeze big flavor into an aluminum can. Hundreds of other breweries across the country have since followed, but Oskar Blues is always trying to stay ahead of the pack. So in 2012, after a decade in the game, the Longmont company introduced two new can styles, a twist-off aluminum bottle (for Chaka and the Deuce) and a 19.2-ounce royal pint for Dale's Pale Ale. Here's to the next decade of good beer in a can.
9) Breckenridge Brewery makes waves Like other Colorado beer-makers, Breckenridge Brewery, one of the state's largest and oldest, suffered growing pains in 2012. But they were particularly acute for Breck, which had a unique problem: Because it is classified by the state as a "brewpub," it isn't allowed to make more than 60,000 barrels of beer per year -- and Breckenridge is about to blow by that. To remedy the situation, the brewery's parent company, Breckenridge-Wynkoop LLC, floated a bill that would have upped that limit, but the proposal went nowhere thanks, in part, to opposition from some of Breck's fellow craft breweries. Shocked and angry, brewery management first said it would build a new brewery in another state -- rather than stick to its plan to spend $15 million on a new in-state facility -- before finally working out a complicated restructuring of its various sister brewpubs with the state. Breckenridge has yet to say where or when it will build that new Colorado campus (or whether it will try again to change the law), but we're hoping that 2013 will be the company's lucky number.
8) Crooked Stave Gets Funky Chad Yakobson's Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project burst onto the Colorado craft-beer scene in 2011, producing wild and sour beers in Fort Collins. In 2012, Crooked Stave introduced a Cellar Reserve members-only club and moved its operations to Denver, where it brews at Prost and ferments in its new Barrel Cellar in north Denver. But Yakobson, who has a master's degree in yeast, has gained national fame because of his innovative style, his outstanding beers and his expertise, culminating in a Great American Beer Festival medal in October and some serious press in the New York Times in December. Later this year, Crooked Stave is scheduled to move into its own brewery and tap room in The Source, an equally forward-thinking project in RiNo that will be dedicated to local food and beverage artisans. That sounds wild. 7) Tivoli Beer brings history back to Denver For decades, Tivoli beer was the biggest name in Denver Beer. But the company, which was located in the building that now holds the Auraria campus student union, closed up shop in 1969 after a series of business setbacks. Forty-three years later, entrepreneurs, Corey and Debbie Marshall acquired the trademarks to Tivoli as well as other historical Denver beer brands and began brewing them again. Tivoli Beer -- or a close approximation of the recipe -- was brewed first, at Prost Brewing, with the help of brewmaster Bill Eye. A second beer, Sigi's, is up next in 2013.
6) GABF ticket fiasco 2012 was the year that the Great American Beer Festival finally got too big -- or at least, the demand for tickets did. Within minutes (some say seconds) of going on sale on August 2, they were gone, leaving many people holding empty glasses, empty hearts and a bitterness that no hop variety could equal. Just a year earlier, it had taken a week to sell out, while in 2010, it took several weeks. Beer lovers directed their rage at everyone from the Brewers Association, which hosts the event, to Ticketmaster, which handled the sale, to scalpers and other assorted evil-doers. The BA, meanwhile, responded that there was nothing they could do and that the sale was a testament to the popularity of craft beer. But 2012 was also the year that the coolness factor associated with the events going on outside of GABF, at breweries and craft beer-themed bars and restaurants, may have surpassed the main event. Will that evolution continue to the point where demand for GABF tickets diminishes? That's unlikely to happen in 2013, but the BA better find a new way to sell tickets soon, or they may find themselves losing a lot of the goodwill they've nurtured over the past two decades.
5) Shuttering of Del Norte Del Norte Brewing, which had carved out an unusual niche making lighter Mexican-style lagers since 2007, became the first Denver craft brewer to close its doors in at least four years -- and one of only a handful of Colorado breweries to shutter in the past decade. Was it a sign that the market has become saturated? Or was it the result of problems that were specific to Del Norte? It's hard to know, since brewery owner Joe Fox wasn't commenting, beyond a goodbye note. But the news of Del Norte's shuttering was a shame -- and a little scary. 4) Craft vs. Crafty On December 13, the Brewers Association, which represents small brewers nationwide, fired a shot over the bows of MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, blasting them for selling "crafty" beers without labeling them as their own products. "When someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it's from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it's made by SABMiller," the statement read. The missive sparked a heated debate that riled up big brewers (to be expected) as well as craft-beer lovers (unexpected), many of whom thought the message was ill-conceived, elitist, unnecessary and oddly timed. While there is no doubt that the megabrewers purposefully distance themselves from their niche brands in order to make them look like they are made by independent companies, the issue has been around for a while. Still, the BA no doubt got all the publicity they were looking for -- and then some. 3) Expansion of medium-sized and big craft breweries Colorado's larger craft breweries enjoyed a lot of success in 2012, and it showed as many of them announced, started or finished major expansion projects. That list included New Belgium, which will open a second major brewery in North Carolina; Oskar Blues, which opened a second, smaller facility in that state as well; Left Hand, which completed a multimillion-dollar expansion; Odell, which broke ground on a big addition; Avery, which bought land to build a huge new campus in Boulder; Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora and Upslope in Boulder, which are both adding second large breweries in their respective towns; Bristol and Trinity, both in Colorado Springs, which are expanding; and Breckenridge, which is hopefully building a large campus in the metro area.
2) Strange Brewing and other trademark battles In September, as Denver's Strange Brewing was gearing up for the Great American Beer Festival, owners John Fletcher and Tim Myers got a letter from a homebrew shop in Massachusetts demanding that they change their name and threatening legal action if they did not. Myers responded to the missive from Strange Brew Beer & Wine Making Supplies by offering to team up with the business on something that would benefit both of them -- but he was rebuffed. The outcome of the dispute is still pending, but the issue of trademarks is only just heating up in the craft-brewing industry where brewery names, beer names and even brewing terms are being contested all over the country. And things are likely to get even uglier in 2013 as new breweries form (there are a least five breweries in planning in Colorado that have already had to chance their names) and existing breweries attempt to come up with new names. It would be great to see the Brewers Association step in on this issue and create some sort of mediation process, especially since the craft beer industry is often so congenial, but the organization has so far been mum on what could turn into a divisive and angry problem.
1) The rise of the neighborhood/nanobrewery Small neighborhood or nanobreweries opened at a rapid rate in 2012, giving craft-beer lovers new places to hang out. Although some beer-industry experts believe that there may be too many breweries in Colorado now, it's hard to argue that small places -- like neighborhood bars -- can't succeed. In Denver alone, at least six small breweries opened their doors -- some of them with tiny brewing systems and occasional hours -- while Boulder acquired at least three new ones of its own. Denver and Boulder suburbs like Wheat Ridge, Broomfield, Frederick and Niwot -- among many others -- also welcomed local places with a community feel. And 2013 may surpass 2012 in terms of numbers, as small (and smaller) businesses respond to demand all over the metro area. Your neighborhood never tasted so good.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan and on Facebook at Colo BeerMan