Beer Man

The ten biggest Colorado beer stories of the year

In April, the Wynkoop Brewing Company began delivering kegs and cans to some of its downtown clients via horse and buggy. The move was a cool addition to Denver's beer culture and a fun sight to see on Friday afternoons.

But Colorado's beer scene is so vibrant that it didn't even qualify as one of the biggest beer stories of the year in 2010. For that list, read below:

10) Colorado Native A.C. Golden Brewing, which was started in 2008 as a brand incubator for Coors, turned out its first year-round beer in May. The small-batch Colorado Native uses 99 percent Colorado products and is only sold in Colorado. The beer heralded the beginning of a renewed effort by Coors to make inroads into the craft-beer market, but it also reminded independently owned breweries (and perhaps guilted them a bit) that consumers are interested in drinking beer made with locally produced ingredients. 9) Avery SourFest In February, Avery Brewing held a festival dedicated to one of the most difficult beer styles -- to brew and to drink -- out there: sours. But the event sold out quickly and may have been one of the most buzzed-about festivals of the year, in part because Colorado brewers embraced the style wholeheartedly in 2010. And while it seems like there's a new beer fest almost every day in Colorado, this one stood out. Avery has scheduled its second SourFest for April 2011. 8) Beer Bloggers Conference In October, more than 100 beer bloggers from around the nation descended on Boulder for the first-ever Beer Bloggers Conference. The get-together produced a lot of drinking, but it also showed the power that beer bloggers have on influencing the ever-growing craft-beer market. Several major breweries attended or sent representatives. 7) Denver Beer Fest The Great American Beer Festival took place in September, bringing 50,000 people and more than 2,000 kinds of beer to the Mile High City. But the bigger story was the hundreds of events that took place as part of the second annual Denver Beer Fest -- ten days of sudsy fun that celebrated all the glories of hops, malt and yeast. Whether it was beer ice cream, beer burlesque or beer-pairing dinners, the city put on a show that attracted tens of thousands of beer tourists and made it the center of the beer world. 6) Burning Can Burning Can was a small June festival, attended only by local brewers, but the inaugural event -- hosted by Oskar Blues -- heralded something larger: the increasing market for canned microbrews. More than a dozen Colorado brewers are canning some or all of their beers now and making plans to add new beers to their canned lineups. Others are looking to start canning for the first time in 2011, especially now that out-of-state companies that can their beers -- like Maui Brewing, Tallgrass Brewing and Big Sky Brewing -- are forcing their way onto liquor store shelves here.

5) Brewer in Chief Wynkoop co-founder and Denver mayor John Hickenlooper was elected governor in 2010, and will be inaugurated on January 11 with a party that includes a few dozen craft brews from around the state, as well as Hickenlooper's InaugurAle, a beer brewed by the Wynkoop specifically for the occasion. Having a former brewer as governor should help the local beer industry. Then again, politics make strange drinking buddies. Only time will tell whether Hick helps his old pals in the brewery biz. 4) 3.2 Beers In January, Colorado will begin enforcing a law that doesn't allow bars and liquor stores to sell beers that are lower than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or 4.0 percent alcohol by volume. The odd declaration earlier this year -- which hadn't been enforced previously -- is just the beginning of what is expected to be an ugly war this year between grocery stores (who want to sell full-strength beer and wine) and craft brewers and liquor stores (who don't want them to). While battles have been fought for the past two years, 2011's legislative session, complete with a brewer-governor, is going to be an interesting one. 3) Brewery Expansion The economy has been down for several years now, but the craft-beer industry hasn't noticed. In fact, Colorado brewers like Great Divide (sales were up 80 percent), Ska (sales grew by 12 percent), Oskar Blues, Odell, Dry Dock, Fort Collins and Wynkoop, among others, are all busting at the seams, adding new fermentation tanks, buildings and equipment, taking on new styles and packaging. 2) Tap Handles Although the Yard House, which opened December 19, added the largest number of craft-beer tap handles to the Denver market in 2010 (about 130), new beer bars and beer-focused restaurants opened at a dizzying pace, while some existing places upgraded. Some of these new watering holes, representing at least 250 new craft-beer tap handles, include Uptown Brothers, FreshCraft, Euclid Hall, Star Bar, Hops & Pie, Highland Tap & Burger, Stoney's, Cheba Hut, the Cheeky Monk in Westminster and the Mellow Mushroom. 1) Wynkoop and Breckenridge Joint venture Two of Colorado's oldest and most venerated brewers, Wynkoop Brewing and Breckenridge Brewing, announced in November that they were forming a joint venture to increase production, ease financial burdens and streamline restaurant management. While neither company called it a merger -- and both brewers said they would keep their independent streaks -- Wynkoop and Breckenridge are both now owned and supervised by a single board of directors.

Follow Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes