Seven years after it began canning, the Wynkoop Brewing Company has decided to stop packaging its beers or selling them to bars and restaurants outside of the brewpub and the Wynkoop’s sister restaurants. That means there will be no more six-packs of Belgorado, Rail Yard Ale or Colorojo on liquor-store shelves.
“It is a decision we made based on the long-term interests of the Wynkoop,” says Ed Cerkovnik, president of Breckenridge-Wynkoop LLC, which owns the brewpub and seven other brewery and restaurant properties in Colorado. “It was difficult for us to achieve a level of profitability that made sense with those sales, especially when it came at the expense of quality and innovation in the brewery. We want to focus on the brewpub and to be a lot more creative and innovative with the beer we are selling over our bar.
“We were trying to do a lot. Frankly, I thought we were trying to do too much, and when you try to do too much, you end up not doing any one thing particularly well,” he adds. “Our bread is buttered with the Wynkoop and on-premise sale, and that is where we want to refocus our efforts going forward.”
The move comes just weeks after Boulder’s Twisted Pine Brewing, another veteran brewery, announced that it would stop packaging and distributing its beer as well. Twisted Pine’s Bob Baile said then that he wanted to focus his money and resources on customers coming through the door rather than on packaging and distribution, which can be expensive, complicated and time-consuming. But he also blamed intense competition as more and more of the 4,300 craft breweries nationwide try to package and sell their products.
Cerkovnik says competition also played a role in his decision: “The level of competition has ratcheted up significantly over the last three years, and you will continue to see it get more and more competitive.”
But the Wynkoop’s decision is also surprising, considering that the brewery just spent more than $1 million to replace its brewing system and almost all of its equipment, a project that ended in March.
When the company first announced the upgrade, it also said it planned to increase packaging and outside sales. But that was before Breckenridge-Wynkoop sold Breckenridge Brewery — which was the fifth-largest craft brewer in Colorado at the time — to AB InBev, the makers of Budweiser and Bud Light Lime, late last year. Breckenridge and Wynkoop had been working on a new agreement then that would have allowed Wynkoop to package its flagship beers at Breckenridge under an alternating proprietorship.
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But that potential arrangement ended with the sale. In the meantime, Wynkoop has been brewing some of its flagship canned beers at Sleeping Giant, a large contract brewery in Denver.
Cerkovnik says that arrangement won’t work in the long run, though. “Sleeping Giant is not really an option," he explains. "The cost of sales is higher than if you do it yourself, so you have to achieve a certain sales volume in order for that to make sense. There are a lot of people who are trying to play that game right now.”
The Wynkoop is also losing its lead brewer. Bess Dougherty, who has worked at the brewery for four years, says she is leaving to pursue other ventures. The Wynkoop has gone through a rapid succession of lead brewers over the past eighteen months, ever since longtime brewer Andy Brown left to open a cidery.
And finally, Breckenridge-Wynkoop CEO Lee Driscoll is taking a step back from the day-to-day operations of the company, although he is still a major stakeholder and boardmember, Cerkovnik says.