When Upslope brewing opened its doors in 2008, it was the first new brewery in Boulder in over a decade. Its approach was simple: wellcrafted approachable beer served in cans; the labels simply stated the style: pale ale, IPA, craft lager, etc. It has grown to one of the larger brewers in the region, but the question to ask is would it be able to replicate that growth if it launched today.
“I would not want to be entering this market now,” says Henry Wood, Upslope’s director of sales and marketing. “It’s getting very crowded”
Colorado is home to the third most in-state brewing operations in the United States, at 217 and counting according to the Beer Institute. Boulder County alone hosts 35 breweries and brewpubs, with at least five more slated to open in 2014. While the supply seems to be doing nothing more than meeting demand, that demand isn’t limitless, and those looking to launch a brewery must now work harder than ever to stand out in an increasingly competitive market.
Jon Howland had a novel idea for his brewery, Twelve Degree Brewing, that opened last year in downtown Louisville; he would pay homage to one of the classic beer regions in Europe: Belgium.
“I focus on high quality Belgian style beers that you mostly will only find in my tasting room,” he says. “You want my beer? Come visit.”
Howland says he went that route in part because he prefers a local town feel to a large brewer.
Another tactic for brewers has been to partner with chefs to try to broaden their customer base with food as finely crafted as their drinks.
“I realized it was damn tough to find a place that served great food and great beer,” says Ian Clark, mastermind at BRU Handbuilt Ales and Eats. “Usually you could find one, but not the other. I decided to remedy that void.”
Clark says that as a longtime homebrewer, he realized beer could be treated in much the same manner as food.
“Both are about the melange of flavors you create with different ingredients,” he says. “Our beers unique flavors work hand-inhand with the dishes on the menu. I am trying to create something memorable every visit.”
Even established brewers are adapting. Boulder Beer, one of the oldest craft breweries in the nation, was slower to embrace change and began slipping in the market. It is now expanding its Looking Glass lineup loaded with bigger and bolder brews. The result is that drinkers are once again discovering this Colorado original.
Left Hand Brewing broke out of the box — rolling out its Nitro Milk Stout several years ago to rave reviews. It is the only U.S. beer that is carbonated primarily with nitrogen. The beer is so important to Left Hand that it is trying to trademark the term “Nitro” in the beer industry.
So while we thirsty Coloradans welcome fresh brews — Lord knows we need them as summer sends the mercury higher — I ask you to ponder this.
As the market continues to get more crowded, what will brewers have to do to get your attention?