Why Colorado is a Breeding Ground for Craft Beer

Dustin Ramey – Four Noses Brewing Company – Broomfield, Colorado

Let’s start things with brief history of Colorado and beer beer.

Brewers started to show up to Colorado in 1858 when gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains. Many brewers were making small batches and selling it to miners in mining camps and on access roads to the small mining communities popping up across the state. Denver was founded in 1858 in a small saloon on Larimer and less than a year later a couple of entrepreneurs showed up to start a brewery. Rocky Mountain Brewery was founded in 1859 and quickly became the largest brewery between St. Louis and San Francisco. In 1873, Adolph Coors came to this state with a friend, $3000, and a recipe for a Czech Pilsner. Coors started to make his beer with local spring water and grew rapidly until 1916 when Colorado enacted its prohibition laws. Coors started to diversify, making and packaging malted milk, until they were allowed to produce beer again after prohibition. The first can of beer was produced by Coors in 1959.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, which allowed for American citizens to brew in their homes. This allowed for craft beer to be made in breweries and brewpubs across the US. September 25th, 1979 marked the day Colorado opened its first craft brewery in Boulder Beer Company. Things were slow to start, but craft beer had a surge in the early 90’s and New Belgium opened its doors in 1991 along with a handful of others. In 2002, Oskar Blues opened and ad a crazy idea of putting his craft products into cans. Today, there are well over 300 craft beer makers across Colorado with many slated to open in the next year or two.

Colorado and beer have always moved together. When the state sees growth so does the craft beer industry. That is why this is truly The State of Craft Beer. One thing you did not read during that brief history is that Colorado began to sell beer in grocery stores.

Why has this state become a breeding ground for craft beer? Because we have 1600 independently owned liquors stores. Colorado brewers do not sell these wonderfully crafted products to large, corporate companies, that shove these beers onto a warm shelf or a small cold door at the grocery store.

At 4 Noses Brewing Company we pride ourselves in relationships that we have and build with all of our local liquor store owners and operators. We get to learn about what they need, what they want, what is working and what is not. We know about their families and we know about the stores. We are lucky enough to build these relationships because of the sheer number of stores. Some specialize in craft beer, some have an illustrious selection of wines, and some are just a place to pick up a 30 rack or a tall boy. The liquor store community is just as, if not more diverse than that of the craft beer community.

The beauty is that these industries are directly linked together. On a personal level these stores are linked with the brewery’s sales reps and brewers. On a larger level these stores grow as the craft beer industry grows. Colorado can support over 300 breweries because the 1600 liquor stores in the state can carry all this great beer.

So, what happens if we allow for full strength beer to be sold in grocery stores? The craft beer industry stops growing. Period. Colorado’s once vibrant community of brewers will come to a screeching halt. People that wanted to open a brewery in this state will have to reconsider canning or bottling their product. Shelf space will cease to exist for many small breweries. According to an economic impact study from Bristol Brewing, in Colorado Springs, in the first 3 years of full strength beer being sold to grocery stores, 700 liquor stores will go out of business, with another 200-300 closing in the 2 years that follow. Over this 5 years, almost 10,000 people would be out of a job at these liquor stores. This translates into a $240 million loss of wages, a $15 million tax revenue decrease, and possibly $1 billion in asset devaluation from defaulted loans and permanently lower rent to landlords.

From our side of things, we would not have access to the grocery stores. A brewery our size cannot compete with other, much larger breweries for shelf space, because of cost restrictions and bulk deals. 4 Noses Brewing Company is self-distributed as our many breweries. Where many liquor stores like dealing with small, self-distributed breweries, many grocery stores will not. It will become very difficult to maintain relationships with grocery store buyers that deal with many different distributors. There are also many tedious, hoops to jump through to make sure your product can be sold at the grocery stores. A time constraint that many small breweries will elect not to participate in because of manpower alone.

As a consumer there are several other things to worry about. The selection of craft beer will be small. It will include many breweries that either already make a 3.2% product or breweries that already have a relationship with the grocery store because of sales in other state. As nice as it is to walk into a liquor store and discuss with the employee what kind of beer will pair well with dinner, Colorado can kiss it goodbye. Grocery stores will not be employing the 10,000 people that are out of work to help consumers make good craft beer purchases. The relationship that many have with store employees at neighborhood liquors store will not exist in grocery stores.

This is unacceptable. “But in the state I am from, the grocery stores sell beer and wine and it works great.” For many states it does work. Those states do not have one of the largest brewing industries (per capita) in the country. It should be obvious that these two industries go hand-in-hand.

As a brewery our size, we are committed to supporting the liquor stores. We spend our time with these hard working individuals. If it were not for these liquor stores we would not be the brewery that we are today and we certainly would be canning and bottling our beers. We are not alone.

We can not sit back on this issue. We must all show our support for the liquor stores because people’s livelihoods are standing in the balance. Remember why Colorado is so great. Remember why we have access to so much craft made beer. Remember why this is The State of Craft Beer.