Sep 2, 2021 - News
This is how bad the pandemic hit Colorado brewers
 People sit outside at Denver Beer Co.'s new taproom on South Downing Street. Photo courtesy of Denver Beer Co.
Denver Beer Co.'s new taproom on South Downing Street. Photo courtesy of Denver Beer Co.

Eight of the 10 largest craft breweries in Colorado posted lower production numbers in 2020, according to a report from the Boulder-based Brewers Association.

Why it matters: The latest numbers, published in the industry journal New Brewer, are the most comprehensive look at how the state's $3 billion craft beer sector fared in 2020 amid the pandemic's shutdown and the pivot to take-away sales.

Context: The decline is not a surprise given the national numbers we reported earlier this year.

  • Yes, but: The scale of the troubles in Colorado is newly evident.

By the numbers: Only two of the top 10 craft breweries in the state experienced growth in 2020: Denver Beer Co., at 21% and Canarchy, which owns Oskar Blues and five other breweries, at 2%.

  • The most significant decreases in beer volume hit regional breweries, such as Great Divide (-29%) and Left Hand (-16%). Dry Dock saw production fall by 19%.
  • The tough year led breweries to close 26 locations, but 25 new brewpubs or taprooms opened — a sign of the local market hitting maturation.

Between the lines: The shutdown of taprooms and brewpubs hit craft brewers hardest — because this is where they make most of their money.

  • The expansion of beer sales to grocery stores in 2018 boosted brewers that established relationships with chains, but not everyone.
  • Other smaller brewers scrambled to package their beer and relied on loyal customers to keep them afloat.

What they're saying: "For many breweries, the situation was more challenging than some of these numbers show," says Bart Watson, the association's economist and study's author.

Zoom in: Tucked inside the numbers, a handful of smaller Colorado brewers stood out as bright spots.

  • New Image Brewing in Arvada saw 25% growth, while New Terrain in Golden and 4 Noses in Broomfield also increased production.

Denver Beer Co's co-founder Patrick Crawford said his brewery experienced a push from grocery store sales and managed to remain relevant with fun promotions, such as the Don Exotic beer, a riff on Netflix's "Tiger King."

  • "We were able to thrive," he told John. "For every pint of beer we didn't sell in taprooms, someone bought a can of beer through one of our retail partners."

Of note: The Brewers Association analysis only includes small, independent breweries that allowed their data to be published.

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