The future of craft beer in a post-craft beer world
Colorado's beer industry is at the center of an existential question: What is craft beer?
Why it matters: Craft beer is part of Colorado's identity. Its economic impact in the state comes in at $3.4 billion, ranking No. 1 nationwide per capita.
- The term's cachet is core to its value proposition in the marketplace, but the lines are blurring with new offerings and consolidation from international beer players.
State of play: Colorado considers itself "the state of craft beer," and Boulder is home to the Brewer's Association, the industry's national trade group.
- The association sets the definition of craft brewers as small, independent beer makers.
Yes, but: The recent union of Fort Collins-based New Belgium with Michigan's Bell's Brewery — under the umbrella of international beer conglomerate Lion — is renewing the soul-searching within the industry.
What's happening: New Belgium and two other well-known Colorado brewers owned by big beer companies — Avery and Breckenridge — consider the term irrelevant and want to redefine what it means to be a craft brewer.
- New Belgium's CEO, Steve Fechheimer, tells Axios the association's definition is not the benchmark — it's more about each brewery's approach. "Craft beer consumers care about how you operate your company and the beers you make," he says.
- Bell's and New Belgium "come from the early days of the craft beer world; they still contain that DNA from the craft revolution," Larry Bell tells Axios. "That's still the spirit and feeling around the companies and around the beers."
- The challenge, Fechheimer says, is that "it takes some time to prove that to people and earn their trust."
Between the lines: New Belgium's sale to Lion in 2019 didn't hurt the company's bottom line, company officials said. In fact, Lion's acquisition helped New Belgium become carbon-neutral and expand its sales to become one of the fastest-growing full-flavored beer-makers.
The other side: Bart Watson, an economist at the Brewers Association, says industry surveys show most consumers care about who makes the beer and favor independent breweries in their purchasing decisions.
- The association developed a seal for its members to put on bottles and cans as a way to help educate consumers about which breweries qualify as craft beer.
- "Does it matter for every consumer? No. But we are trying to give information to the consumers for whom it does matter," Watson said.
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