Sep 14, 2022 - Food and Drink

Colorado's top craft breweries saw strong rebound in 2021

Colorado's largest craft breweries
Data: Brewers Association; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

Colorado's largest craft breweries rebounded significantly in 2021, a year after the pandemic initially crippled the industry, with average gains near 10%.

The state of beer: Outer Range in Frisco — the state's fastest growing craft brewery that produced at least 5,000 barrels in 2021 — saw a 54% increase in sales, according to an exclusive Axios analysis of data from the Brewers Association.

  • Bootstrap in Longmont, Great Divide in Denver and Bristol in Colorado Springs all saw 20% growth or more in 2021.
  • The state's largest independent brewer, Oskar Blues, saw an 8% decline in sales. Boulder's Upslope slid 11%, which is the only other negative mark among the state's largest brewers.
  • In 2021, Colorado had nine breweries close and 27 open, the data shows.

Flashback: It's a complete reversal from a year ago, when only two of the 10 largest craft brewers in the state experienced growth.

  • For some breweries, the rebound is strong because they fell so much a year prior.

The big picture: The overall beer market grew by 1% in 2021, and Colorado placed three breweries among the nation's top 50 largest.

Between the lines: The annual data — published for its members in the New Brewer journal — is the most comprehensive breakdown of the state's craft beer industry.

Yes, but: Not all Colorado craft brewers are represented in the rankings because some do not submit sales and production data to the Boulder-based Brewers Association, the industry's trade group.

  • Our analysis looked at sales from breweries, brewpubs and taprooms, but excluded contract brewers who make beer for others.
  • Also excluded are local breweries who don't meet the definition of independent, including New Belgium (11% growth), Breckenridge (+5%) and Avery (-6%).

What's next: The association's Bart Watson, who compiled the data, says 2022 is producing mixed results and growth projected near 4-5%.

  • Inflation on the cost of raw goods, particularly grain, is hurting the industry. So is competition from other alcohol products, such as canned cocktails and hard seltzers.
  • One clear pandemic recovery, he said in a recent industry briefing: "At the brewery, sales are stronger and still growing so that's a bright spot."

The bottom line: For the next year, Watson sees an elevated "long-term growth rate … but below [2021] when there was still strong growth bouncing back from those pandemic losses."

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