Aug 11, 2023 - Business

Colorado's top breweries in 2022 are looking for a rebound

🍻 Top breweries in Colorado, by 2022 sales volume
Data: Brewers Association; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

The national craft beer slump is continuing into 2023, even as Colorado breweries look to shake the hangover.

Driving the news: The industry posted no growth in 2022, and a new survey from the Boulder-based Brewers Association shows 2023 production was down an estimated 2% at midyear.

  • The downward trend is driven by competition from other alcoholic beverages, such as seltzers and canned cocktails, as well as a push toward healthier lifestyles.
  • "Fundamentally, all of this stems from consumer demand," Bart Watson, the association's economist, said in a Thursday briefing.

Why it matters: The latest numbers are particularly alarming for craft brewers in Colorado, where the mature market makes it a leading indicator for an industry facing significant headwinds.

State of play: Craft brewers here rebounded from pandemic lows in 2021 but struggled to grow in 2022, according to an exclusive Axios Denver analysis of association data.

  • 15 of the state's 20 largest craft breweries posted sales declines in 2022. At least three β€” Odell, Left Hand and Ska β€” reported their steepest slides in four years, while three smaller breweries saw their first declines in the same period.

Yes, but: Brewery taprooms remain a strong draw in the state. The number of 2022 brewery openings (21) surpassed closings (15), and small brewers are seeing growth.

  • In 2022, Zuni Street in Denver saw a 71% jump in sales, Red Leg in Colorado Springs increased 54% and Living the Dream in Littleton rose 23%.

Of note: Not all of our breweries are represented in the Brewers Association data because some don't submit sales figures or request them not to be published.

What to watch: Colorado breweries are testing different strategies to recover this year.

  • Left Hand is streamlining its offerings, focusing on "beer-flavored beer" and dialing back on one-off batches. "We are trying to make beer you want to pick up more than once," co-founder and president Eric Wallace told us.
  • Living the Dream, a smaller brewer, is focusing on improving the taproom experience and creating more events to drive interest.

What they're saying: "When we opened in 2014, breweries were 50-50 fun versus a business," Living the Dream's Jason Bell told us.

  • "Now it's about 95% a business. You better be focused on that side of it, you better be watching costs. … You can't just open the doors and expect a full house every night anymore."

The intrigue: The largest craft brewery list in Colorado no longer includes three prominent names that sold to large beer companies.

  • New Belgium sales hit 1.2 million barrels for 14% year-over-year growth. Avery saw 6% growth to 48,444.
  • Breckenridge β€” which will once again qualify as a craft brewer in the 2023 data β€” experienced a 9% decline to 100,000.

ICYMI: Breckenridge Brewery is once again a "craft brewer"

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