Nov 27, 2023 - Business

Colorado breweries join forces to survive tough beer times

Illustration of a beer tap with a cork in it. 

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The craft beer industry is often praised for its spirit of collaboration and camaraderie. And now that's taking a new shape.

What's happening: The tightening economy and increased competition are leading Colorado brewers to form partnerships to cut costs and stay open.

  • Dry Dock, the state's eighth-largest independent beer maker, is moving most of its brewing and packaging to Great Divide in Denver.
  • Primitive Beer, which specializes in barrel-aged sours and wild ales, is closing its Longmont brewery and moving brewing operations to New Image in Wheat Ridge.

What they're saying: "Manufacturing is a volume game," Great Divide's owner, Brian Dunn, told the Denver Post. "The business has changed quite a bit in the past few years and become quite challenging."

  • Primitive's Lisa Boldt told the Post that their "family-run operation" became too difficult. "We've reached the conclusion that our current professional juggling act … isn't sustainable," she said.

Zoom in: The Dry Dock deal is part of a cutback that will include the closure of its brewery on Tower Road. It will keep open the original taproom and homebrew store on East Hampden Avenue, where it plans to make small batches.

  • Eventually, Great Divide also will assist in Dry Dock's sales and marketing. Both companies will remain separate entities.

Of note: The arrangement will benefit Great Divide, too. The brewer has experienced its own cutbacks and reshuffling as regional brewers get pinched by larger, more efficient operations and local neighborhood brewers.

The big picture: The financial partnerships are not new, but the two recent deals demonstrate that they are emerging as a viable pathway for breweries to avoid closure or sale.

Yes, but: Not all the partnerships work out.

  • Fort Collins' Funkwerks ended its four-year sales partnership with Brooklyn Brewery in 2021.
  • Wit's End Brewing closed its taproom in 2017 and moved in with Denver brewer Strange Craft Beer, but later went out of business.
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