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Posted: April 30, 2010

Colorado brewers craft growth

Beer fans will pay more for a little luxury in their mug

Jay Dedrick

A year ago at this time, craft brewers were looking at their production figures and breathing sighs of relief that the down economy wasn't hurting them the way it was hurting others. Craft beer really was a product people were willing to pay a bit more for -- an affordable luxury, even when the wallet's a bit thinner than in past years.

With the newest statistics from the Brewers Association, there's evidence it wasn't just a fluke year. Again, with a down economy, small and independent brewers enjoyed a 7.2 percent increase in volume in 2009 (compared with 2008) and a 10.3 percent increase in dollars. The achievement is even more impressive given that overall U.S. beer sales were down in 2009 by about 5 million barrels (craft beer's increase was about 614,000 barrels).

As always, Colorado craft brewers are largely driving the craft trend. A Colorado company, New Belgium Brewing, sits at No. 3 on the national ranking of craft brewers for the year. Other locals on the list: Odell Brewing Co. (Fort Collins, No. 33), Rock Bottom Brewery Restaurants (Louisville, 34), Oskar Blues Brewery (Longmont, 44), Breckenridge Brewery (Denver, 46) and Boulder Beer Co. (Boulder, 49).

Oskar Blues is one of three brewers nationally that's new to this year's list. The only two above New Belgium: Sam Adams maker Boston Beer Co. and Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada. The Brewers Association, a national trade group based in Boulder, also ranks all brewers regardless of size, and New Belgium still manages to land in the Top 10, at No. 7 this year, up a notch from the previous year.

Consider that the No. 1 brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, has a plant in Fort Collins, and that MillerCoors (No. 2) has a little outpost in Golden, and it's clear that Colorado remains a major player in the beer world. Odell and Rock Bottom manage to make the Top 50 of the overall list, too, at 44 and 45, respectively. Odell's growth in production has made possible growth in its physical plant; more on that in my next column. You can check out all of the rankings at the Brewers Association's website.

COLORADO ON THE PODIUM AT WORLD BEER CUP: Like the Great American Beer Festival, held annually in Denver, the World Beer Cup is a major beer competition whose awards are highly coveted in the industry; both are organized by the Brewers Association. But as the name indicates, the World Beer Cup entrants come from around the globe, making for what the association likes to call the Olympics of beer.

It takes place every other year, and gives American brewers a chance to see how their versions of 90 beer styles stack up against the best from across the planet. Earlier this month in Chicago, judges ruled on 3,330 entries in the 2010 World Beer Cup, making it the biggest commercial competition ever. The record it beat? Last year's Great American Beer Festival, in which 3,308 beers competed.

Colorado fared well in the global arena. The brewers who won medals: Bull & Bush Brewery, Denver; Coors Brewing Co., Golden; Dillon DAM Brewery, Dillon; Dry Dock Brewing Co., Aurora; Durango Brewing Co., Durango; Kannah Creek Brewing Co., Grand Junction; Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver; Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery, Boulder; Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins; Rocky Mountain Brewery, Colorado Springs; the SandLot, Denver.

TWO, AND ONE TO GROW ON: Mountain Sun's Denver outpost, the Vine Street Pub, just celebrated its second anniversary with a party that featured proceeds from beer and food sales going to Judi's House, a nonprofit founded by former Broncos quarterback Brian Griese. At the event, head brewer Brian Hutchinson and lead brewer Jason Stengl unveiled Bombshell Blonde, an outstanding spring-summer sipper, while owner Kevin Daly talked plans for expansion at the Uptown location. Watch the video on ColoradoBiz TV.

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