Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Northern Front Range Brewery Tour (or How to Add 67 New Beers to Your Beer List in 10 Days) – PART 1


I’m just back from 10 days of crawling through brewpubs enjoying the natural wonders of Colorado. Seriously, every day we did a combination of hiking, biking, walking, running, and/or swimming (very quickly – that water is cold!), but there were plenty of brewpubs along the way. Here’s the first part of my report: random observations about the Colorado beer scene, particularly vis-à-vis the Massachusetts.

The Mass. craft brew scene has really exploded in the last few years. I can’t walk into a beer store these days without finding a new beer. We’re up to 47 craft breweries, according to the Brewer’s Association. Sounds pretty good, right? Not compared to Colorado where there are 151 craft breweries. Colo. has a craft brewery for every 33,306 people; the equivalent figure in Mass.? 139,311! Put another way, to equal Colo., Mass. would need to have about 197 craft breweries! (And Colo. is only #5 per capita: Vermont, Oregon, Montana, and Alaska rank higher!)

The big question, of course, is why. I suspect regulation plays a part (Mass. does tend to have complex regulations, and although things have loosened up, we still have Blue Laws thanks to the state’s Puritan legacy). I don’t think you can discount cost, either. Real estate isn’t cheap, at least anywhere near Boston, and added to the already steep costs of setting up a brewery, you can understand why so many of the new breweries in Mass. are contract brewing, or have set up nano-breweries. (This interview with Slumbrew’s Caitlin Jewell gives you a little hint as to the issue.)
Where to begin?

And this leads to my next observation: one of the great things about the Colorado beer scene is that almost every craft brewery has, at the very least, a tap room; many have full restaurants. It adds a wonderful, atmospheric dimension (and recalls an earlier time when every town would have its own local beer: given that beer doesn’t travel well under the best of circumstances, this is a great trend!). In many cases, you can sit at the bar and watch folks brewing the beer (almost always with a couple of bicycles sitting in the background). And they often offer beer that’s not available via regular outlets. Most Mass. brewers have, at most, a brewery tour. Only 14 have regular taprooms/restaurants.

With such a strong craft beer presence and obvious market demand (leading to the whole chicken/egg question, of course!), I found that virtually every server has a high level of knowledge of beer, and often strong opinions about what he/she likes. It’s awesome to have a conversation with someone who knows what they’re talking about and can give appropriate recommendations based on what you like.

A beautiful sight!
With so many breweries, it’s very easy (and smart) to specialize. We found two brewpubs (one less than a month old) focused entirely on Belgians, and another company producing only German styles. In general, I saw a lot of the lesser known German styles on tap, a sign that people are realizing that there’s a lot more to German beer than the light pilsners that define that country’s beer industry to most Americans. There's even a brewery which, intentionally or not, appears to specialize in high ABV beers!

Even in craft beer crazy Colorado, one can’t escape the influence of The Evil Empire (aka Coors). To wit, I was sucked in by a canned beer called Colorado Native Lager. “Available Only in Colorado” the label shouted. I should have looked more closely. It’s produced by the AC Golden Brewing Co. AC as in Adolphus Coors. Grrr … another stealth craft beer. Even a beer snob like me can be fooled…

3 comments:

  1. Vermont hails as #1, most breweries per person! You should do a mini tour up here. Lawson's Finest, Heady Topper, Hill Farmstead, for starters. Cheers!

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  2. I wonder how many other states have breweries without tap rooms. It makes the breweries destinations for celebrations and nights out. Some friends and I do a bike brewery 'tour' around Denver each spring. Prost might be my favorite. Glad you enjoyed Denver!

    PS- Don't be sad about the 'Native'. A long time CO resident recently made the same mistake in my presence. :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Josh! Now I feel better about my mistake! Not the first time I've been sucked in by a pseudo-microbrewery.

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