The biggest Colorado beer news of 2019

A beer is held up during the Paired event at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival. (Provided by the Brewers Association)

The Colorado beer industry really knows how to end a decade. This year, we saw the state’s oldest craft brewery downsize, its biggest craft brewery sold off and its best-known beer brand move out of town.

And all this while Colorado brewers were winning big at the Great American Beer Festival, and the state’s drinkers — for the first time since Prohibition — started buying full-strength beer from more than 1,000 grocery stores.

Just when we thought the beer boom of the early 2000s was leveling, Denver welcomed its first-ever hard seltzer festival. A sign that the world is coming to an end? Maybe. But at least we’ll all go down clutching our White Claw cans.

Read on for the biggest beer news headlines of the year.

Ben Proctor looks over the new selection of full-strength beer at the Safeway off Wadsworth Boulevard Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019 in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. (Michael Ciaglo, Special to the Denver Post)

7. New Year brings full-strength beer to the shelves of Colorado’s grocery stores

As of Jan. 1, 2019, and for the first time since Prohibition, 1,600 grocery and convenience stores across Colorado were allowed to sell beer with more than 3.2% alcohol by volume.

Craft brewers and independent liquor stores were the ones most concerned by this change, fearing they would be out of business with customers electing a one-stop shop for their groceries and beer.

Heading into 2020, the effects remain to be seen, but those worried estimated as many as 500 independent stores closing by 2021.

The bar at C Squared Ciders, which shared a building with Bierstadt Lagerhaus in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood before moving to Penrose. (Sara Grant, The Know)

6. “The system is broken” — Why a Denver-based cidery is leaving RiNo to open a destination cider house in Penrose

Denver-based C Squared Ciders moved its River North production facility and taproom to Penrose, where it will start a destination cider house and apple orchard in the new year.

After 4½ years running the business out of the same building as The Rackhouse restaurant and Bierstadt Lagerhaus brewery in Denver, C Squared owners Andy Brown and Chad Hatlestad decided to buy 5 acres and relocate to one of the West’s original apple countries.

They stayed open in RiNo through Dec. 31, offering tours and private events. The decision to move came after property taxes increased by nearly 300% in four years, they said.

A sample of organic sparkling cocktails from Lifted Libations, a brand launched by Denver’s Rocky Mountain Soda Company, is poured for a festival-goer during Fizz Fight, a hard seltzer festival at the EXDO event center on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 in Denver. (Rachel Woolf, Special to The Denver Post)

5. Celebrate the summer of “Claw” with Denver’s first hard seltzer festival

In no way was Colorado spared from the hard seltzer craze this year, with hard seltzers pouring out of local breweries like Upslope, Verboten and Elvtd at 5280, a dedicated seltzery in Olde Town Arvada.

For further proof that we reached peak hard seltzer: Denver hosted its first seltzer festival and competition, marking the perfect end to the unofficial “summer of seltzer,” on Sept. 14.

“Fizz Fight” brought 20 hard seltzer producers to EXDO Event Center, where two sessions of drinkers sipped their way through unlimited seltzer tastings.

What does the future hold for hard seltzer? According to Colorado breweries, the low-calorie, low-carb drink isn’t going anywhere, even in the cold months. “… once you see it in front of you after coming down the mountain, you aren’t going to think twice about ordering hard seltzer,” said Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Boulder-based Upslope Brewing, which launched Spiked Snowmelt hard seltzer in May.

People lineup to try beer from WeldWerks Brewing out of Greeley, Colo., during the first session of the Great American Beer Festival at the Colorado Convention Center on Oct. 3, 2019 in Denver. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

4. 35 Colorado breweries take home medals at the 2019 Great American Beer Fest

Two Colorado brewers took home top honors at this year’s GABF, the 38th annual beer festival and competition.

Denver’s Comrade Brewing Co. was named Small Brewing Company of the Year, and Westbound & Down Brewing Co. in Idaho Springs won Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year.

The GABF awards are like the Oscars of the beer world and are given across 107 beer styles, along with naming breweries and brewpubs of the year.

Production assistant Aaron Colburn stacks beer inside the warehouse at Boulder Beer Company on Sept. 24, 2019 in Boulder. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

3. Colorado’s oldest craft brewery is downsizing, ending distribution and laying off 21 employees

Speaking of GABF, only one Colorado brewery has poured at every annual event since the festival’s inception in 1982.

But shortly after this year’s competition, Boulder Beer, the state’s oldest craft brewery, announced plans to discontinue distribution across 34 states to focus on selling pints out of its Boulder brewpub.

That is, until Denver-based contract brewer Sleeping Giant took over the company’s large-scale canning and distribution operations to keep Boulder Beer on shelves.

Coors Brewery can be seen from Vanover Park on Oct. 30, 2019 in Golden. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

2. Why did Molson Coors — a beer company that is one of Colorado’s most iconic brands — move its headquarters to Chicago?

147-year-old Coors (now Molson Coors) announced it would leave its home state of Colorado for new Chicago headquarters this year.

But representatives assure us that the Golden brewery will continue to produce brands like Banquet at home and even invest in infrastructure for ensured longterm brewing in Golden. 

See also: Coors to start charging for tours of Golden brewery. Perhaps we should have seen the writing on the wall when, in March, Coors announced it would finally charge for a tour of the world’s largest single-site brewery. Colorado residents now pay $5, while out-of-state visitors pay $10.

New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan, center, shares a pint with brewery CEO Steve Fechheimer, right, and Matt Tapper, managing director of Lion Little World Beverages. (Provided by New Belgium Brewing)

1. New Belgium Brewing, Colorado’s largest craft brewery, announces sale to international beer conglomerate.

The largest craft brewer in the state and the third-largest in the country, New Belgium Brewing sold to an international conglomerate at the end of 2019. New Belgium’s employee-owners cashed out to the tune of $190 million in the deal.

During its first 30 years, New Belgium became known for its employee ownership, its flagship brands such as Fat Tire and its sour program at home in the Fort Collins brewery. Representatives of the brewery and its new owner, Lion Little World Beverages, say consumers won’t see many changes — aside from the ownership — moving forward.

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