It has been nearly six months now since I moved to Colorado from Portland. I have been very pleased with the amount of and quality of craft beer I’ve found in the city, but being from Portland there is still a lot that I miss. I would like to offer the city a few suggestions in terms of making Colorado Springs more of a destination for beer lovers. Much of what I will say is based off my experience in Portland, so feel free to chime in with your opinions as well. At this point it seems that when people travel to Colorado for the beer, they go to Boulder, Ft. Collins, and Denver, but rarely south of Denver. So, what things can we do here to change that? After all, there is some good beer being made here and local interest seems to be growing. I will create a list of areas I believe we could improve, but I will say that I believe the biggest and most important item is to develope a thriving local beer and pub scene for ourselves. Neighborhood communities should each have their own craft beer bar to encourage walking and getting to know those you live around.
Why would we even want a larger craft beer community?
I am interested in the idea that beer is both a social lubricant and a social glue. Drinking good beer, to me, is a form of activism as it brings people together, inspires local economy, develops a sense of place or landfulness, and is known for shaping how people think about where their food comes from. Beer is an agent for social change. This fascinates me. The pint is a center for relational activity; sharing a pitcher is an activity that, by the end of the pitcher, will likely have inspired warming conversation and bonded people together. In my opinion, drinking together and community is at the center of well made beer. This is very different than the portrayal of beer as a means of getting drunk and getting laid, which is how industrial beers are often marketed.
So, here is the list of things I believe will make Colorado Springs a beer destination:
Bristol is the only brewery doing any major distribution. I’ve heard of Black Fox in Denver and I know that some breweries distribute to some smaller towns in the general region. But getting this city’s beer to Denver, Ft. Collins and Boulder is really important because this is
where people currently go to experience Colorado beer. I’m all for having a small brewery with little or no distribution, not expanding beyond your means, keeping things really local and slow. I actually deeply value those things so if this is a part of your brewery’s mission then good. If you would like to have your beer heralded across the country, then you need to produce more and distribute it. If people can get ahold of a six-pack or a bomber of your beer two hours away, they will make a point to visit the brewery next time they are in town because they will be familiar with the brand. Unless there’s huge amounts of buzz about your beer and you continually win GABF medals, no one will really know or remember that you won one gold medal once. And if anyone does, it’s just the beer geeks, not the majority of the population.
MORE BEER IN LOCAL RESTAURANTS
What about beers that pair well with foods? Rocky Mountain’s Cyders and Da Yoopers would make lovely dessert drinks, or beers that pair with salads, so why not distribute a keg to a restaurant that serves well-made food. The server could then recommend a beer with dinner or dessert. Front Range BBQ is doing a good job at having both a delicious food menu, but then also a really good selection of beer that actually can go with the food. How about getting some Bierwerks at a German Restaurant? It seems like some brewery could get an account at a German Restaurant if they decided to regularly have a Pils, Lager, or Kölsch, etc. The point here is to get people who would never go to a tasting room, to be introduced to a local beer by pairing it with their food at a restaurant that usually only serves industrial lagers and imports. That might be the only way to reach someone who won’t go to a liquor store. Which brings me to my next point…
BEER IN GROCERY STORES AND CONVENIENT STORES
|Beer in a grocery store!|
I may be the only beer geek in Colorado who wants this. This is more of a state thing than a city thing. I really haven’t seen any good arguments for withholding beer from corner stores. In Oregon I was used to getting really great beer at grocery stores that I could pair with the food I was buying. I could also walk across the street to a corner store and pick up beer from larger microbreweries like Deschutes. I think what we would see here is that New Belgium, possibly Avery, possibly Odell, and probably Bristol would have some of their easiest tasting beers available to larger audiences. You would probably see a few packs from out of state places like Deschutes, and you might get a couple bombers from larger breweries, like Stone, Deschutes, and New Belgium. Why drive fifteen minutes for a six pack of Fat Tire when you could get it across the street? It’s a good idea, and it will only increase people’s interest in well-made beer, and people will seek it out more. I know this to be true because I lived in a place where this happened and people embraced it. I’ve been told this would cause trouble for places like Coaltrain, a beer shop that I regularly buy from, but I don’t think this is true. People who would never normally step foot in Coaltrains’ would all of a sudden be introduced to craft beer and if they try it, they may very well get hooked. Those people are not necessarily Coaltrains’ customers now if they don’t go to Coaltrains, but they would become potential customers if they were able to purchase the easier microbrews in a setting that is comfortable for them. Coaltrain’s is then able and ready to provide them with a larger selection, to compare other local beers to the IPA they bought at the grocery store or corner store. In Portland, having the beer in these stores only whets the appetite so that people are very excited to try the beers in the specialty shops. And those flagship craft beers that are sold everywhere still sell in the specialty shops.
BREWPUBS AND BEER BARS
In my opinion Colorado Springs can add quite a few more brewpubs and pubs that serve good beer. We are nowhere near saturation. People always want to drink and the more places that serve good beer the better. People are beginning to wonder if Portland is saturated now with their near 40 breweries, an endless list of beer bars, and microbrews served at every dive. The general consensus is no, saturation has not been reached. The wild thing is that Portland is smaller geographically than Colorado Springs but you can’t walk across the street without running into a place that has good beer. The more good beer there is, the more interested people become in it. If you’ve had entrepreneurial impulses, I think now is your time to shine.
I think we have some good festivals here. We’ve got the All Colorado Beer Fest, the Firkin Fest, the Craft Lager Fest in Manitou, and probably a few others. What I’d like to see is a larger number that invite breweries from around the state, and even outside the state to participate by making exclusive beers, or at least small batch specialty beers. Cascade Brewing in Oregon just had their first annual Scottish Ale Fest, Elysian in Washington hosts what I’ve heard is a great Pumpkin Beer Festival, and I’ve heard of a Strange Brewing Festival in Washington that serves, well, strange beers. Each of these festivals offers a good selection of beer that you “need to be there for.” If we can lay claim to some festivals like this, get our local breweries to participate but then also open it up to breweries that will pull people down from Denver, Ft. Collins, and Boulder, I think we’d be set!
CENTRALLY LOCATED BEER SPOTS
I’m not just referring to downtown, but I will speak to downtown for a moment. We currently have Phantom Canyon, Brewer’s Republic, Old Chicago, and a couple other places that are serving craft beer downtown. In my opinion there could be at least two more breweries and three more beer pubs right now downtown. People would hop from one place to the next, or just choose the one that’s closest to wherever they need to be. The less driving that takes place between beer destinations the better. But by centrally located beer spots, I also am referring to neighborhood pubs. I really don’t see any of these in this town. I would really like to see good beer served close to residential areas so that people will be encouraged to walk to their local pub, have their own local pub, and meet the people they live next to. I live close enough to Brewer’s Republic to walk there, I go there at least once a week and I have met a lot of really interesting people that I now hang out with often (not just at the pub). My new friends and I have good times together, we share stories, hang out at night, share our dreams with eachother, it’s really a nice thing, and it’s something I value deeply. The “public house” should be just that, the center for late night and down-to-earth socializing in a place that is easy to get to, easy to get home from, and comfortable to be in. Craft beer should be the central drink to the neighborhood pub.
INDEPENDENTLY OWNED DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS
Colorado Springs is chalked full of chain stores and chain restaurants. While often convenient, many of these places substitute quality for quantity and character for the familiar. Places like Old Chicago get a little under my skin because their menus are often the same, the servers (and yes even the bartenders) often don’t know about all the 100+ beers they have, most of those beers aren’t craft beers anyway, the atmosphere mimics a pub but doesn’t feel like a pub (think cookie cutter), and you can tell that many employees don’t care very much about what they’re doing. Sorry Old Chicago, but this has been my experience. There is room for corporate pubs and breweries and not all of them are bad, don’t get me wrong (I am a fan of Rock Bottom Breweries). I want to see business owners and employees that care about what they serve, work hard to make their place special for their customers, and invest socially in their drinking establishment. Just like a well made beer, crafted with science and maybe some improvisation, so too should a drinking establishment serving the beer be presented in a way that is idiosyncratic, unique, personal and real. I have found this is usually best achieved through independent ownership. I think every business would benefit if it was looked at as a type of artwork, balancing these things with the fact that ultimately there is a monetary bottom line.
MORE RIGOROUS ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES
Over the Christmas Holiday I interviewed Christian Ettinger of Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland about the environmental standards of his brewery. His brewery (including the bar and restaurant) is the country’s first carbon-neutral brewery. Not just one, but all their beers are organic. The brewery recently made huge purchases that will lower their energy output drastically, such as compressors for their two walk-in coolers that will shut off the fans as needed and save thirty percent of the power previously used, they use Oregon made bio-fuel to run their brewing equipment and there is much much much more happening at Hopworks. What Christian said that was really interesting to me is that customers are able to vote with their dollars. Hopworks is still making really good beer, and really good food that is priced the same as other places that do not have the same environmental initiatives. And Hopworks purposes to be genuine in their desire to reduce their footprint, it is not for the sake of green washing. Ultimately customers decide that since the quality has not been decreased to make room for these initiatives, the initiatives become an added bonus; the customer believes they are putting their money in good hands and continue to support the establishment. Places like New Belgium and Hopworks have become world renown breweries for this reason, and people want to go to those places for those reasons in addition to their knowledge that the beer is good. I would like to see more of this commitment in Colorado Springs. I not only believe that this is a good thing to do, but I also do believe people appreciate these things. If a brewery can balance their energy and sustainability goals, growing them slowly according to their budget, I think they’d be making a lot of people happy and they would be known for doing so.
I’m sure there are more ideas and I’ll write about them in the future. I’d love to hear your thoughts, please feel free to share. Also, you can get email updates from Focus on the Beer here and join us on Facebook here.