We’re in an age, as an industry, as a state, and as cities, where we need to make absolute sure that the products we put forth are truly representative of who we are and how we want to be seen to others. Using Colorado Springs as a microcosm, I’ve been noticing a large number of breweries opening up in the past 13-14 months. Seven to be exact, with more on the way.
I myself am a big proponent of Colorado Springs becoming a destination for craft beer, but honestly, we’re not there yet. “We need more breweries!” Maybe, but we need everyone to up their game before we continue expanding. This isn’t just targeted towards the producers, but also the consumers as well, and we as a craft beer “fanclub” need to start expecting a higher standard.
At last April’s Craft Beer Conference in Denver, “quality trumps quantity” was the point that the Brewers Association continued to make in every presentation. Our craft beer world is growing in leaps and bounds, but if we grow too fast without any quality assurance, there could be consequences.
One thing I have noticed, and I am as guilty as anyone of this, is our ability to let things slide. “Give them time” … “They just opened up” … “It’s their first batch.” I heard and also gave similar sentiments over and over during the past year. Now what?
Ok, now that we have given them time, where are they now? Did not saying anything work? Did just dealing with whatever shortcomings they had help them overcome those issues? These are just a sample of the questions we as a consumer base need to be asking ourselves. In some cases, I think it worked. In others, there’s still room for improvement. I personally became way too subjective about things in this town, and after all that’s transpired, I’ve decided to be a lot more objective about beer this year.
A few years ago, Denver had a similar explosion of breweries (it continues today). They saw a lot of places open, a few close, but most of the brewing companies got better in the process. An unspoken standard was set, per se, and effectively set the bar. Now, when a brewery opens (example: Mockery Brewing in November of last year), they’re firing on all cylinders, ready to take on all those thirsty beer fans.
Walking into Mockery’s taproom, it sure doesn’t feel like a new place that’s still smoothing out the rough spots, but a place that could have been there for years already. They saw the bar that was set, and instead of just meeting it, they jumped over it. I know, it’s a tough feat, but I think we can use Denver as an example and learn from their experience. That’s where we need to get to. I think we can.
Mired in Mediocrity?
Right now, who is setting the bar in Colorado Springs?
We are a tight knit community, and it seems like everyone is friends or at least friendly with everyone else. While this is a great way to build our community, it also allows some mediocrity to slip past the censors. We are afraid to be completely honest, and when someone steps up and is actually honest they get a full backlash.
I believe, if we want to become a destination for craft beer, we need to be able to give that staunch criticism without lawsuits being threatened or feelings getting hurt. Honestly, there were quite a few “bad batches” being sold as a standard product. Some were cloyingly sweet, some uncharacteristically sour, some just over attenuated. Now, I know there’s a fine line between dumping a batch and putting out a bad batch. As a business, you never want to have to dump your product, but if something off about the beer could tarnish your brand, I believe it could have a better outcome going down the drain.
For the average community member, this isn’t the worst thing, but when a tourist comes into a taproom here and the first beer they have isn’t completely up to snuff, their overall opinion could suffer because of that. Plus it lessens the chances that they stay for another. We don’t have the sheer population of a community like Denver, so we rely on our tourist attractions to help fill in the cracks. Let’s raise the bar.
A Rising Tide Lifts All Beer
We’re jumping into a brand new year, with new horizons and new opportunities. I want to challenge Colorado Springs to make some of the best beer in Colorado this year. 2014 saw a lot of collaborations between breweries, and while I think that collaborations are useful, they tend to be targeted more toward consumer appreciation than betterment of brewing practices.
I suggest 2015 becomes the year of brewery cooperation.
This may stem from my upbringing at a local cooperative preschool (Thanks Ruth Washburn), but some of the best knowledge and resources that can and will help our breweries make amazing beer are already here in town. We have highly talented microbiologists, engineers, and brewers who already make the beer we drink. Let’s make it the beer that everyone else drinks too. We’ll all reap the benefits.
One caveat I do understand: our community is not like the Broncos in that we can’t just ship in all new talent overnight—we can’t just overhaul the entire local industry, but we definitely can lean on each other to create the very best beer possible.
Authors note: This stemmed from a discussion with family in Oregon over the past holiday season. If you have an opinion on any of this, please write a comment! This is meant as a introduction to a much larger conversation that our community can have.