As we see 2016 head to a close here in a few weeks, I am reminded that a new year more than likely brings new breweries opening up. Before everyone reading this starts thinking I’m a pessimist, hear me out. We are no longer in the “boom” cycle of brewery openings. The industry has changed, and so must potential breweries in order to survive. This past week, this notion that we’re in a new phase of the industry came up on social media, and amid the usual sarcastic responses, there were some really good ideas.
The most poignant response I saw was that the craft beer industry will see more closures and mergers than we’ve experienced in the past few years. Locally, we’ve already seen Lofty cease production, and The Occasional Brew pseudo-merged with JAKs to be able to showcase their beer in a taproom setting. We’re still on the upswing, but that only means there’s a downswing.
So here’s my warning for prospective brewery owners. Gone are the days that anyone can just make “the beer the customer wants to drink” and succeed. Looking ahead to 2017, opening a brewery isn’t a Field of Dreams type of endeavor any longer. It will take innovation, skill and a certain magnitude of luck to succeed.
Look at Cerberus. They took Josh Adamski’s brewing and Mark LeFebvre’s artful cuisine to create one of Colorado Springs’ latest success stories. They brew the beer that Josh wants to brew, and put out some of the best cuisine in Colorado Springs. Yes, some of the beer is the standard styles you see everywhere, but every single beer is put on tap purposely. If it doesn’t pass Josh’s scrutiny, it could be dumped down the drain. They’re one example of how to do it right, and I know that anyone can bring up their own examples of breweries who aren’t doing it that well, but we’ll leave that for another time.
So now we head to 2017. I know of two breweries looking to open their doors in the coming year—Goat Patch and Lost Friend, and I hope they’re not just trying to brew the same old tired styles. Again, not to knock places that do, but you have to really perfect your beer before you sell it to the public. Goat Patch, in my opinion, is in good hand already thanks to Darren Baze’s experience at multiple places around town. Lost Friend, on the other hand, is a place I’m hoping to learn more about in the coming months. We’ll have the owners on the Podcast in January, so you’ll learn what we learn. Lost Friend does have a great location on Academy by Peak Place coffee house, and despite two breweries opening up right near there in 2016 (Cogstone and Whistle Pig) there’s still a ton of business to be had in that area…IF a brewery does it right.
Now, what is “right?” I can sit here and spout nonsense all I want because I have no skin in the game, but I do have one thing to offer. Choose a niche and go hog-wild. Be malleable, but don’t break. Look at Weldwerks Brewing in Greeley. If you had told them on day one that they’d be offering up a flight of IPAs they’d have laughed you out the door, but they do now. They can barely keep up with the demand for their product, and that’s where I think many breweries would love to be. Think of your brewery as a rock band, in that you only need one hit single to remain relevant for years…but you need that hit.
So as we look forward to 2017, I have three areas that we all, consumers and brewers, can work on.
- Be Educated. Learn, Learn, Learn, and then Learn some more. Ask questions, be inquisitive, get to know the ingredients and if someone asks something you can answer, be a steward and help them understand. If you’re starting out new, don’t pretend you know everything—even if you are a Cicerone. We’ll try to help out with some educational programming this next year as well (Meet the Brewers, sensory panels, etc).
- Make Amazing Beer. Whether you’re brewing in your garage or on a 30bbl system, make sure you’re putting every ounce of your skill into this art form. Our whole experience starts with the beer in the glass, and if it falls flat, it’s hard to go up from there.
- Drink Amazing beer. If all else fails, we still have our favorite beer. If Laughing Lab is your jam, then don’t change that just because hazy IPAs are the craze. Support your favorite local place, or buy something from your favorite national brewery at the store, but make sure you enjoy it often.
Here’s to 2017!