6 Reasons to Experience Craft Beer in Colorado
The upcoming Vail Craft Beer Classic will features hundreds of beers from Colorado breweries
Colorado has the second highest number of craft breweries (behind California) in the country — and some killer beer festivals to boot — but this powerhouse industry often faces some image myths.
Despite the fact that plenty of bearded white dudes do enjoy craft beer, this is not the industry’s lone demographic. In fact, about half of the guests at Colorado Brewers Guild affiliated festivals — such as the upcoming Vail Craft Beer Classic — are women.
What exactly defines “craft” beer? The Colorado Brewers Guild defines it as beer brewed by breweries that are independent and small, brewing less than 2 million barrels per year.
“The ‘craft’ aspect also incorporates a strong sense of community and centuries worth of brewing tradition,” said Shawnee Adelson, Deputy Director at the Colorado Brewers Guild, “combined with a focus on pushing the boundaries of what can be done with this incredible beverage.”
Here are some of the qualities of Colorado’s craft beer industry to experience yourself at the upcoming Vail Craft Beer Classic.
From styles of beer including IPAs, ales, stouts and porters, brown ales, wheats, hefeweizens, Belgian pale ales and others, to flavors such as tangerine, coriander, ginger, blood orange, watermelon and many more, craft beers are not easily defined by taste.
“Colorado is a melting pot that brings a wide spectrum of flavors and creativity to the table,” said Andy Jessen, co-founder and manager at Bonfire Brewing in Eagle. “Because it’s such an attractive place to live, we have brewers from all over the country bringing the best of many different recipe formulation philosophies. I think it creates unparalleled variety.”
More than hops
You’ve probably tried a craft beer — or maybe even several — that you didn’t like, but breweries are coming out with new styles all the time. Jessen said people often think craft beer is too hoppy, bitter or flavorful, but he said the variety of styles “is a rainbow with something for everyone.”
Currently, there’s a national industry trend toward producing lighter, lower calorie craft beers.
Tristan Schmid, Marketing and Events Manager at the Colorado Brewers Guild, said if you tried one brewery and didn’t like it, visit another or try a tasting flight to explore all the varieties.
“Some people might feel like craft beer is unapproachable, though if they stop in at their local brewery, they’ll likely find that the bartender will be happy to help them find a beer they’ll enjoy,” Schmid said.
Craft beers for the Colorado lifestyle
It’s become a tradition in communities across the state to hit the local brewery after a day of skiing, mountain biking, road cycling, mountaineering or whatever the outdoor adventure du jour is.
“This history and integration of craft beer in Colorado makes our industry unique and central to what defines Colorado,” Adelson said.
There’s been a shift in the U.S. toward knowing where products are sourced — from produce to meat to seafood, and yes, even beer. By definition, craft beer and its smaller batch production is suited to small-town community vibes.
Craft brewers are also “scrappy, resilient and exceptionally community-oriented,” Jessen said.
“People want products they can see the people and history behind, and craft beer is ideally situated to cater to those desires,” Jessen said. “Try as many beers as you can, and support the breweries that do good things in your community. Most brewery owners/operators are working very long hours for very slim rewards because they’re passionate about beer, the people that drink it, and their respective communities.”
Last year, 67 independent breweries opened in Colorado, with about 50 planned to open this year. Many of these breweries are opening up in communities that didn’t have a craft brewery before, Schmid noted.
Brewers who care deeply about quality
Colorado brewers are constantly learning about ways to produce the highest quality beers through events such as the Colorado Brewers Guild’s annual Colorado Craft Brewers Summit. The Guild also helps brewery owners and managers learn about the best ways to make their breweries and beers approachable and enjoyable.
Jessen points out that peers in the industry are always willing to help spread knowledge about quality practices, too.
“And, to a great extent, it’s a self-policing business,” he said. “If the beer isn’t good, most people probably won’t give it a second chance.”
Attend a beer festival like the Vail Craft Beer Classic and you’ll immediately notice the camaraderie among the brewers. These men and women are a passionate bunch just looking to share the joy of beer with as many people as possible.
These festivals also offer unique opportunities to get face time with these world-class brewers and enjoy one-of-a-kind beers.
“The Vail Craft Beer Classic is a great spot to meet many of those folks,” Jessen said, “and try a wide variety of what Colorado has to offer, in one of the most beautiful settings in our great state.”