Ale with Altitude column: Something special is brewing Colorado |

Ale with Altitude column: Something special is brewing Colorado

John Carlson
VAIL CO, Colorado

In 1876, the population of the Unites States was 45,516,817. Unites States breweries together, brewed 9,902,352 barrels, and Americans drank approximately 6.2 gallons of beer per year. In 1879 the U.S. population increased to 48,996,040 with 11,103,084 barrels brewed and 10,270,353 barrels sold with a citizen average of 6.5 gallons enjoyed each year. Colorado and its 29 breweries sold 23,464 barrels of beer in 1879, roughly .2 percent of national production, a small amount for the three year old Centennial state. In 1878 there were 2,518 breweries in the United States brewing almost 11 million barrels of beer. The large brewing states at that time were New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In 2006, the state of Colorado officially became the largest beer brewing state in the country, according to data released from the Beer Institute. The Colorado brewing industry produced over 23.3 million barrels or 724.5 million gallons of beer. This makes the state tops in production.

“Colorado is tremendously important to the beer industry and produces a number of high quality brews enjoyed by adults around the country,” said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute. “With a strong beer culture and a rich brewing history, it’s no surprise the state has become No. 1.”

Today, Colorado has more than 140 licensed breweries of all shapes and sizes brewing a diverse array of beer. The breweries are located in all corners of the state and everywhere in between. The availability of different beer styles in different packages is almost overwhelming but a sheer joy for a Colorado beer lover. There has never been a better time to be a beer lover. By looking to the past, we get a sense of how we arrived at the present and maybe learn a little about how the future might look for the Colorado beer landscape. Colorado truly has become the state of craft beer.

Many of the early brewers in Colorado came from Germany and began brewing in and around Denver, a gold mining supply center. Barley was imported from Europe through St. Louis and eventually grown in the San Luis Valley. Hops came from Bohemia, Washington and New York State. Some hops were grown in Colorado. Brewers used local suppliers when possible. Denver brewer Mr. Adolf Zang commented in 1892 to a journalist. “You can form your own opinion on our beer. There is no better barley and hops grown anywhere for beer than Colorado barley and hops, and as we use the purest water, and make the beer chemically pure, how can other beer be superior?”

Many breweries would be established in mountainous mining camps serving a thirsty clientele after a day of hard labor. Today’s Colorado beer lovers have never experienced more beer diversity or availability. It is truly remarkable. Each beer has a story and our brew masters will share that experience with diners during the Vail Oktoberfest.

In 1996, John Carlson became the first executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild, a nonprofit corporation representing the business and legislative interests of the Colorado Craft Brewer. He played a large role in creating the guild’s annual beer-lover event, the Colorado Brewers Rendezvous held in Salida. Carlson is active in the local homebrew community and sits on the steering committee of the Rocky Mountain Microbrewing Symposium.

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