Colorado Springs has more than one “Golden Mile” — a stretch of road with a high concentration of watering holes — but the concourse on and within blocks of the Colorado Avenue corridor presents a craft brewery crawl of epic proportions.
Starting at Wasatch Avenue and heading west, there’s Brass Brewing Co., Local Relic, Iron Bird, FH Beerworks, Phantom Canyon and Cerberus. Jag slightly south to Cimarron Street and you’ve got Colorado Mountain Brewery and Fossil Craft Beer Co. That’s not even counting all the restaurants along the way that celebrate craft on tap and in spirit, such as Colorado Craft, 503W, Pub Dog Colorado and Trails End Taproom.
And this Golden Four Miles is about to up its carat count.
Mash Mechanix brewery is taking shape at 429 E. Pikes Peak Ave. Monument’s Pikes Peak Brewing Co. is opening a downtown Lager House in the Trolley building on South Tejon Street.
Divide’s Paradox Beer Co. has an “Outpost” coming to 522 W. Colorado Ave., and OCC Brewing has announced a startup at the former Junior Achievement building in the heart of Old Colorado City.
Meanwhile, Smiling Toad Brewing is wrapping up work on a new, expanded brewery and taproom off 21st Street at 2028 Sheldon Ave., and work has begun at WeldWerks Brewing Co.’s taproom at 31st Street and Pikes Peak Avenue. As of early January, the Greeley-based operation expected a grand opening in the spring.
The growth in the craft scene is enough to make your head spin before you’ve had a single sip. It’s certainly been keeping one local mapmaker on the ball.
Because as it goes in the Springs, so it goes in the rest of the Centennial State.
Mike Laur and his Motion Pixel Labs Inc. have been charting the trend’s expanding footprint for thirsty travelers, near and far, since 2008. The company recently released its 11th-edition “Beer, Wine and Spirit Drinker’s Guide to Colorado,” with a full-color, fold-out map updated for 2020, new online offerings and coupons good through 2023.
The first edition of the guidebook included a mere 101 beer makers. The new map has more than 700 makers of beer, wine, mead and spirits.
“And we’re cracking 151 breweries in planning,” said Laur, whose offices are along the aforementioned stretch of West Colorado Avenue.
Even so, growth in the industry has begun to flatten out here and nationwide.
“The beer market is more competitive now than it ever has been. They’re not just competing with each other, they’re competing with seltzers, they’re competing with other alcohol drinks that are trying to scale down into the lower alcohol marketplace,” Laur said.
As storied names in the industry continue to be scooped up by Big Beer, others have been purchased by foreign companies or gone away for good. Since Laur and company started producing the guidebook, more than 125 Colorado breweries have closed, including Boulder Beer Co.
The craft mainstay sent shockwaves through the sudscape last year when it announced it was scaling back its 40-year-old operation to contract-only brewing — which meant, essentially, the state’s oldest craft brewery would no longer be making beer. Last month, it sealed the deal by closing its taproom, The Pub at Boulder Beer.
“We’ll still see them in stores, but it’s a changing marketplace. There are a lot of beer drinkers out there looking for a new experience. At the same time, the larger breweries are looking at ways to continue to grow their market share,” Laur said. “People are curious about what’s out there and want to try new stuff. And it’s not like everybody is going to turn into beer drinkers in the next three months.”
More breweries are doing what PPBC, Paradox and WeldWerks are doing — opening nonproduction locations that let them expand their brand without having to jockey for precious space in liquor store fridges.
“They’re saying, well, we’ve got a good following for what we do and we just need to be able to have additional places to sell it,” Laur said. “So rather than compete for cooler space, let’s compete directly in the marketplace with a new taproom. Also, Colorado laws make it a little easier for a brewer to open up a taproom. So that’s certainly a trend.”
Also, what competition and success look like lies in the eye of the brewer.
“You see so many companies, industries, groups looking to get into this business. It’s interesting, a good thing to be in just because it’s fun. They see an opportunity to make some money on it too,” he said. “Local brewers don’t only have to compete with themselves, but others coming in.”
Colorado is one of the more mature markets in the country, Laur said, and that makes it appealing to out-of-state operations looking to grow a market.
It also means any sudsy carpetbaggers are entering a place that’s home to beer drinkers who’ve developed more “sophisticated tastes,” Laur said.\“As a brewery, you can decide to chase trends, or you can decide to keep it small, make things you like, that work in your taproom. Those are the ones that are going to buck the trends,” he said. “The big winners in this are the people who want to drink good beer.”