Springs entrepreneurs abuzz about the beer industry

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Pikes Peak Brewing owner Dan York is among a number of local entrepreneurs who have stepped into the beer business this year.

Scott Koons and his business partner John Bauer certainly like beer, but that’s not necessarily why they opened Colorado Mountain Brewery on the far north end of Colorado Springs near I-25 and Interquest Parkway.

They did it because they knew it would make money.

“I was looking at a brewery as a business opportunity,” Koons said. “Beer pubs can do very well if they’re in the right location. And breweries are fairly recession proof.”

Koons apparently isn’t the only one to see the opportunity. Quite a few entrepreneurs are entering the beer business.

There are at least 11 microbreweries in Colorado Springs, a number of which have sprung up in the last year.

There are 107 breweries in Colorado, according to the U.S. Brewers Association.

“I think if you look at a map of Colorado Springs, people have been opening breweries in places because there wasn’t one there,” said Ed Sealover, a Denver Business Journal reporter and author of “Mountain Brew: A guide to Colorado’s breweries.” “People are realizing that if they build a brewery, people will come.”

Growth in Colorado Springs’ craft brewing industry parallels growth in the state’s industry, he said. Between January 2009 when Sealover signed his book contract and May of this year when he finished the book, 22 breweries opened in Colorado. Only six closed.

“Colorado has a reputation as the Napa Valley of beer,” said Julian Heron, who organized the Craft Lager and Small Batch Festival in Manitou Springs Aug. 12-14. “Our beer culture has been established longer than other states.”

He said that when someone in Missouri orders a beer, it’s assumed he means a Budweiser or Busch or Miller or Coors. Not in Colorado.

“There’s kind of a Starbucks effect,” Heron said. “Breweries are everywhere. People are always talking about beer and trying new beers.”

In Colorado Springs, there is one brewery for every 56,818 people, according to the U.S. Brewers Association. That’s slightly below the state’s average of one brewery for every 46,960 people.

Colorado ranks sixth in the country for breweries per capita, according to the association.

In the two months after Sealover handed his book over to the publisher, six new breweries opened, including two in the Pikes Peak Region. The two newest additions include Pikes Peak Brewery in Monument and Kevin Baily Kraft Beers on East Bijou Street.

Chris Wright said he wanted his Pikes Peak Brewery in Monument to have a coffee shop feel, to be the kind of place where people want to stay and spend some time with neighbors.

He was a home brewer who wanted to take his craft to the next level.

He’s been open since the end of May and business is booming.

“I can hardly keep up,” Wright said. “I guess that’s a good problem to have.”

Several others have opened in the last year, including Colorado Mountain Brewery, BierWerks in Woodland Park, and BJ’s Restaurant and Beerhouse in University Village. A great majority of the others are new within the last five years.

“10 years ago, I don’t think anyone would have guessed Colorado Springs would have a brewery scene like this,” Sealover said.

Duane Lujan, who owns Rocky Mountain Brewery on Powers Boulevard, didn’t think the beer scene would be as vibrant either.

He started out making beer in college and loved it. After several years in the oil and gas business he opened a home brewing shop in Colorado Springs in 1995.

Originally from Denver, Lujan immigrated to the Pikes Peak region because there weren’t other shops here, he said. It turned out that there was a reason for that — people in Colorado Springs didn’t home brew.

“People would come in asking for coffee,” he said.

They didn’t have much exposure at that time to microbrews. The mid 1990s marked the beginning for Colorado Springs when John Hickenlooper, now the Colorado’s governor, opened Phantom Canyon Brewing in 1993.

The brewery, like Hickenlooper’s Wynkoop Brewing in downtown Denver, aimed to restore vitality to a blighted downtown, Sealover said.

The next year, Bristol Brewing, arguably Colorado Springs’ most famous brewery, opened its doors. Bristol’s Laughing Lab Scottish Ale has won more Great American Beer Festival honors than any other Colorado beer.

Since then, breweries have opened and closed. Some, like Trinity Brewing on Garden of the Gods Road, have thrived.

Lujan opened his Rocky Mountain Brewery in a warehouse formerly occupied by Blicks Brewing, which went out of business. Rocky Mountain’s Da Yoopers Cherry won the World Beer Cup for best fruit beer, Lujan said.

On top of the town’s many new breweries, there are five annual beer festivals here. Nine years ago when Heron started the Craft Lager Festival in Manitou Springs, it was the only beer festival in town.

“The first year it was more like a kegger in the park,” Heron said.

This year, the festival drew more than 6,000 beer lovers from around the country and featured 41 breweries and distilleries.

“We’ve grown, on average, 40 percent per year,” Heron said. “It’s hard just trying to keep up.”