The microbrew industry is growing and the owners and brewers at Trinity Brewing Company, Colorado Mountain Brewery, Bristol Brewing Company and Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. all say they’re expanding because they have to if they’re going to meet ever-increasing demand.
Trinity tripled its brewing capacity in March. Less than a year later, owner Jason Yester is taking over a neighboring storefront to increase his space by 40 percent and add more room for aging barrels and boxes of 750-milliliter champagne bottles of artisan beer, which, aged in barrels and naturally carbonated, goes a step beyond craft beer.
Colorado Mountain Brewery opened a second location and increased brewing capacity by 50 percent this fall. Bristol Brewing is moving into a bigger location at the Ivywild School and increasing brewing capacity by 50 percent with plenty of room to more than triple it over time. Phantom Canyon is adding 30 percent more seating and is more than tripling its brewing capacity as it looks to begin selling beer offsite.
“This is obviously more product going out to a population that’s not expanding at the same rate,” said Ed Sealover, author of Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado’s Breweries. “But I don’t think it’s going to be cutthroat.”
Sales of American craft beer, brewed at small local breweries, have been increasing by double-digit percentages the past three years and there is a culture that develops around microbrew, Sealover said. As breweries pop up and expand in a community, the culture grows and the demand grows with it — at least to a point, Sealover said. And he doesn’t think Colorado Springs or even the state is anywhere near reaching that saturation point.
“If anything, this could lead to more breweries in Colorado Springs,” he said. “Fort Collins has 10 craft breweries and they’re all doing well.”
He said seven new breweries popped up in Denver this year.
“They’re almost like corner markets,” he said. “And larger breweries are continuing to expand. It’s happening so quickly that it’s hard to see it as news anymore.”
As the craft beer culture ferments here, the city’s biggest brewers all say they have their own niche and following. So, even if their mutual expansions aren’t breeding a better beer following here, they don’t expect to get in each other’s way.
Trinity Brewing opened at 1466 Garden of Gods Road three years ago. Yester was a microbiology student at Colorado College when he got into home brewing and worked as an assistant brewer at Bristol for 12 years before branching out on his own.
Trinity is a busy brewpub in a strip mall with creative draft beers and food like Kobe beef or Colorado lamb sliders, fancy macaroni and cheese and gouda soup on the menu.
The brewpub is the heart of Trinity’s operation, but the business is evolving. Yester has taps at higher-end beer bars in Colorado Springs and along the Front Range. But now, his focus is shifting toward fine artisan beers. While the craft beer industry has been growing 10 to 12 percent a year for the last three years, the artisan beer industry is growing by more than 20 percent a year, he said.
The fact that artisan beer is good business is just icing on the cake for Yester. It’s his passion. He traveled to Italy to study the wine industry and developed an appreciation for the way wine is produced.
“There’s a focus on each individual bottle, rather than the barrel — the 31 gallons,” he said. “That 31 gallons is the standard measure in the beer industry. But I think you lose some intimacy that way.”
There is no shelf life to Yester’s 750-milliliter champagne bottles of artisan beer. The longer they age, the better they get.
While it makes his beers special and worth $15 to $35 a bottle retail, it also means he doesn’t have to worry about them sitting too long on anyone’s shelves, which is a business advantage. A doorway into his new barrel room from the brewpub will give customers a glimpse of the process.
“It will let them know these are patient beers,” Yester said. “These are thinking beers.”
In the three years since Alan Stiles took over as the head brewer at Phantom Canyon downtown, beer sales have increased 50 percent. He’s quick to say the increase isn’t all him. The new chef is more focused on pairing food with beers and there’s just increased interest. But Stiles has mixed it up since he’s been there. They make more seasonal beers and a bigger variety of beers than they used to.
They even had a barrel-aged sour beer batch last year. The 200 bottles sold out within an hour, Stiles said.
Sales are up 13 percent over 2011 and it’s time to expand.
The brewpub, owned by Wynkoop and Breckenridge breweries, will expand its brewing capacity from about 1,500 barrels a year to 5,000 barrels a year and add 100 rooftop patio seats. Construction has started and should be finished by March.
“In order to keep up with demand, we haven’t been able to age the beer the way we want to,” Stiles said. “This will increase our quality.”
It will also allow the brewery to begin selling beer offsite. While there won’t likely be a bottling operation, it will allow Phantom to have taps in other restaurants and bars around town.
“Even after 20 years, a lot of people in town have never heard of Phantom Canyon,” Stiles said. “We’d like to get some handles out on Powers (Boulevard) and introduce them to the beer.”
The local beer industry was just getting started in Colorado Springs when Mike Bristol opened in the early 1990s.
When he launched his Winter Warlock in 1995, it was a really stylized beer.
“I remember thinking — is Colorado Springs ready for an oatmeal stout?”
Now the Warlock launch is a big community event each winter.
Bristol’s business has grown steadily since it opened, he said.
When Bristol moves across the street from his location at 1647 S. Tejon St. to the Ivywild School in the spring, he will increase his brewing and bottling capacity by 50 percent. That’s a lot when he’s already selling about 20,000 barrels of beer a year, but Bristol believes the demand is there. The new facility is big enough so that Bristol could triple his operation over time. Business grew 15 percent from 2010 to 2011 and has grown 10 percent this year. It could have done more if Bristol wasn’t fighting space constraints, he said.
The local beer industry can support the growth, said Scott Koons, co-founder of Colorado Mountain Brewery. Less than two years after opening at the Markets at Interquest, Colorado Mountain opened a second restaurant in the Roundhouse at Highway 24 and 21st Street.
“I don’t think we’re competing with each other,” Koons said. “We’re all doing different things. Like, we think of ourselves as a restaurant first.”
There are advantages to having more and expanding breweries in a community, especially in a Colorado community, Sealover said.
The microbrew industry has surpassed Colorado State University as a draw in Fort Collins and the same thing is happening throughout the state, which is positioning itself to be the Napa Valley of beer.
“I think people definitely might start viewing Colorado Springs as a beer town,” Sealover said. “And, frankly, I’m not sure they shouldn’t already.”