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Denver has a long history with beer and thanks to some rather odd laws, the brewing industry is booming.
As legend tells it, the first building in Colorado was a saloon and with its construction, the love affair began. Not only does Colorado have the world’s highest saloon in America (South Park Saloon), but it is also home to the Great American Beer Festival. Plus, it has been the only home of the Coors brewery in Golden. On top of all this brewing history, a collection of old, Prohibition era laws are encouraging brewers.
One of the quirky laws is that convenience stores and supermarket chains can only sell low-alcohol beer otherwise known as 3.2. While there is a provision that allows one supermarket store in the state to sell full strength beer, the vast majority of the sales come from liquor stores. How does that help local breweries?
Historically, supermarkets make it difficult for small suppliers to sell their product in their stores due to their large supply needs. The independent liquor stores though happily sell full-strength beer from local breweries. Also, Denver brewers can bring in their product to a large amount of city bars.
Also helping Colorado breweries is that they can serve their product in tasting rooms without food. Breweries are saved the large cost of food and hassle, which leaves them much more time to focus on the beer-making itself.
As one can imagine, supermarket chains and convenience stores have been fighting for years to change these laws. They point to lost sales and consumer confusion (tourists often buy 3.2 beer thinking it is full-strength) as reasons for the change. However, the laws have withstood challenge after challenge. And they are looking likely to stay with Colorado Gov. John W. Hickenlooper in office. He is as strong of an ally as you can get. As a former brewer, he helped found Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing Company in 1988.
According to the Colorado Brewers Guild, there are currently 18 breweries in Denver, up from 8 five years ago. Fifteen more breweries are in the planning stages, according to the guild in 2012. There are so many beer makers that you can actually take a Denver brewery tour to see them all.
This booming growth with a welcoming marketplace and beer festivals makes Denver the place for start-up breweries.
Author John Georgis enjoys talking about all the different beers you can find in Denver while providing tours for BanjoBilly.com.