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Brewing Colorado’s economy

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo

A new study done by the University of Colorado Business Research Division found that Colorado’s 139 licensed brewers made more than $100 million in 2011. Durango plays its part in the beer industry. It was found to have the highest number of breweries per capita in the nation with one for every 3,480 residents. The state’s symbol is on Steamworks Brewing Co.’s Colorado Kolsch, a beer that co-founder Kris Oyler chose to be part of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s inauguration.

By Heather Scofield
Herald Staff Writer

Fill ’er up.

A recent study on the economic impact of beer brewing in Colorado by the University of Colorado Business Research Division could be reason for local beer drinkers to celebrate.

That frosty mug filled with sudsy brew is creating jobs and turning the state economy in big ways.

“The investments that these breweries make in Colorado are a major boon for the state,” said Ken Lund, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, “and it’s great to acknowledge the industry’s growth and success here.”

The craft-brewing industry’s 139 licensed brewers last year took in more than $100 million in income and provided a $446 million economic impact on the Colorado economy, the study said. The state brews more beer than any other in the nation and the industry generated 6,600 jobs, with 4,200 of them being in the craft-beer business.

Moreover, the jobs offered higher-than-average wages for some people in the state’s rural areas where good salaries can be scarce, the report said.

The industry is on a “double-digit growth trajectory,” and the potential for still more jobs to be created is likely, said John Carlson, executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild.

In fact, even at the top of the list of beer-brewing states, Colorado is still home to the fastest-growing and most-creative beer market in the nation, the study reported.

The industry also helps the state take in another $9 million in special beer excise taxes, the report said.

Durango certainly plays its part. The city is home to the highest number of breweries per capita in the nation, with one brewery for every 3,480 people. It’s a ranking that will be further cemented this year with the recent opening of Mountain Madness Brewing, Durango’s latest newcomer on the craft-brewing scene.

The company already has announced plans for “several major construction projects over the next several years,” including an outside deck expansion, pub expansion, relocating an entirely new kitchen and eventually adding a first-class brewery. Their first “signature beer” also is on the horizon, according to the company’s website.

“Colorado craft brewing creates a dynamic impact on the Colorado economy,” Carlson said. “Explosive growth continues to have a huge economic effect on the state with no sign of slowing down.”

The industry is well-positioned to prosper, he said, thanks to a sound regulatory system that is fostering the success of independent brewers.

Dave Thibodeau, president of the Brewers Guild and founder of Ska Brewing Co., said he believes envious eyes around the nation are focused on Colorado’s prolific beer business and the “dynamic beer culture” it’s creating.

The brewers here are creating “an electric beer culture, while contributing to entrepreneurial activity and spurring beer tourism,” Thibodeau said.

And somehow the success continues despite historic attempts in the early 1900s to kill the industry for good.

Before state legislators penned a prohibition in 1912, brewers here were putting out nearly 85,000 barrels of the frosty beverage each year. The prohibition lasted nearly two decades but had a lasting toll on the industry. Five brewers re-emerged as the prohibition lifted during the Great Depression. Just one was left operating by 1975, though, the report said.

Four years later, the industry figuratively dusted off its knees and re-ignited a brewing fire. And by 1988, Durango’s Carver Brewing Co. was on the forefront of building the business by introducing a new tradition – the brew pub.

Now, the state is considered a creative center for brewing excellence as it puts out an estimated 1 million barrels of beer each year, the report said. And breweries are drawing about 50,000 visitors into the state’s tourist ranks annually with dozens of events, tours and beer festivals, such as the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival Sept. 14 to 16. Multi-day and camping tickets for that event are on sale now, and single-day tickets go on sale next month.

The events and breweries round out the area’s tourism market and tourist offerings, said Anne Klein, spokeswoman for the Durango Area Tourism Office

“It’s another reason for people to come here and another reason for them to stay,” Klein said.


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