Pikes Pub: 2016 was an 'exponentially exciting year' for craft beer in Colorado Springs

By Stephanie Earls Updated: January 6, 2017 at 3:24 pm • Published: January 4, 2017 0
photo - Oskar Blues has signed a 10-year lease in the historic, four-story DeGraff Building located at 118 N. Tejon St. in downtown Colorado Springs.
Oskar Blues has signed a 10-year lease in the historic, four-story DeGraff Building located at 118 N. Tejon St. in downtown Colorado Springs.

Years from now, when I'm out on the town and accidentally bump into 2016 at the bar, I imagine we will lock eyes in a moment of recognition that lasts a millisecond too long to pretend it didn't happen. After exchanging polite hellos, we will chat stiffly about the weather and old acquaintances - careful to avoid politics - and I might even buy a round, because clearly it's been a rough day for one of us.

I then will excuse myself for the ladies' room and crawl out a window.

Two-thousand-sixteen? Way too much drama in that relationship.

On the brighter side: beer. It was another inspired and dynamic year for suds in America and the Centennial State, home to the nation's third-densest per-capita brewery count.

"This has been an exponentially exciting year as the beer community continues to grow and evolve. It is incredible to watch local brewers innovate and validate the new way the world views the U.S. beer scene," said Julia Herz, craft beer program director of the Brewers Association, in a December statement.

Here are a few of those highlights:

The world's two biggest beer producer/distributors now are one, after federal regulators greenlit Anheuser-Busch InBev's acquisition of SAB Miller and, and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill that, over the next 20 years, will clear the way for sales of full-strength wine and beer in grocery and convenience stores.

AB InBev's purchase of popular craft label Breckenridge Brewery in late 2015 led to a dispute over the role of Big Beer in the Colorado Brewers Guild and the trade group's temporary breakup and eventual reconciliation, under new leadership and bylaws. Locally, the Southern Colorado Brewers Alliance was formed to support and advocate for commercial beer-makers in the Southern Front Range.

Though growth in the overall craft beer market began to slow from the breathless pace to which we've grown accustomed, the number of breweries nationwide grew by nearly one-fifth, to 5,005.

Now home to 30 breweries, the Pikes Peak region saw the opening of three new locations that brew their own, as well as craft-focused taproom chains, including The Brass Tap; Paradox Beer Company moved its home base from Woodland Park to a larger location in Divide and JAKs Brewing Co. began construction on a roomier storefront spot in Peyton. In December, Lyons-based Oskar Blues announced plans for a downtown taproom and restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Old Chicago and three more small-batch brewing operations laid major groundwork for grand openings in the coming months.

In perhaps the most validating beer news to roll down the pike in 2016, Colorado Springs was ranked No. 5 on a first-of-its-kind list of the nation's best large metro areas for a "beercation," a travel excursion structured around going to breweries and sampling their suds.

That Colorado Springs had earned a top spot came as no surprise to Steve Stowell, of Triple S Brewing.

"There is another statistic published by a national market research firm that ranks the top craft beer drinking cities. Every year Seattle, Portland (Ore.) and Denver vie for the Top 3, and Colorado Springs has habitually been the 4th largest craft beer drinking city," Stowell said, in an email.

One thing the champs all had but the Springs did not? Beer tours.

"The top three beer-drinking cities all have multiple beer tour companies, (so) I decided we needed one to put us on the list," said Stowell, a member of the Southern Colorado Brewers Alliance who has been working with the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote beer tourism in the area. He now hosts a walking tour of the city's four downtown breweries the first Saturday of each month, and, every third Saturday, a driving tour visiting spots just outside the city center.

"I'm hoping it will gain traction and we can expand to tours every weekend, even twice a weekend," said Stowell, who sees local brewing as a fast-rising star in the area's tourism constellation.

And that's a kind of past I wouldn't mind hanging with in the very near future.

Questions or comments about the local brewing scene? Email us at pikespub@gazette.com.

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