When Mike Laur set out to create a definitive guide to the state's growing craft beer scene a decade ago, he knew he'd face a certain set of challenges.
Brewing's exponential growth spurt had just begun in earnest on a national scale, but the Centennial State - the largest raw producer of beer in America, thanks to Coors - already was surfing the micro-wave. Finding out about the creative new brewing operations here required a true devotion to exploration and the cause of better beer.
Luckily, it's the kind of assignment a good-beer-loving mapmaker could really sink his skills into.
"It was still a new thing, and people were still trying to discover where the breweries were and how to get to them," said Laur, owner of Motion Pixel Lab Inc. in Colorado Springs. "Our plan from the start was just to show people how to get out there and find these places for themselves, but back then it was a little harder to find them than it is now."
That certainly is due, at least in part, to Laur's Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado. The first edition had a full-color map with 103 watering holes, plus beer factoids, tips and state trivia. For the second edition, Laur and his team landed on the recipe that stuck: They talked a handful of breweries into offering coupons for free beer.
"The coupons are for sure what drives people to come back and buy the map again and again," said Laur.
The rest of the story would have been history, if not for the state of craft in the state of Colorado.
Keeping up with changes in the industry during these boom times has proven a demanding job, said Laur, whose guide has evolved both in page count and concept.
"There's over four times as many breweries now as when we started. There's 120 places - that we know of - that we're tracking that are in planning now in Colorado. That's a lot to keep up with," Laur said. "And even with digital navigation tools and social media, a lot of these places are still under the radar."
The challenge in today's comparatively crowded landscape is how to keep the guide comprehensive but also user-friendly, even for the non map-savvy. For Laur, it meant making some hard edits for the 10th edition of his Beer, Wine and Spirit Drinker's Guide to Colorado.
"For the map, we took out the places that weren't making beer on site - the BJs, and (some locations of) Oskar Blues," he said. "We had to find a way to strip out some of the locations. We'll have a separate taproom listing in the guide book, but we just didn't have enough room to keep them on the map."
The 10th-edition guide book features 426 breweries and, all told, 608 businesses, brew pubs and cideries, wineries and distilleries. You'll have to wait until early 2018 to buy that compendium, but the 10th edition map (available in folding, rolled and interactive online versions) and coupon "passport" book worth $300 in free beer, drinks, discounts and deals is for sale now at drinkingcolorado.com.
"In the 10 years we've been doing this, the stature of Colorado beer has grown. Colorado and craft beer are synonymous, and there's so much out there now that it can be overwhelming," said Laur. "This gives you a place to start. Use the map to explore; use the guide book to learn more about a place. Then - hopefully - the coupons will give you a little extra incentive to get out there and have a beer."