Thursday, May 15, 2008
I used to live in Boulder, CO. I spent some great years there at a time when being young and carefree really hit the spot. Colorado, as a state, is a place filled with many natural wonders and excuses to get outside and explore, and also many reasons to drink good beer. As a whole, Colorado is a culturally conservative place, but sprinkled throughout the state you’ll find extremely liberal places offering locals and travelers a haven for all kinds of life. Boulder is one such place.
Boulder sits north of Denver beneath the Front-Range: the beginnings of the Rocky Mountains. Within 100 miles of Denver you can find over 100 breweries. That’s pretty impressive if you think about it. Here in Chicago, we can find maybe fifteen, most of which are brewpubs. Colorado has been home to much of the craft beer movement and a big reason that we’re able to make a go of it today.
While out there I was able to tour Avery Brewing Co, hang out with the nice folks at Mountain Sun Brewery and stop in and visit the staff that runs the Brewers Association. The Brewers Association plays a large role in craft beer advocacy, arranging large events for the brewing community and publishing numerous publications. All in all, the brewing presence in Colorado is impressive, and very much a part of the overall community. Even the Mayor of Denver is a successful brewer turned politician.
What I found to be strange, and something I didn’t realize when living there or even visiting in past years, was that their dense brewing community has an effect on the style of support establishments offer. Here in Chicago I can go out to many places and experience a draft list of over 3o beers and a bottle list twice as long. This isn’t uncommon. It’s actually becoming sort of average. In Denver and Boulder you can drink some of the best beer brewed in this country, but you don’t find the variety per establishment, and certainly not from breweries in all corners of the country. Establishments have the breweries they support and don’t seem to stretch to out-list the place down the street.
Chicago is a brewery starved city. Places set out to compile these gargantuan lists of great beers from every state in this country, samplings from other continents and one-offs from brewing co’s that barely have distribution outside their own town because Chicagoans have become passionate about attaining the new, varied and different. In Colorado establishments have relationships with their brewers. They know each other, respect each other personally and professionally, and as a result, they support one another. The places with long and extensive lists are the brew-pubs, who choose to create a lengthy selection for their guests. In Chicago, outside of the small brewing community, beer people are the ones that pride themselves as consumers, their ability to build a list of great beers and make opinions about quality.
As a customer, I have to say it’s nice to walk into a bar and get hard-to-come-by beers from far away places, but I think it says less and less about the place itself. Anyone can set up an account with a new distributor. I find it special to go to a place that might have a small batch beer from a local brewer that you wouldn’t find in other establishments because they have a good relationship with the brewing co. It speaks to the place and how invested they are in the products they sell and the people who make them.
I’m also torn on variety. Again, it’s nice to have option, but a zillion beers that are collecting dust doesn’t seem like the best option for me. I find that a well selected, frequently rotating list of beers that mean something to the establishment and their ideas on beer and community makes for a better experience. In my opinion, a discerning list speaks more than a grocery list of every craft beer on the map.
As the owner of a brewing company, it’s nice to do business with places that make larger commitments to fewer beers. If we have fewer places selling more beer, then it’s easier for us to make a larger commitment to each of those places. We can be more present and supportive in their efforts.
Anyway, my trip to Colorado was great, as it always is, but it was good to come home, too. There are more brewing operations coming up in this area. We’ll see what happens.
Half Acre Beer Co