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On Brewing: Craft Alley rethinks the beer store

Article by Eric Peterson March 7, 2018, 12:46 pm MST

In a little old brick house on Old South Pearl Street in Denver, Craft Alley stocks a handpicked inventory of craft beer that will captivate most any cerevisaphile (the preferred term for beer lover).

Filled with 32-ounce Crowlers from eight Front Range breweries and organized by style, the coolers feature plenty of Belgians, sours, and IPAs that you won't find at any ordinary liquor store.

There's a blackberry-sage sour from Denver's Spangalang, a smoked brown ale from Rock Cut in Estes Park, and a Vermont-style double IPA from New Image in Arvada. And that's just the start.

The selection isn't the only differentiator. Craft Alley's slick website is another. Just place an order online and it'll show up at your door in a few hours.

Founder Bryce Forester worked for Groupon in Chicago and Denver before striking out on his own in in 2016 after asking himself, "Do I want to be a Groupon lifer or do I want to start a business?" He opted for the latter: "I had about five different ideas." The concept of a craft beer delivery service bubbled up to the top.

The idea had roots in a real-life quandary for Forester. "A few years ago, I was out at a brewery enjoying some fine craft beer," he says. Sadly, he was expected a party. "I was disappointed I had to go to a liquor store to pick up beer."

So Forester devised a plan for "a GrubHub for craft beer." He didn't initially plan on a brick-and-mortar storefront, but Colorado law forced his hand.  He opened Craft Alley in May 2017.

The store stocks Crowlers from seven breweries in the metro area -- Spangalang, Bruz, Mockery, New Image, New Terrain, Fiction, and Launch Pad -- and one rotating brewery from further afield. "We'll continue to grow," says Forester. "The rotator is a good way to do that."

The breweries deliver fresh Crowlers to Craft Alley, which delivers throughout metro Denver at 3 and 6 p.m. "Just like a pizza in a cooler, we bring it to you" jokes Forester, noting that he guarantees freshness for 28 days.

In late 2017, Craft Alley launched a no-obligation membership program that offers discounts and other perks.

It's a new business model. There are other startups taking similar tacts, including HopDrop in Houston and Hopsy in California and New York, as well as several national mail-order operations like Tavour.

That said, Forester calls Craft Alley's hybrid brick-and-mortar and online delivery model unique. "We're the only ones doing what we're doing," he says.

There's definitely no shortage of breweries -- with more than 5,000 in the U.S. and 300-plus in Colorado -- to supply all of these next-generation sellers and more. But are there enough drinkers to buy the beer who want it delivered?

As Craft Alley approaches its first birthday, Forester says he's pleased with Craft Alley's early results. "Things are going well," he says.

He hopes to expand into other states, but notes that varied laws present a bit of a hurdle. Then again, there are about 5,000 breweries out there looking to grow market share.

Eric Peterson is editor of CompanyWeek and BreweryWeek. Reach him at rambleusa@gmail.com.

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