The year 2019 feels like it's ending with a tectonic shift.
In Colorado, one of the prime hubs of the craft brewing industry and "Big Beer," three stories reverberated: Molson Coors moved its corporate HQ to Chicago from Denver; New Belgium sold to Japanese beer conglomerate Kirin Holdings; and Boulder Beer, the state's oldest modern craft brewery announced it was pulling back from all distribution to focus exclusively on its brewpub, before a deal with Sleeping Giant Brewing Company kept the cans on the shelves.
The three stories encapsulate the uncertain state of the broader brewing world going into 2020: As big beer retreats in the face of slowing sales, the largest craft breweries continue to exit and consolidate with global players, while smaller craft breweries face more competition than ever in an ever-fickler market.
As we close out the year, here are my 10 favorite BreweryWeek profiles and stories of 2019:
This illuminating feature by Gregory Daurer kicked off our 2019 coverage and spoke with brewers about their American influences. Most of the conversations were with European brewers, but Daurer also spoke with Yazan Karadsheh of Carakale Brewing Company in Jordan:
Karadsheh, 34, now runs Jordan's first craft brewery, making a gose using salt from the Dead Sea, as well as an IPA with pink grapefruit from the Jordan Valley ("the lowest place on Earth"), and Chinook and Mosaic hops. "We introduce people to the Middle East through craft beer," he says.
Denver is over 11,000 miles away from Amman, Jordan, but Colorado is close to Karadsheh's heart when it comes to brewing. "It's humbling pouring beer in Colorado for the first time," he says about serving his ales at the festival. "It's like a full circle."
Daurer's profile of wine country's standout craft brewery took a look back at the rise of Pliny the Elder and a look forward to potential growth at Russian River's new, $50 million production facility in Windsor, California.
From the interview with owner Vinnie Cilurzo:
"We built this brewery to operate really easily from a production-operations standpoint, and also to give our guests a really cool customer experience," says Cilurzo. "And that's probably our biggest opportunity now: just to get the word out that here we are, and next time you're in Sonoma County visiting wineries or the Charles Schulz Museum or whatnot -- whatever brings you to Sonoma County -- we've got this facility."
Co-founder Ron Abbott continued a family tradition with his West Colfax craft brewery in Denver. The emphasis is on the taproom's handles, where you'll find traditional European styles.
From the profile:
Abbott's inspiration for the venture dates back 150 years, when his German and Czechoslovakian ancestors arrived in Nebraska. "After they got settled, the first thing they did was put in breweries in their barns, because they missed the beer from back home," he says.
The Seedstock brand dovetails into Abbott's resurrection of the family tradition. "Seedstock is a farming term. What it means is: You harvest your grains and you set some aside to plant next year -- that's your seedstock."
Spruce beers have a half-millennium of history in North America. Randy Schnose started Spruce On Tap in Pagosa Springs in 2009. It's now the largest spruce tip supplier in the U.S.
From the column:
Recognizing a market void, the [company] got a permit from the U.S. Forest Service and harvested about 16 pounds in year one. That number snowballed when commercial brewers started calling. Spruce On Tap shipped more than 1,000 pounds in 2018 harvested all over the West, making it the largest spruce operation in the nation. Customers include Avery, New Belgium, and WeldWerks, as well as Peach Street Distillers and Colorado Cider Company.
Salida, Colorado's upstart is guided by CEO and Head Brewer Mike LaCroix and his three decades of experience in the craft brewing industry.
During the interview, LaCroix said he had an in-state blueprint he wanted to follow:
As Soulcraft grows, LaCroix says he wants to remain a Colorado brand and has no aspirations to grow outside the state's rectangular borderlines. "We want to be just a Colorado brewery," he notes. "I have a lot of respect for Mike Bristol at Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs. They've always increased their production and aren't a monster brewery."
Angela Rose talked to Douglas Constantiner, CEO of the San Diego standout, about Societe's hoppy and barrel-aged beers, local growth potential, and the need for capital.
From the profile:
They're probably best known for their IPAs, which make up about 66 percent of total sales. The Pupil, a 7.5 percent three-hop IPA, accounts for nearly 50 percent. "We didn't set out to design a flagship beer," Constantiner says of the fan favorite of Societe Brewing Company's Out West series. "We just made a bunch of beers to see what would sell. We got really lucky because the public loves it."
The aluminum adoption curve by craft brewing has been a win/win/win for the brewer/consumer/environment.
From the column:
I remember driving up to Lyons in 2003 to report on Oskar Blues' "canned beer apocalypse" for ColoradoBiz. I left with a six-pack of Old Chub, and wondering if craft beer in a can was a gimmick, despite the obvious benefits -- lighter weight, more recyclable, and longer shelf life.
There was a certain tongue-in-cheek tenor to Oskar Blues' pitch, but it was no gimmick. In Colorado, Oskar Blues led the charge as cans went from zero to about half the craft beer market in 17 years.
This profile offers a crash course on craft brewing history by delving into Head of Brewing Operations Dick Cantwell's illustrious career and his reinvention of Magnolia in San Francisco, under majority ownership of New Belgium since 2017 and now part of the Kirin empire.
From Daurer's profile:
The deal gives New Belgium a prime market in which to spotlight selections of its beers on tap, including some wood-aged offerings. And Cantwell says Magnolia benefits from being able to "piggyback on" New Belgium's infrastructure in terms of accounting, human resources, and materials acquisition.
Plus, two of Magnolia's canned beers -- its Kalifornia Kölsch and its Proving Ground IPA (which will soon be replaced by another beer, Narrow Universe, an updated version of Proving Ground designed by Cantwell "with input from Seth Wile, our head brewer") -- are brewed and packaged in Fort Collins, before the "100-ish barrels" per year are shipped to San Francisco for sale.
Ken Grossman, founder of the Chico, California-based pioneer, innovator, and third-largest craft brewery in the U.S., talked about the past, present, and future at Sierra Nevada with Daurer in October.
From the profile:
How does Sierra Nevada continue to keep things fresh and new?
"We're always innovating," says Grossman. "We've got a bunch of brewers who do R&D all the time. We meet weekly and talk about what's on the horizon, what we should be working on. I'm involved in those meetings, every week."
He also dialogues with his daughter, Sierra, who works at the Chico brewery and his son, Brian, who oversees the North Carolina operation. On the brewery's website, it says, "We are 100 percent family owned, operated, and argued over."
However, it doesn't sound like there's excessive tension at family gatherings -- say, at Thanksgiving dinners -- involving the three Grossmans. "We have a lot in common," says dad Ken. "We talk about beer a lot."
Profiling the supply chain star, Daurer interviewed Matthew Peetz, a.k.a. "The Yeast Whisperer," about his yeast lab in Golden, Colorado.
From the profile:
Propagate sells ale yeasts -- Saccharomyces cerevisiae. And lager yeasts -- Saccharomyces pastorianus. There are also at least ten types of Brettanomyces to make sour or Brett beers. Other categories within Peetz's yeast library include styles such as Saison/Farmhouse, English Ales, and German Ales. "I try to give people an opportunity to produce unique beers with yeast that you can't just pick [from] anywhere else," says Peetz.
That includes 14 different strains of Norwegian kveik yeast. Peetz says that brewing with kveik yeast just might be the next "big trend" in beer, since it offers several pluses to brewers: "[Kveik yeasts] ferment super fast -- like, within 48 hours, they've consumed all the sugars. They make very little off flavors in beer, so you can quickly ferment a beer, package it, get it out the door."
Eric Peterson is editor of BreweryWeek and CompanyWeek. Contact him at email@example.com.