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Grab a cold one

MARK HOADLEYsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Reid Williams Gary Brown tops off a perfect pour at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco Thursday.
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Avalanche Ale, Peak One Porter, Wildernest Wheat – seems like alliteration and geography are the cool things in naming locally brewed beers. Apparently it’s working – the craft beer segment is growing, and nowhere is it more obvious than here in Summit County. Summit plays host to five microbreweries and brewpubs: Breckenridge Brewery, Backcountry Brewery, Dillon Dam Brewery, Pug Ryan’s and Great Northern Tavern.In 2004, craft beer sales rose by 7 percent whereas the mass-market segment enjoyed only a 0.5 percent sales increase, according to a study by the Brewers Association. A different study released by the Beer Institute claims that the beer industry contributes $10.63 billion to the Colorado economy and $162 billion nationwide.With only about 1,420 U.S. craft breweries, clearly Summit’s five indicates a penchant for locally diverse beer consumption.

Woody Van Gundy, one of the owners of Frisco’s Backcountry Brewery, attributes the recent boom in Colorado craft breweries to “more educated palates, demanding more originality.” Just as shops that once sold only decaf and regular coffee can’t make it these days, neither can retailers and bars that sell nothing but regular and light beers.After a significant 9/11 hit to the local brewing industry, Van Gundy says “things are just starting to get back to pre-9/11 levels.” He thinks that a younger generation of beer-drinkers is willing to try new things and, having already tried so many types of beers, is demanding quality and diversity at the pubs.In Dillon, the Dam Brewery has had so much recent success that they’ve purchased an adjacent parcel of land that they’ll soon be using for kitchen, dining, and parking space.

Marc Weinberger, sales manager at the Dam Brewery, explains that with so many new craft breweries on the market, the competition is extremely stiff. At the Dam Brewery everything is bottled by hand, and on the Front Range, Weinberger himself drives his beers right into the hands of liquor store owners. When it gets there, consumers demand cheaply priced beverages. There’s not a whole lot of room for profit, and even though beer sold on location is much more profitable for brewpubs, it’s still added revenue. And according to Weinberger, although total craft beer sales may be on the rise, on-premise sales have been dropping. Part of that, he thinks, is due to a stricter enforcement of DUI laws and the recently legislated smoking ban.But as long as Weinberger can continue to have small-time liquor stores put his beer on the shelf, he can continue to make a buck. And the marketing potential for the brewery through visibility in the liquor stores is invaluable.

As far as Colorado’s liquor laws and its massive, $10.63 billion beer industry go, Weinberger says there’s no separating the two.”There’s a reason there’s so many brewpubs in Colorado,” he explains. “I can approach mom and pop for the rest of my brewery’s history. But it’s more challenging to supply City Market and King Soopers. I can’t produce enough and can’t handle the 3 percent profit margins.”That’s the sole reason Weinberger opposes proposed Sunday liquor law reform in Colorado. He says he can’t quite understand all the politics, but there’s one thing he’s sure of: If liquor stores can sell on Sundays, grocery stores will have the strength to lobby for full-strength beer sales. Once that happens, your Dam beer’s only home will be the microbrewery.


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