Sad news for all the longtime Colorado craft beer supporters: The oldest craft brewer in the state is undergoing a major contraction. As they celebrate their 40th (!) year in operation, Boulder’s own Boulder Beer Co. has also announced that it will be pulling all of its beer from distribution and will cease packaging, effectively refocusing entirely on draft sales at their Boulder taproom. The move will effectively take Boulder Beer Co. from being a regional craft brewery to an entirely on-site operation, hinting at just how difficult the market has become for older regional brewers.
When it began its life in 1979, Boulder Beer Co. was only the 43rd licensed brewery in the country, which now support well over 7,000. Founded by David Hummer, Alvin Nelson and Randolf Ware, the brewery was famous for its farmhouse “goatshack” origins, and over the years developed a number of popular beers, such as Planet Porter, Mojo IPA, Buffalo Gold, Hazed & Infused, and Shake. Location and ownership has transferred hands several times, currently in the ownership group operated by longtime manager Gina Day.
Sadly, the contraction will come with the expected layoffs and shrinking of staff—according to Westword, some 20 of the brewery’s 50 staff members will be let go, including brewers, sales and the no longer necessary packaging workers. The brewery is taking the move away from packaged beer seriously, selling off its canning and bottling lines. Its largest brewing systems, meanwhile, will no longer be used, as the smaller systems will more than suffice to make the amounts of beer that can be consumed in a single taproom location.
In the midst of the downturn in growth experienced within the craft beer industry, coupled with a rate of openings that seems to refuse to abate, it’s older regional breweries like Boulder Beer Co. that have routinely been hit the hardest. Not small or hip enough to benefit from strong local support, and not big enough to compete on a national level, it has clearly been a hard road.
“Boulder Beer has been part of my life for close to 30 years, as it has been for so many of our loyal friends and patrons, and we all want to see it live on,” said Day in a statement to Westword. “Times have changed and change is hard, but… our friends will still be able to enjoy our beers in the brewpub, and by brewing in small batches, have a wider variety of options on the ever-rotating specialty taps. We’re celebrating our milestone 40th anniversary this year and look forward to furthering our legacy in Boulder and the industry.”
That certainly is a positive way to look at things, but there’s no way this move doesn’t sting, especially with a brand as venerable as Boulder Beer Co. It will join several other Colorado brewpubs that also stopped their bottling/canning operations in recent years, which includes Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing (founded by Presidential/Senate hopeful John Hickenlooper) and Boulder’s Twisted Pine Brewing.