Editorial: New craft-beer group right to raise issues

A long-brewing dispute among Colorado’s craft-brewing industry has come to a head, with two rival groups vying to represent the industry and promote its growth.

As Doug Storum reports in this edition of BizWest, 14 breweries — including stalwarts such as New Belgium Brewing Co., Odell Brewing Co., Left Hand Brewing Co. and Oskar Blues Brewery — have joined to form Craft Beer Colorado. The group has been dissatisfied with the 20-year-old Colorado Brewers Guild, which they say has not adequately served the needs of the craft-brewing sector. Specifically, Storum writes, the new group argues that “the guild has provided poor legislative leadership, maintained a culture of secrecy among board members and has allowed multinational breweries to gain a seat on the board through acquisitions.”

The new organization was formed just as the issue of chain-grocer sales of full-strength beer and wine was revived at the state level. Gov. John Hickenlooper recently signed a measure to phase in such sales in the coming years, but wider grocery-store sales have been opposed by the craft-brewing sector, which fears loss of shelf space to multinational and national breweries.

Supporters of the new association said the timing of the new law and formation of Craft Beer Colorado was coincidental.

Another concern has been the Colorado Brewers Guild allowing larger breweries to inherit board seats. One example was AB-InBev’s December acquisition of Breckenridge Brewery for an undisclosed sum.

It’s a major step for 14 Colorado craft brewers to leave their association and launch a rival body, especially when that step is backed by several craft-brewing icons: Kim Jordan, Wynne Odell, Eric Wallace and Dale Katechis, among others.

Clearly, something has not been working with the existing organization. But has the Colorado Brewers Guild gotten the message?

The two rival associations are planning to meet to discuss their differences, and we hope the meeting proves fruitful. Brewing accounted for $2.7 billion in economic impact in Colorado during 2014, according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association. That ranks fifth nationally. The state has about 300 craft breweries, with about 1.8 million barrels of craft beer produced annually — third in the nation.

In short, the industry is too important to have two rival groups dividing the state’s craft-brewing sector. Both sides should talk, yes, but in the end, Colorado needs a unified voice representing its craft brewers, and it’s hard to imagine two organizations meeting that objective.

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