Beer has long been big business in Durango, and with two new establishments opening their doors in the past two years, the brewing industry continues to grow, but at a slower pace than the rest of the state.
That might be because Durango experienced its beer boom years ago, unlike Colorado Springs, which now is undergoing its major beer boom. But don’t dismiss the smaller city. It’s home to Carver Brewing, the second oldest brewpub in Colorado, and Ska Brewing, Durango’s largest brewery. But for 18 of the past 20 years, Durango didn’t see much of the industry expansion the rest of Colorado experienced.
Colorado Springs, on the other hand, has added at least 10 breweries each of the past few years and at least five more are in various stages of planning. Durango’s brewpubs have been around since the industry was in its infancy, and its brewpubs know what works there — and what doesn’t.
Celebrating 20 years
One brewery, Ska Brewing, will celebrate its 20th anniversary this Saturday, and despite undergoing a $4 million expansion in 2008, Ska is again bursting at the seams.
Kristen Muraro, Ska Brewing’s “Marketing Maven,” said the company produced 30,000 barrels of beer in 2014, and is eyeing about 5,000 more than that for 2015. With 31 gallons in a barrel — that’s a lot of beer.
Space is precious at Ska. It converted its previous cold storage area to house more packaging machines and relocated much of its cold storage to off-site warehouses. Because of its increased demand locally, nationally and even internationally, finding space to store beer is a constant struggle.
Ska Brewing recently purchased a seven-barrel brewhouse to aid in production, allowing Ska’s brewers to make smaller batches for research or special projects.
In comparison, two Colorado Springs area breweries, Triple S Brewing (opening in October at 318 E. Colorado Ave.) and Cerberus Brewing (opening in early 2016 at 702 W. Colorado Ave.), are starting off their ventures with similarly sized systems to Ska’s additional barrel capacity.
While the raw economic data is promising, not everyone in Durango’s craft beer industry is smiling.
Recently, the long-standing Durango Brewing Company sold a majority interest to independent investor Gold Buckle Brewing, in hopes of expanding. In the meantime, its taproom is closed. With no set date for reopening, they let go all 11 of their front-of-house employees. The future of one of Durango’s oldest breweries is still up in the air.
Brewpub vs. manufacturer
Durango is a small mountain town that thrives on tourism, and restaurants are king.
In order to survive, opening a brewpub becomes the best option for the restaurant.
Colorado Springs breweries are different — many taking the manufacturing route, where they are not required to maintain a full kitchen and subsequently do not have to have a certain percentage of their sales come from food, under Colorado law.
Both breweries to open in the Springs are brewpubs, but four out of the six in Durango currently operate with full kitchen staffs.
When asked what allows all these breweries to operate in such a saturated market, Ska’s Muraro likened it to a big family.
Breweries in Durango go out of their way to make sure everyone succeeds. They support the community and in turn, the community supports them.
A Colorado Brewers Guild 2014 study reported that 90 percent of Colorado’s breweries reported some kind of fund-raising or philanthropic events, and it seems to be a strong part of how breweries integrate within the community.
Examples in Colorado Springs range from Bristol’s Karma Hour or Trinity Brewing’s The Giving Beer to the local brewery-supported All Colorado Beer Festival, with proceeds are donated to charity.
Recently in Durango, after the EPA’s Gold King mine spill in Silverton that polluted the Animas River, Ska Brewing’s Muraro recalled phones ringing off the hook with request after request for a community-aimed brew, and the local brewing community responded.
Last week, the Durango Bootleggers Society, a brewer-led consortium housed within the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado, released Heavy Metal EPA (Extra Pale Ale), and profits from sales in all five participating breweries will go to community members affected by the spill.
Overall, Durango is among many Colorado towns riding the wave of the recent billion-dollar brewery boom. It just got started first, but the Springs is catching on fast.