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Colorado Boasts Five Of The Country's Largest Craft Breweries

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Courtesy: Brewers Association
Each year, thousands of people flock to Denver for the craft beer gathering, Great American Beer Festival.

Colorado remains well-represented among the nation’s top craft breweries.

A new ranking from the Boulder-based Brewers Association places five of Colorado’s breweries among the top 50 in the country for 2016. The ranking is based on a brewery’s total sales volume for the year.

New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins is the country’s fourth largest craft brewery, with production facilities in both Colorado and Asheville, North Carolina. Longmont’s Oskar Blues Brewing Holding Company -- a regional partnership formed from five beer brands -- came in 10th place. Fort Collins-based Odell Brewing Company placed near the middle of the list at 27th. Longmont’s Left Hand Brewing Company and Boulder’s Avery Brewing Company rounded out the list at 44th and 48th, respectively.

“Colorado certainly punches above its weight as a brewing state,” says Bart Watson, the Brewers Association’s chief economist. “Colorado has a long brewing history, but we’ve also had a very favorable regulatory environment for breweries both small and large and that’s really allowed the brewing industry to flourish.”

The annual ranking gives a snapshot of how the craft beer industry is changing, Watson says. 2016 saw Anheuser-Busch InBev’s purchase of Littleton-based Breckenridge Brewery, removing that craft beer maker from the list. More craft brewers are teaming up in regional partnerships, to leverage their resources, Watson says. Their representation on the list, like Oskar Blues with its varied holdings, shows that the model works, Watson says.

“We have seen a more competitive marketplace with 5,000 plus breweries and a more aggressive posture by the large brewers in the full-flavored beer space,” Watson says.

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as any beermaker that churns out fewer than 6 million barrels of beer in a year, is independent -- meaning that less than 25 percent of the brewery is owned by another beer or beverage company that is not itself a craft brewer -- and uses traditional methods and ingredients to produce its beer.

In 2016, the top three breweries in the country are situated in coastal states. D.G. Yuengling & Son of Pottsville, Penn. took the top spot, followed by Boston’s Boston Beer Company and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, Calif.

Colorado’s craft beer industry employed 21,838 people in 2014, and contributed more than $2.7 billion in economic impact to the state in 2015. The state’s roughly 280 craft breweries produced   1.7 million barrels of beer in 2015, putting the state third nationwide for craft beer output. 

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