For a start-up brewery, Denver is a challenging market. The area is not only awash in breweries, but demand has driven up the price of cans. This has caused some small breweries to adopt a different business model: bypass packaging altogether, and sell fresh beer only to the immediate neighborhood. Breweries that adopt this model avoid the expense of buying a canning or bottling line, hiring sales personnel, and hiring a distributor. And they have the option to package if market conditions change.
Breweries that sell directly to customers enjoy a greater return on investment. They have more freedom to experiment with beer styles, and brewery owners contend that their product is fresher than the packaged variety. Many have won a devoted following in their neighborhoods. Small breweries have even created their own beer festival, called Festivaus. It attracts more than 60 Denver breweries, and a crowd of over 2,000 attendees.
In two decades, Denver’s craft brewing industry has come full circle. In 1994, when Great Divide Brewing Company opened, it faced stiff competition from four nearby brewpubs; and, at the time, a brewery that opened a taproom was expected to operate it as a restaurant. Instead, Great Divide packaged its beer and didn’t open a taproom for 13 years.