One of America's Oldest Craft Breweries Won't Be Shutting Down Distribution After All
Boulder Beer Company has been around for 40 years and the brand just got a new lease on life.
Craft beer is at an odd crossroads. On the bright side, the independent beer scene is larger than the founders of the movement could have ever imagined, pushing the 8,000 brewery mark, up from fewer than 100 in the late ‘70s when craft beer emerged. But unfortunately enough, many of those same original craft brewers are now facing a number of economic pressures, including competition from the thousands of newer, hipper breweries they inspired. The result is that some breweries like New Belgium are opting to sell to larger conglomerates, others like Smuttynose have been forced into restructuring, and, sadly, some like Bridgeport—founded in 1984—have gone out of business entirely.
In October, Boulder Beer Company—founded in 1979, making it one of (if not the) oldest craft breweries in the country—seemed to be headed down a similar final path. The 40-year-old company announced plans to cease distribution and focus solely on its Boulder, Colorado-based brewpub. As Brewbound reported at the time, the move was a significant setback for a brand with distribution in over two dozen states and that produced over 29,000 barrels at its peak around 2014. "It's the end of an era, but the beginning of a new chapter," Tess McFadden, Boulder's director of marketing, told the site.
But apparently someone with a sense of history wasn't willing to let that era end. This week, Boulder has announced a new partnership that will allow the brand to continue its distribution. Sleeping Giant—a Colorado-based contract brewery that rents its facilities out for other brands to produce beer—saw an opportunity. "After hearing our announcement to downsize, Sleeping Giant reached out to our owner Gina Day to discuss possibilities of a business arrangement where they would be responsible for the brewing, packaging, shipping, distribution, sales and marketing of our core brands for the retail market both on- and off-premise," McFadden told Brewbound yesterday. "It's not a contract brewing relationship, but rather a unique business model, perhaps the first of its kind, as a solution to the dynamic craft beer marketplace."
Reportedly, Sleeping Giant has already begun production of kegs and six-packs of 12-ounce cans of many of Boulder's signature beers including Shake Chocolate Porter, Mojo IPA, Buffalo Gold Golden Ale, and Hazed and Infused Pale Ale. (If you recognize some of those beers, you're not alone; they are craft beer classics.) According to the Denver Business Journal, that means current distribution of Boulder Beer Company brews can actually continue uninterrupted, assuming distributors still want to sell them. Two other beers, Spaceman Double IPA and Due East New England-Style IPA are slated to return soon as well.
"We couldn't be more proud to work with such an iconic brand, the first craft brewery in Colorado," Sleeping Giant President and Founder Matthew Osterman said in announcing the deal. "Further, our new relationship will allow Sleeping Giant to better understand the distribution, sales, and marketing side of the business. Developing this expertise will allow us to assist our contract brewing clients, and provide yet another value-add service to our portfolio."
Meanwhile, Day also seemed excited that four decades of brand building and history wasn't being relegated to the craft beer equivalent of a retirement home. "This is an exciting time for Boulder Beer," the owner said. "We are thrilled to have the brand continue its legacy and to continue to supply our loyal customers through retail markets."
Granted, just because a brand survives doesn't mean it's as good, as relevant, or as in demand as it once was. We've seen classic beers like Celis White get resurrected only to fail again. But for right now, let's consider this a survival worth celebrating.