Small-batchers and craft brewers still show rousing growth in market share


AURORA | For close to six months last year, David Levesque waited for the appropriate licenses so he could open Launch Pad Brewery.

Usually, the federal license should be ready in about 100 days, but Launch Pad waited 180.

According to a report released last week by the Brewers Association, Launch Pad was one of more than 600 new breweries to open last year, bringing the number of breweries around the country to a record 4,269.

And that, Levesque said, helps explain those months of waiting.

“It makes me understand why it took so long,” he said with a laugh as he poured beers this week at his brewery and tasting room at East Kentucky Avenue and South Buckley Road.

When it opened last year, Launch Pad became the city’s newest brewery, joining four others — Dry Dock Brewing Co., Dad and Dude’s Breweria, Mu Brewery and Ursula Brewery — within the city limits and a handful of others just outside the Aurora line.

Levesque, who got his start as a home brewer while serving in the Air Force at Buckley Air Force Base, said even with its recent growth, he sees ample room for Colorado’s craft beer scene to continue to expand.

“I think it’s just the beginning,” said Levesque, who is both owner and brewmaster at Launch Pad.

According to the report from the Brewers Association, a trade group representing American craft brewers, those small brewers now make up 12 percent of the country’s beer market.

Last year, craft beer makers cranked out 24.5 million barrels, saw a 13-percent rise in volume and a 16-percent increase in retail dollar value, the report said. In terms of retail value, the industry was estimated at $22.3 billion, about one fifth of the market share.

“For the past decade, craft brewers have charged into the market, seeing double digit growth for eight of those years,” Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, said in a statement. “There are still a lot of opportunities and areas for additional growth. An important focus will remain on quality as small and independent brewers continue to lead the local, full-flavored beer movement.”

The report said the number of breweries nationwide grew 15 percent to 4,269. Small and independent breweries made up 99 percent of those, the report said, with 2,397 microbreweries, 1,650 brewpubs and 178 regional craft breweries.

While 620 new breweries opened last year, 68 closed.

While Colorado remains a hub for craft beer, the south saw rapid growth with Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, each adding more than 20 breweries.

In terms of jobs, the report said craft brewers provided nearly 122,000 jobs, an increase of more than 6,000 from 2014.

“Small and independent brewers are a beacon for beer and our economy,” Watson said. “As breweries continue to open and volume increases, there is a strong need for workers to fill a whole host of positions at these small and growing businesses.”

At Launch Pad, the staff has grown to about a dozen people since Levesque opened last summer.

Levesque said he sees the drinking scene shifting toward neighborhood breweries, a trend that will mean several more local craft brewers pop up in neighborhoods that don’t yet have their own. Launch Pad, for example, has become a sort of neighborhood brewery for Buckley, with service members and aerospace contractors there among the brewery’s regular customers.

“The shift is going more toward a perfectly crafted beer or cocktail,” he said. “There is more emphasis on quality and not just getting hammered.”

And the fact that Anheuser-Busch InBev, one of the beer industry’s titans, is taking an interest and buying craft brewers is a sign that the industry is becoming a force, he said.

“They know there is a lot more growth there,” he said.

Still, Levesque said, the craft beer industry likely won’t maintain quite the level of growth it has in recent years.

“I definitely think it’s going to slow down, Colorado in particular,” he said.

But in Aurora, where there are 350,000 people and still just a handful of craft brewers, Levesque said he fully expects to no longer be the newest beer maker in town sometime soon.

“There is definitely room out here to expand,” he said. “I think there is more to come.”