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How some US breweries are staying relevant as others 'kick the keg'

The Brewers Association says more than 200 breweries closed nationwide last year.
Posted at 3:48 PM, May 05, 2023

For 30 years, beers have been brewed and customers have built connections at Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colorado.

"Beer was meant to stimulate conversation and bring people into a public setting and build social cohesion," said Eric Wallace, the president and co-founder of Left Hand Brewing.

Brewers here say a sense of community has pushed customers to keep coming back. However, the Brewers Association says standing out in this industry is more important now than it's been in years. More than 200 breweries closed in 2022, and 2023 is expected to have the fewest number of openings in the past decade. Beyond breweries, there's also new competition with ready to drink products, called RTDs.

"We are not the 'it girl' of the beverage world anymore. RTD's are coming on strong, and seltzers came and went kind of in a flash," Wallace said.

Wallace says while the tides are turning, the change isn't bad.

"The shakeout is healthy, it's a culling of the herd, it's whatever you want to call it, it strengthens the DNA of the business," Wallace said.

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There are more than 9,000 breweries operating in the U.S. today. Blue Moon Brewing Company is just one that's working to differentiate itself. Brewmaster John Legnard says most people know Blue Moon as a singular Belgian white beer. The menu at their brewery offers 23 other beers on tap.

"We built a brewery in 2016 that is the research and development facility, the innovation hub, and where all the new products for Blue Moon come about," Legnard said. "It's really cool to see people walk in and go 'Ooh I like that' ... they get excited because they don't know what to expect when they come in."

Legnard says Blue Moon stands out because they are constantly creating and looking for ways to incorporate innovative flavors while still representing the brand's authenticity.

"We try to build on the brand. We try to expand our portfolio by expanding people's horizons," Legnard said.

One key to relevance at Left Hand, Wallace explains, is thinking ahead. They opened a brand-new brewery and restaurant in a more underdeveloped part of Denver, but it's next to one of the city's newest concert venues.

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"Being across from the Mission, one of the coolest new venues in the country [is a] huge opportunity," Wallace said. "Building that base business that doesn't revolve solely around shows is going to take awhile, but when there's 2,000 living units within a quarter-mile walk, in a few years I think it's kind of a no-brainer."

Another focus is education.

"We started bringing in women and educating them on beer and discussing topics of relevance," Wallace said.

They recently released 83 Cents, a beer named to recognize the wage gap between men and women.

"Ales for Females. Why? Because beer was like a manly sport, definitely skewed towards males," Wallace said.

The brewers association says 2023 will be a reset for many brewers. It's an opportunity to ask themselves how they can stay upfront and relevant.

"You've got to try harder, you've got to get heard, you've got to market harder, you've got to be present and be out there more and more and more to be relevant and you have to have a reason to exist," Wallace said.