Saturday, 17 Apr 2021

Ratio, Carboy, The Block all expand craft booze production in 2021

Double- and triple-digit growth certainly aren’t words you hear often in the hospitality industry in 2020 and 2021.

But as drinkers at home stock up on their favorite bottles and cans, some small Colorado alcohol producers are feeling the benefits, preparing to expand production and build on. Three Denver-area craft booze-makers just announced expansions in the city and farther afoot.

Ratio Beerworks will open a second taproom and canning facility this summer in the Overland neighborhood, while Carboy will debut its fourth winery and first vineyard in Palisade by fall. Later this year, customers at The Block Distilling in RiNo will notice an expanded tasting room and, eventually, a rooftop bar.

Despite the pandemic, The Block saw 18% growth in 2020 and is in the process of ramping up production to 600% of its current output, its owners say.

At the start of last spring’s shutdown, Ratio was facing a near-total loss of its business which was dominated by draft beers. But a switch to canning kept the brewery afloat; now it’s going to double can capacity in 2021.

Meanwhile, Carboy’s wine club membership jumped 122% in 2020 and is on course to double again by the end of 2021. This, as Carboy also opens a new tasting room and winemaking facility on the Western Slope, adding to locations in Littleton, Denver and Breckenridge.

“It’ll be four locations in five years,” said Kevin Webber, a managing partner of the winery. “It’s kind of hard to believe.”

But the business’ growth makes sense alongside pandemic trends in buying booze.

Alcohol sales in Colorado skyrocketed starting in March 2020, as the state reported a 47% year-over-year increase in sales-tax collections. Sales were similarly high throughout the summer months, and by September, tax collections still remained up year-over-year by about 21%.

Webber says he’s encouraged by Coloradans’ adventurous palates, too, when it comes to supporting local alcohol-makers. As Carboy grows, Webber and his partners continue to introduce lesser-known grapes that grow well in our fickle-weather state.

Once Carboy takes over Garfield Estates Vineyard & Winery in Palisade, the team will focus on growing primarily cold-hardy varietals such as Teroldego, Marquette, Sweigelt and Vignoles — grapes that few Coloradans, let alone Americans, knew about.

“When we first started, the model was just bring a fun and innovative wine experience to Denver, because the industry was slow growing, and most of it was out West,” Webber explained. “Now, our main focus is on growing the wine industry here from a viticulture standpoint.”

The path forward looks different for The Block as owners Kraig, Michelle and Kameron Weaver expand their footprint on Larimer Street to accommodate six times their current liquor-production capacity.

In order to do so, the Weavers in February opened up their books and business plans and asked community members to donate to an equity investment campaign, which has already raised $328,000.

With the money, they’ll be able to expand distribution of house whiskey, bourbon, vodka and gin around Colorado as well as at the RiNo distillery with a new 40-person rooftop bar, or speakeasy, that also could  be used for spirits education and private events.

“Our architects have already designed the space, gotten the permits approved, and our general contractor has been hired,” Kraig said. “Now we just need to raise the funds and get the booze flowing.”

And for a picture of the future of craft breweries in 2021 and beyond, Ratio Beerworks’ expansion could provide some hope. The RiNo brewery (and neighbor to The Block) is getting ready to open its second location at the former site of Declaration Brewing in Overland, where it will have double the outdoor patio space and more room inside for canning beers.

Last summer, Ratio began releasing its flagship beers in cans every week, which was a big boon to business, according to marketing and events manager Marika Evanger Clark.

“We realized very quickly that (cans) were going to be a forever thing for us,” Evanger Clark said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next six months … but we think outdoor dining (and drinking) is going to be a thing forever, too.”

Whether it’s a new outdoor bar or patio, new styles, or new bottles sent straight to customers’ homes, these booze businesses are looking forward to the next year in Colorado craft.

“Everyone’s looking for the next frontier of whatever it is (in) craft,” Webber said of consumers’ tastes. “Because we don’t have a traditional establishment to really go against (like in California’s wine industry) … here, we are just interested to try the next thing, so we’re in a unique climate for that.”

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