The three finalists in the Outstanding Craft Brewer category of the 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards — Holidaily Brewing Company, City Star Brewing, and Denver Beer Co. — weathered the pandemic with quick thinking and nimble footwork to come out ahead.

City Star Brewing | Berthoud

Photo by Jonathan Castner

Colorado’s COVID-19 shutdown last spring was an unwelcome surprise for City Star Brewing as it was for most local businesses. The Berthoud, Colorado, taproom- and community-focused brewery had to pivot quickly to maintain sales. They immediately launched online ordering, began direct-to-consumer delivery, and increased to-go offerings substantially.

“The day businesses were shut down, we ordered a Crowler machine and pallet of Crowlers,” says Whitney Way, co-owner. “We quickly realized that we needed to package more efficiently and began sourcing a canning line. By the time taprooms reopened later last spring, we were operating a Microcanner line capable of filling 24 cans per minute and had sourced a year’s supply of aluminum cans.”

City Star also purchased a new, direct-fire seven-barrel brewhouse and was able to complete related construction work in December while indoor seating was prohibited. Throughout it all, the brewery kept all staff on at their current wages, including guaranteed tips.

“In light of the pandemic, we’re proud of the support we’ve been able to provide to our staff and our community,” Way continues. “We’ve been humbled by the gracious help from those around us and, in reflection, we couldn’t be prouder of the quick decisions and pivots we made in 2020 while keeping what truly matters in mind: people.”

CompanyWeek profile (July 2017):

Denver Beer Co. | Denver

Photo by Jonathan Castner

When COVID-19 clobbered Colorado in spring of 2020, Denver Beer Co. was running taprooms in Denver and Arvada, Colorado, as well as a secondary brand taproom, Cerveceria Colorado, also in Denver. They were also wrapping up the steps necessary to become the first craft brewery in the state of Colorado to implement Earthly Labs’ carbon dioxide capture technology.

This technology allows Denver Beer Co. to capture the excess carbon dioxide produced during the fermentation process and store it for cannabis cultivators who reuse the CO2 in their growing operations. The brewery will be capturing more than 100,000 pounds per year of carbon dioxide for recycling in this manner.

“I think it’s important for us to operate a small business that is sustainable and diverse,” says Charlie Berger, co-founder. “One that celebrates people and planet as well as profit as we gain share in the industry.”

Berger and his team run a 100 percent solar powered production brewery and taproom, known as the Canworks, in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood. They’ve also purchased a fleet of Nissan Leaf 100 percent electric vehicles for their sales and distribution team. And they’ve grown production by nearly 21 percent and employee numbers by 18.3 percent as they opened a new location on South Downing Street in Denver despite the pandemic.

“In the face of all the COVID stuff, we had a reasonable year,” Berger says. “We were able to both grow and keep almost all of our people, though some had to take on different jobs than normal.”

What does he see for Denver Beer Co. in the year ahead? “I think success for us is going to mean two things: innovation and focus,” Berger says. “We have a couple of newish brands that we’re really excited about and want to make sure we roll those out in a thoughtful way. And then on the innovation front, we are always trying to do what is fun and interesting. We have some cool R&D going on and we’re going to continue with that and hope we hit a home run.”

CompanyWeek profile (October 2016):

Holidaily Brewing Company | Golden

Photo by Jonathan Castner

Brewing truly gluten-free beer isn’t easy in the best of times. As one of only 16 certified gluten-free breweries in the U.S., the team at Holidaily Brewing Company is required to test all ingredients as well as final products. Not just focused on safety and avoiding cross contamination, they’re also obsessed with churning out 100 percent gluten-free brews that rival the flavor found at gluten-filled breweries.

This focus didn’t change in 2020 despite the giant monkey wrench COVID-19 threw into the works. Like many businesses, Holidaily had to act quickly when the shutdown struck in order to protect its product, team, and bottom line. Releasing new beer varieties and teaming up with a distillery to utilize product that would otherwise have gone to waste resulted in taproom and distribution revenue growth as well as a decrease in cost per barrel.

“Holidaily Brewing Company grew 30 percent during a pandemic,” Karen Hertz, founder and chief brewista, says. “Building a team that endured what was hopefully the most difficult business environment to not only survive but thrive is the accomplishment I’m most proud of.”

Currently distributed in Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, and Kansas City, Hertz says a larger footprint for Holidaily’s brews is on the horizon. “We have more markets being announced in the months to come and continue to reach out to others within our region,” she continues. “Success in the year ahead will be defined by continued growth in sales as well as this expanded regional growth. We have to get the gluten-free beer to the people!”

CompanyWeek profile (August 2017):

The winners of the 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards will be revealed at a virtual event on April 29, 2021. REGISTER HERE>