DENVER – For the brewers of Durango, it’s a matter of “coopetition.”
Four of the town’s breweries attended Great American Beer Festival this weekend in Denver – two walked home with awards.
Ska Brewing Co. won gold in the English-Style Summer Ale category for its True Blonde Ale, and Steamworks Brewing Co. won bronze in the Oatmeal Stout category for its Backside Stout.
Even though the brewers behind these intoxicating elixirs are in direct competition with each other, it is their cooperation that lifts the entire guild.
When the awards ceremony came around, the brewers of Ska, Steamworks, Carver Brewing Co. and Durango Brewing Co. found themselves cheering just as hard for their brothers in brew as they did for themselves.
“Because we’re Durango and we’re so small, to have that brotherhood together helps elevate the entire town,” said Sean Moriarty, a manager and investor with Steamworks. “If they get noticed, somebody is going to visit their brewery; then they’re going to come visit us.”
It is this camaraderie that helped give Durango its name as the “Napa Valley of Beer,” or the “City of Brewerly Love.”
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” said Jeff Albarella, a brewer at Carver’s.
He said Ska is roasting chiles for a batch of stout in the Carver’s kitchen, they’ve also helped each other with shipping, and even sold hops to each other from personal stashes.
“That signifies the brewpub culture in Durango,” said Peter Clevano, a brewer with Durango Brewery. “We’re all cooperatively competitive with each other. We all want a piece of the market. We all want to sell to more people. But we also want to just be friends.
“We’re part of this small circle of people that can just have fun and make beer and do what we love to do every day,” he added.
Indeed these brewers are doing what they love. In some ways they have similar stories, all following their passion.
They started brewing in their homes before taking it bigger.
Dave Thibodeau, co-owner of Ska, caught the bug at 17 years old when he found his father’s “brew log” sitting on a shelf. He later opened Ska in Durango in 1995, named for the music he was listening to at the time, including a lot of the early Wailers.
“We’ll brew about 31,000 barrels this year,” Thibodeau said, highlighting Ska’s growth from humble roots. “It’s been pretty much double-digit growth since we started.”
All the breweries interviewed by The Durango Herald pointed to significant growth, with many citing double-digit numbers. Carver’s is almost at 10 percent of market share, with a goal of 20 percent by 2020.
“It’s been steadily increasing,” Albarella said, who left a career path in science to become a brewer for Carver’s, the state’s second oldest brewpub. “It was the right decision at the right time.”
Clevano said events like GABF are critical to help lift smaller breweries and get their products out to the masses. An estimated 49,000 people attend GABF in the Colorado Convention Center over three days.
“It’s insane,” Clevano said. “Look at the exposure we get. You get 4,000 people walking by your booth tasting your beer every day.”
Ken Martin, the head brewer at Steamworks, said that while it’s nice to win an award, that’s not really why he’s at GABF.
“It’s a nod,” Martin said. “It’s nice. Had they not called our name, I’m going to go back home and the bar’s going to be full of people drinking my beer.”
He said he was just as interested in supporting his fellow brewers as himself.
“We are in competition, and we’re in some of the same categories,” Martin said. “But I almost lost my voice cheering for the Ska boys.”