Wyoming Develops a Thirst for Craft Brewers
The craft beer industry has seen tremendous growth in Wyoming, a combination of opportunity and the kind of Cowboy State spirit that takes the bull – and the business of brews – by the horns.
There is a new craft movement in Wyoming and this one is about beer. Craft brewing production rose 32 percent in Wyoming between 2011 and 2012, signaling both an increasing appetite and opportunity for microbrews in the Cowboy State.
Wyoming’s 15 craft breweries have collected an impressive 46 Great American Beer Festival medals, and 18 World Beer Cup medals, including gold medals for some of the toughest categories (American-Style Strong Pale Ale, American-Style Wheat Beer and Double IPA) have been claimed, sometimes in multiple years, by local brewers.
Tim Barnes is owner of the award-winning Black Tooth Brewing Co. in Sheridan, the second-largest beer brewer in Wyoming. Barnes says he doesn’t view other in-state brewers as competitors, but a fraternity of Davids taking on national brand Goliaths.
“We’re trying to attract market share away from them into the local breweries,” he says. “The truth is, my beer doesn’t impact other craft breweries. We’re not competing for the same beer drinker. We’re competing for the idea that our beer is equivalent or better than the major brands that people choose to spend their money on when they’re in a liquor store with competing product on the shelves.”
Tim Moore, owner of Freedom’s Edge Brewery in Cheyenne, says that just like many Wyoming businesses, the craft beer movement in the state is driven by “the independent spirit.
“This is a trend that is really taking hold across many industries,” he says. “It’s local, fresh and you can actually have a conversation with the people who brewed it. People want to know where, when and how products are produced.”
Pouring on Growth
Wyoming’s craft beer industry picked up steam in the mid-2000s, a combination of growing demand, a successful tourism industry and Wyoming’s independent spirit.
Jim Mitchell, owner of Lander Brewing Co., describes his entry into the market as simply a matter of filling a need. He and friends bought a bar 24 years ago, which he describes as a “typical Wyoming kind of bar, but we had been exposed to craft beers and were really big fans, so we went to the beer distributor here and said we wanted to get some Red Hook. The distributor said, ‘Oh, this is Budweiser country – you’re not going to sell any.’ We sold out the first week and ordered more. Then more, then more.” Eventually Mitchell couldn’t overlook the business opportunity. He purchased an available space next to his bar and started brewing – successfully.
Mitchell’s entrepreneurial spirit parallels Wyoming’s own image of independence. It’s also echoed by Barnes, who says, “The entrepreneurial spirit required to start a brewery is something that’s inherent in Wyoming business. It certainly takes a different personality to be a success here.”
The growth of the craft beer industry isn’t just about the personality of the crafters. It’s also about the land itself. The quality of the water and the availability of natural resources is key, says Barnes.
“The water profile in particular is such that there’s not a lot of things that need to be added or deleted from the water in order to brew great beer. Grains are grown closer – the Pacific Northwest has a big percentage of the hop growing areas in the country.”
Any good businessman will tell you it’s not just enough to make a great product – people still have to buy it. Barnes says in the case of beer, the idea of buying local drives business.
“People want to buy products made as close to home as they can,” he says. “Folks from Sheridan want to drink Black Tooth beer before they drink something made out of state.”