As we crack open a fresh new year, it's a good opportunity to gaze deep into the crystalline goblet and make some predictions for what the coming year may hold locally for craft beer.

Building on a very strong 2012 that saw major expansions at the biggest breweries and a proliferation of smaller brewpubs and tasting rooms -- even a home-brewer chef who opened a licensed brewery in his garage -- there's no reason to think that the marked growth and flood of innovative ideas will wane any time soon.

"Craft Brewing is one of the fasting-growing manufacturing industries in Colorado and it will only continue to do so in 2013," said Steve Kurowski, marketing and communications director with the Colorado Brewers Guild. "Breweries are buying real estate, new equipment and adding jobs all the time. This year should be an amazing year for craft beer in Colorado."

Many local breweries are already putting plans into action to continue the momentum and capitalize on new opportunities.

Avery Brewing Co. is moving forward with construction of a much-larger brewhouse and facility in Gunbarrel, and New Belgium and Oskar Blues have opened or are planning new facilities in North Carolina.

Left Hand Brewing Co., another major player, realized its second year of double-digit growth in 2012 and is making good use of its newly expanded capacity to support growing demand.

In addition to new equipment, Left Hand marketing coordinator Emily Armstrong said, the brewery has more than doubled its number of employees, with more hiring on the horizon, and last year raised a total of $276,693 for various charities and nonprofits. This commitment to giving back to the community is an ethic that's shared by many local breweries, both large and small.


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Expect several new openings in 2013 to join those ranks, including Sanitas Brewing Co. in Boulder, founded by Mike Memsic and Chris Coyne, two longtime brewers at Boulder Beer, as well as 300 Suns Brewing, a new venture that's currently looking to set up shop in Longmont. Fate Brewing Co. is slated to open later this month in Boulder.

As for the beer itself, experimenting with barrel aging of all sorts will continue to be popular, as will incorporating ingredients and techniques that meld and blur stylistic boundaries, such as White IPAs. Also expect more canned craft beers, a prospect made easier for smaller local breweries thanks to Mobile Canning, a local business that brings its canning line directly to the brewery.

Kurowski, of the Colorado Brewers Guild, also predicts that Belgian- and Farmhouse-style beer will continue to gain popularity, as will lower-alcohol "session" beers for folks looking for a flavorful beer without so much kick.

Jake Evans, owner and head brewer of Wild Woods Brewery, a nanobrewery and tasting room that opened this past summer in Boulder, agrees.

With session beers, one can "drink a couple pints with friends and have a great conversation in a comfortable environment without having to worry so much about consuming too much alcohol," he said.

Evans has also been experimenting with new hop varieties, several of which have yet to be named, that exhibit a wide variety of flavor and aroma characteristics.

"Showcasing some of these new hops can elevate the most ordinary styles of beer," he said.

Collaboration beers, created through the cooperative efforts of two or more breweries, are also popular and are a fun way to highlight the highly supportive nature of the craft-beer industry.

For example, Boulder Beer marketing director Tess McFadden said the brewery recently collaborated with Mike Lawinski and Jeff Griffith of Fate Brewing Co. to brew a Dark Mild Ale on its pilot system. The beer will be available at Fate's grand opening.

Along with a growing sophistication among brewers, the public is also becoming much more beer savvy.

"More so than ever before, beer drinkers are striving to gain a better understanding of the beverage," said Justin Tilotta, logistics manager at Twisted Pine Brewing Co., which expanded both its brewhouse and tasting room this past year.

Twisted Pine will make use of its new space to host a series of educational classes, seminars and events in 2013 aimed at educating the community about beer and the brewing process.

So pull up a stool, grab a pint and join in the conversation. We're just getting started.

Contact Tom Wilmes at boulderbeerguy@gmail.com.