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The state of craft 

Every year, the Boulder-based Brewers Association holds the Craft Brewers Conference, dedicated to "concentrated, affordable brewing education and idea sharing." This year's conference was held in Portland, Oregon, and in a "State of the Industry" talk before the keynote presentation, one thing became apparent: Craft beer is getting big. Really big.

Here in Colorado, that of course comes as no surprise. Last year, our state came in at No. 4 in breweries per capita (6.1 per 100,000 adults of legal drinking age) and also No. 4 in brewery openings (55). Small and independent American craft brewers in 2014 contributed over $1.6 billion to our state's economy.

Taking an even larger step back and looking at the craft brewing market on a national level, the news is just as encouraging. According to the Brewers Association's latest statistics, national beer sales (craft and macro included) rose 0.5 percent last year, to over 197 million barrels. But craft beer on its own rose a staggering 18 percent, with around 22 million barrels sold. That makes for the craft beer industry's first ever double-digit market share, at 11 percent.

Going even further, it's hard to ignore the economic impact that the craft brewing industry has on our nation. The Brewers Association's 2012 study (the most recent available) found that small and independent American craft brewers, much like Phantom Canyon or Iron Bird or any others you see here in Colorado Springs, contributed $33.9 billion to the U.S. economy. They also helped create 360,000 jobs.

What does this mean for Colorado Springs? Well, if you hadn't noticed, our city welcomed four breweries to the scene last year, and another opened up right after the new year. Before 2015 concludes, we're likely to see at least five new breweries come on line, adding to the 22 outfits we now count.

In a town largely known for outdoor tourism, nonprofits and megachurches, we're seeing the beginnings of our next claim to fame: beer.

Ryan Hannigan is the production director for the Colorado Springs Independent and Colorado Springs Business Journal. He also owns and operates Focus on the Beer, a local beer-enthusiast blog.

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