Microbrews Are Big Business In Wyoming, Contribute More Than $200 Million To Economy

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By Joshua Wood, business/tourism reporter
josh@cowboystatedaily.com

Microbrew festivals in Wyoming are big business. Very big business. 

In fact, there’s a festival nearly every weekend in Wyoming between Memorial Day and the end of September.

“They’re huge for our state and almost every festival has a competition attached to it,” Michelle Forster, executive director of the Wyoming Craft Brewers Guild, told Cowboy State Daily.

Brewing Up a Good Time 

As the popularity of craft beer has grown, so has the number of microbrew festivals in Wyoming. One of the first was held in Saratoga with the Steinley Cup Microbrew Festival.  This year is the 26th annual and is set for August 20.

Historically, the Saratoga event was billed as being the “official” state championship for Wyoming microbrews. 

While microbreweries from outside the state can attend and offer drinks, only Wyoming microbreweries can compete for the Steinley Cup traveling trophy. 

Each year, the Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce selects a type of beer for brewers to offer for judging. 

Last year, it was a porter. Accomplice Beer Company of Cheyenne defeated 11 other Wyoming breweries to take home the Steinley Cup.

Amanda Knotwell, CEO of the Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce, said more than 500 people attended last year’s event.

But after more than two and a half decades, the Steinley Cup is no longer the only game in town. 

Thirty-eight breweries attended the Lander Brewfest on June 10. More than 2,000 people purchased tickets prior to the event, according to the Lander Chamber of Commerce. That doesn’t count those who bought tickets the day of the event with cash or those who attended but didn’t drink. 

Beer: An Equalizing Force 

Most people in the craft brewing industry are passionate, not only about their craft but how it brings communities together, Forster said.

“We believe very strongly that beer is not only something that human beings create very naturally but also is something that brings people together. It is an equalizing force,” she said.

People from different walks of life, who likely would never interact, can sit down at a table at a festival, have a beer and talk to each other. 

“Often beer is a lubricant for conversation that has to happen in order for us to get along better and be better people,” said Forster. 

That equalizing force also equals benefits to the economy by providing jobs and bringing in visitors, further supporting Wyoming tourism. 

Forster said Wyoming ranks 4th in the nation for microbreweries per capita. Of the 40 breweries currently operating in the state, 29 are members of the Wyoming Craft Brewers Guild

According to the Brewers Association, a trade group based in Colorado, the craft brewing industry contributed $198 million to Wyoming’s economy in 2021. 

“Craft breweries are critical to tourism. They’re a critical draw not only to tourism, but also to attracting new residents and keeping them here. Especially since the Millennial generation and Gen-X are very dedicated to craft beer,” said Forster. 

“Gen-Z is a little bit less so, but they certainly are dedicated to experience and that’s something craft breweries can provide them,” she said.

Rapid Growth 

Most of the growth for craft brewing in Wyoming began in 2017, Forster said about five years behind the rest of the country. Though craft brewing took some time to take hold, once it started, the industry grew rapidly in the state, she said.

“We may be a little bit behind the rest of the big states like Colorado, Michigan and California—the big craft states—but we’re doing it with just as much intensity as everyone else,” she said. “We’re just doing it a little bit later.” 

One example of rapid growth is Blacktooth Brewing Company in Sheridan. Started in 2010, the brewery now has locations in Casper and Cheyenne and its beers are stocked in liquor stores and bars throughout the state

Similar Values 

Craft beer may appeal to a broad demographic, but Forster said it is specifically suited to Wyoming for those who enjoy the state’s outdoor recreation. 

“I think people are generally coming to Wyoming for outdoor recreation, which we have a lot to offer, and fortunately there’s a really strong overlap in values between outdoor enthusiasts and craft brewers,” said Forster. “We have similar values around stewardship and sustainability.” 

A good example of this overlap, Forster said, is Ten Sleep Brewing Company. The craft brewer is involved each year in the Ten Sleep Climbing Festival, which brings more than 600 climbers to the town. That’s more than double Ten Sleep’s population of 271. 

Room to Grow 

The beauty of craft beer is that it’s always evolving, she said. 

While Indian Pale Ale is “still king”, craft breweries pay close attention to trends like the rise in popularity of lagers, Hazy IPAs, sours and more. In other parts of the country, microbreweries are adding hard seltzers, hard ciders and non-alcoholic beers as offerings to their customers. 

It is this willingness for craft brewers to adapt that will help them survive any major changes in the landscape, she said.

“Not only do I think we haven’t peaked yet, we have not yet reached saturation. I think Wyoming itself is always evolving and we are always looking for ways to support our local businesses and small communities and to support the people and families around us,” said Forster. “That is at the very heart of craft beer.”

This year, a total of 16 microbrew festivals have been scheduled around the state from June to September. 

This year, a total of 16 microbrew festivals have been scheduled around the state from June to September.

  • Thermopolis Brewfest (June 4)
  • Lander Brewfest (June 10)
  • Wyoming Brewers Festival in Cheyenne (June 17)
  • Sweetwater Blues n’ Brews (June 18)
  • Laramie Brewfest (July 9)
  • Yellowstone Beer Fest in Cody (July 16)
  • Evanston Wyoming Beer Fest (July 23)
  • Dubois Old West Brewfest (July 30)
  • Ten Sleep Climbers Festival (August 12)
  • Saratoga Steinley Cup Microbrew Festival (August 20)
  • Riverfest in Casper (August 20)
  • Suds N’ Spurs in Sheridan (August 27)
  • Relish – Crafted Together in Casper (September 10)
  • Wind River Brewfest in Pinedale (September 10)
  • Brews and Cruise in Gillette (September 10)
  • Oktoberfest and Golf Tournament at the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort (September 17)

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