Colorado’s craft beer industry is bigger than ever, with most breweries planning for growth in excess of 20 percent in 2015 and 56 percent in 2016, according to the Colorado Brewers Guild.

The CBG reports craft brewers recorded total economic benefits of $1.15 billion in 2014, the latest data available.

In southern Colorado, new and existing breweries say they’ve experienced the beer boom firsthand. There are more than 20 craft breweries in Colorado Springs and many of them started as home brewers.

Biff Morehead, owner of the Smiling Toad Brewery in Colorado Springs, told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that he opened the brewery at his wife’s urging.

“She was tired of me taking all the space in the garage and she wanted to park inside,” Morehead said.

Smiling Toad is one of the smaller breweries in Colorado Springs in terms of how many barrels of beer it can brew at once.

“We have a three-barrel system here,” Morehead said. “I think most breweries in town are seven to 10 barrels.”

But despite the small size, Morehead has big dreams for his craft beer.

“We have a dreams and wishes, and yeah, I’d like to have my beer out on the public market one day. It would be exciting,” he said. “I hate to say the warm, fuzzy feeling. But it’s so great to hear someone say, ‘I love your beer.’”

At Iron Bird Brewing Company, co-owner Aaron Celusta said that while the brewery is expanding by adding a conjoining pizza restaurant, the brewers want to focus on making smaller batches of unique craft beer. Celusta said that while he’s noticed the craft beer customer base grow in size, not every consumer is an expert.

“We really like to take those kinds of people and bring them along, have them try different things and really spend time with them,” Celusta said. “You don’t have to go up to Denver to get great craft beer, you can do it down here. I think the scene is only going to get better.”

At Bristol Brewing Company, southern Colorado’s largest and most profitable craft brewery, owner Mike Bristol shares a lot of the same ideals as the smaller breweries. Bristol started as a home brewer and although Bristol beer can be found in liquor stores across the state, he doesn’t plan to expand to other states.

“We’ve never expanded outside of Colorado. That’s sort of a philosophical thing for us. We really want to stay as close to home as possible,” Bristol said. “Our business model is sort of defined by having the local beer consumer support us. So it just makes sense for us to support the community. It’s a circle, I think."

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