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DU Alumna Advocating for Future of Colorado Craft Beer

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Greg Glasgow

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Shawnee Adelson

Whether it’s putting on the annual Collaboration Fest, in which breweries team up to produce unique one-off beers, or giving small breweries a seat at the table during the discussions that led to full-strength beer in grocery stores, the Colorado Brewers Guild (CBG) is all about uniting and representing the interests of the state’s more than 400 craft breweries.

Leading the effort is DU alumna Shawnee Adelson, who joined the organization in 2015 and became its executive director in September. Adelson, a Colorado native who returned to the state in 2008 to attend graduate school at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, was an early fan of Denver’s craft-brewing scene. She remembers when Great Divide had the only taproom in town, and she helped organize a variety of beer festivals before joining the CBG as its membership coordinator.

“I remember going to Great Divide when I was in grad school, and it was pretty much a bar counter,” Adelson says. “You could taste things and you could go on tours, but it wasn’t a community space. It wasn’t a place for people to gather after work for a happy hour or see friends; it was mostly just a production facility. It’s changed a ton, where now we have almost 80 breweries in the city of Denver and over 100 in metro Denver.”

It’s an exciting yet challenging time for the local beer scene — Colorado brewers took home 40 medals at October’s Great American Beer Festival, but just weeks later one of the state’s oldest breweries, Boulder Beer Co., announced that it was ceasing distribution and shifting its operation to a taproom-only model. They’re developments that make an organization like the CBG all the more vital.

“Our mission is to promote and protect independent craft breweries in Colorado, and that protection side of things is really around legislation and advocacy,” Adelson says. “We spend a decent amount of our time working at the state capitol advocating for our brewers, so they don’t have to do that individually. That’s a big reason why the guild exists and why it was formed 24 years ago.”

Legislation and distribution are just two of the topics that will be discussed at the CBG’s upcoming Colorado Craft Brewers Summit, an annual conference and trade show that takes place this year on Nov. 4 and 5 at the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins. Also on the schedule are sessions addressing workplace safety, marketing and branding, brewing trends and more. And of course, the event offers brewers from around the state plenty of time to talk shop over a pint or two.

“I think the brewers like to spend some time together outside of festivals and brewing beer, and this is a good chance for them to delve into really working together,” Adelson says. “We survey our members, and over 80% of them say they joined the guild because of community. A big part of what we do is foster that community and create relationships within the industry. That’s always been something I’ve been drawn toward, and something that I developed through Korbel.”

At Korbel, Adelson studied international development with a focus on migration studies, as well as urban agriculture. An internship with Denver Urban Gardens — a local nonprofit that builds community gardens — led to a seven-year stint with the organization working on youth education around healthy eating and active living.

“One of the things that I learned to love at Denver Urban Gardens — and I think I understood this at Korbel, but it came to fruition through Denver Urban Gardens — was really serving your own community and the community that you’re living in and understanding the needs of your neighbors and helping them,” Adelson says. “I was excited to have an opportunity, after coming out of Korbel, to work with a very internationally diverse group of people — specifically the gardeners and the students that I worked with — but in my own backyard.”

And while the brewers she works with now may be less internationally diverse in their makeup, she says, those same principles of community still apply.

“People have different passions or interests, but my focus [is] really on my community, and I think a big part of that was growing up in a small town,” says Adelson, who grew up in Telluride. “Your community — you want to make that flourish and be successful.”