Site Visit: Bristol Brewing Co. in Colorado

By Jason Doré, Assistant Chief Counsel for External Affairs and Director of Information

The history of brewing in Colorado is a long one. Coors Brewing Company was founded there in Golden, Co in 1873. Many refer to Colorado as “the Napa Valley of beer” as the most recent statistics released by the Brewers Association show nearly 350 craft breweries are located in the state. The economic impact of craft brewing in Colorado ranks first per capita in the nation and has a three billion annual economic impact on the state’s economy.

Thus, while in Colorado for the recent Regional Regulatory Roundtables, Advocacy joined SBA’s Region VIII Administrator, Daniel Nordberg, and local SBA staff at one of the first craft breweries founded in Colorado, Bristol Brewing, to learn about this unique small business history and challenges.

The now thriving craft industry is a relatively new one. Mike and Amanda Bristol were at the forefront of the Colorado craft brew industry when they established Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs in 1994.

Through the years, Bristol utilized SBA loan programs to assist in the growth of their business, most recently when they moved to their third location at a site of a shuttered elementary school, Ivywild School. If it weren’t for the SBA, he said the deal would not have been a possibility,

The doors of the school are open once again with much of the original building intact. The halls are lined with student art and the former art teacher at the school has filled the building with murals.  The principal’s office has been converted into a cocktail bar. Former science classrooms and materials are now used in the brewery’s lab. The former gymnasium and auditorium looks as it did when elementary kids performed plays and played dodgeball there. Now that space is utilized for weekly live music performances and community gatherings.

“We were trying to keep as much of the school character as possible,” Bristol said.

Bristol’s brewing facilities and pub is not the only small business located in Ivywild.  The marketplace features a cocktail bar, bakery, whiskey distillery, a handmade gift market and the offices of a full service advertising agency.

Bristol thus far has successfully navigated the many federal, state and local regulations governing his business and building.

“We’re a heavily regulated industry so we’re used to regulations,” Bristol said. “Let’s just make rules that make sense.”

A proposed FDA rule would have initially required new labels and approvals for each beer the brewery developed. As a craft brewery, Bristol puts out a new beer every two to three months so this burden would have been devastating. Instead, the craft brewers were able to work out compliance that only requires new labels for a new style of beer. He also remarked that the efficiency of label approving has improved dramatically over the past two years.

The tax break for craft brewers in the recent tax reform legislation has allowed him to hire two new full time employees, but this particular tax break expires in two years.

“We’d love to see that made permanent,” Bristol said.

As we’ve heard from other small businesses at all of our regional regulatory roundtables across the country, the cost of health insurance is a major issue for Bristol and his ability to keep employees.

Advocacy was in Wyoming and Colorado for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables August 7-9.

Can’t get to a roundtable near you? Fill out this form and tell us about your federal regulatory burdens. We will pass this information on to the appropriate agency and use it in the planning of upcoming Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables.

Jason Doré is Advocacy’s Director of Information/Assistant Chief Counsel for External Affairs. He can be reached at


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