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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

If you like beer, Denver is the place to be today. Tens of thousands of craft beer-makers, distributors and just plain beer drinkers are in town for the Great American Beer Festival. All 40,000 tickets are sold.

And as Kirk Siegler of member station KUNC reports, that's an indication of how well this growing industry is doing even in the bad economy.

KIRK SIEGLER: Nearly 150 small craft breweries have opened their doors this year, including Pateros Creek Brewing Company in the craft-beer Mecca of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Owner and head brewer Steve Jones mashes up grains in a small mill for a fresh batch of ale. Jones, along with his father and his wife, opened up this tiny brewery and adjoining tap room just three months ago. They're the only employees, not counting the volunteers.

STEVE JONES: We have my mother, we have my sister, my brother-in-law. We have a friend Jeff, we have a friend Rick, and we have a friend Franklin.

SIEGLER: All of whom will be manning the taps here while Jones spends the weekend in Denver at a booth at the Great American Beer Festival. Even though his fledgling business has only been open for three months, he didn't think twice about forking over the $600 to enter his beers into the competition.

JONES: The crazy thing is, this is one of those industries, at least right now, that people are accepting as, hey, you know, I will spend my extra dollar here, versus extra dollar somewhere else.

SIEGLER: Indeed, sales of craft beer have risen by 15 percent just this year, even as sales of large, mass-produced beers like Coors or Bud have dipped. Paul Gatza heads the Brewers Association, the trade group that puts on the beer festival. He says many states have made it easier for small breweries to open up.

PAUL GATZA: It doesn't cost much to get licensed. What it takes is skill and expertise at the brewing process. But right now, craft beers are very popular and it's a pretty good environment for a new brewery to open.

SIEGLER: More than 400 breweries, young and old, are coming to the festival. It's considered the venue for new breweries to get noticed and distinguish themselves in a market that's getting more and more crowded.

PAUL BESTAFKA: Frankly, we're here in the Mecca. We're in the Napa Valley of the brewing industry here in Denver, Colorado.

SIEGLER: All the innovation going on within the craft beer industry is exciting for beer aficionados like Paul Bestafka. He's just finished up a Mexican amber spiced with poblano peppers here at the new Renegade Brewery in Denver.

BESTAFKA: It's following the same lines of the culinary movement that the United States has followed over the past 10 to 15 years. And, you know, the future is really bright for craft brewing. Thank God.

SIEGLER: Brewery's co-owner, brew master and, well, business manager, bartender and everything else you can think of, is Brian O'Connell. He quit his job as a statistician because he wanted to turn his love of home brewing into a career.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BRIAN O: Yeah. Busy doesn't quite describe it. Yeah, it's nonstop work, basically - seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day.

SIEGLER: Hmm, I always pictured the beer world to be much more glamorous.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGLER: Like Pateros Creek Brewing, Renegade has only been open for three months, but O'Connell sales have been strong, led by the early customer favorite: a rye India pale ale. It's one of five beers he'll enter in the competition.

CONNELL: Our brewery is five blocks from the festival, so we can stand at our booth and say, hey, go check out the brewery, you can walk there from here.

SIEGLER: And even if he doesn't win, O'Connell figures just being at the event will lead to a further boost in business.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

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