The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Ali­ci­aWal­lace

Craft beer’s heady growth spurt was show­ing no signs of flat­ten­ing at the start of the year. Hun­dreds of new en­trants fired up ket­tles, and scores of es­tab­lished play­ers ex­panded oper­a­tions.

The rag­ing move­ment to­ward small, in­de­pen­dently pro­duced brews drove the num­ber ofU.S. brew­eries to 4,144 in early De­cem­ber, an all-time high.

Amid the time of great ex­pan­sion was a bil­low­ing wave of change.

The beer be­he­moths and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists opened their check­books. The year brought a bil­lion-dol­lar buy­out of Bal­last Point, Fire­man Cap­i­tal qui­etly stak­ing a claim in Long­mont’s Oskar Blues and An­heuser-Busch InBev buy­ing eight craft brew­eries— in­clud­ing Lit­tle­ton-based Breck­en­ridge Brew­ery.

“It’s too early in the process to see how suc­cess­ful it’s go­ing to be,” said Kyle R. Lein­gang, an at­tor­ney who spe­cial­izes in the craft beer in­dus­try and ac­qui­si­tions at Dorsey& Whit­ney LLP in Southern Cal­i­for­nia. “You’ve al­ready seen amore ba­sic shift in how a lot of craft beer drinkers are think­ing about the def­i­ni­tion of craft beer.

“Does craft beer even mean what it meant at the end of last year?”

With the craze for craft on one end, the year brought the long-an­tic­i­pated an­nounce­ment that AB InBev would pair up with ri­val SABMiller. The gar­gan­tuan, $100 bil­lion-plus deal is a global-fo­cused play for the two largest brew­ers, but it has equal­ly­mas­sive im­pli­ca­tions lo­cally.

Den­ver-based Mol­son Coors could grow sig­nif­i­cantly as it aims to ac­quire the re­main­ing por­tion of theU.S.-based MillerCoors joint ven­ture it did not al­ready own. The AB InBev-SABMiller com­bi­na­tion also has raised con­cerns and reg­u­la­tory in­quiries about howthe deal would give the in­dus­try lead­ers a stran­gle­hold on dis­tri­bu­tion.

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