Across the country, in towns and large cities, micro-breweries and brew pubs are playing a big role in a small town, neighborhood renaissance. In this month’s Ale Street New publication, which follows trends in the brewery industry, Brewer’s Association economist Bart Watson says, “Beer is big business that, until recently, was highly concentrated in relatively few geographic areas. The fact that 75% of 21+ adults now live with 10 miles of a brewery means that the economic impact of the industry, including jobs and investment is much more evenly distributed than it has been in the past.” This also means that small, local producers tend to connect with other local businesses, bolstering the overall local economy.
According to Brewer’s Association statistics, small breweries and brew pubs contributed $55.7 billion to the U.S. economy (when you add non-beer products such as food and merchandize), and created 115, 000 jobs (directly related to work in breweries and brew pubs). The dollar figure may be even higher, as it is hard to track all beer sales through tasting rooms and brew pubs, “What we don’t really know how much beer is being sold through the tough-to-rack channels…the total is significant and is growing very quickly,” Watson said.
Beer tourism, one aspect of the industry that could benefit Cape Charles, has been experiencing exponential growth in the last few years. The creation of ‘beer and ale trails’, which have been popping up all across the country have been a big benefit to small breweries, but also local government and tourist agencies. Maine and Vermont, two states that have embraced the microbrewery industry, are seeing the most success with trails. Tourism numbers associated with trails promoted by the Granite State Brewers Association have been growing each year. Of course, the Vermont Brewers Festival is one of the top beer tourism events in nation.
A story in Greenville Online shows that, closer to home, the Greenville-Asheville corridor in the Carolinas is seeing a beer tourism boom. A big part of this is the residual interest generated by the Sierra Nevada plant just outside Asheville. Asheville and Buncombe County, North Carolina have 18 breweries and more than 40 are open around the mountains, with more scheduled to open in the next year. Mike Okupinski, owner of the Community Tap craft beer and wine store notes, “You can only benefit from being close to a place like Asheville…People are coming from all over. And being between Atlanta and Charlotte, people will ‘Google’ “Greenville beer” and stop by.
“We get a lot of people coming from ‘beer pilgrimages’ to Asheville,” says Mark Johnsen, owner of RJ Rockers. Anne-Fittten Glenn, spokeswoman for Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard, North Carolina reports that they are also seeing an impact on visitation from Sierra Nevada, with folks coming there from up and down the East Coast. Many Asheville breweries are adding outdoor venues this spring to enhance the visitor experience, including Highland Brewing and Green Man Brewery, where rooftop beer gardens are under construction.
Although the Smith’s Brew Pub may never come to be, they were definitely ahead of the curve. Cape Charles and the Eastern Shore are coming on fast as destination location. One day, maybe several brew pubs or craft breweries may add another layer to our tourism foundation.