Reporter’s Notebook: Small Brewers with a Big Stake in Beer

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“Local” means all sorts of things to people.

When it comes to locally-made goods, it could be from your neighborhood, your city, your county or your state. It could be anything within a 50-mile radius. Or even 100 miles.

No matter what your personal definition may be, one inarguable fact is that small brewers making local beer are a big deal these days.

In April, I shared some behind-the-scenes photos and info about Bear Creek Brews, a tiny professional brewery situated on 38 acres of forest in Bear Creek, NC. Kegs and bottles produced at Bear Creek are sold quickly at just a few bars and restaurants in neighboring towns, delivered by owner and brewer Dave Peters. It’s beer made and sold within roughly 20 miles and has earned Dave a strong relationship with beer drinkers in his community.

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The office at Bear Creek Brews. See other photos and learn more in this post.

Today, Bear Creek Brews is part of a story you can now read online from All About Beer, in which I explore the role nanobreweries play in today’s beer industry.

At the end of 2014, the Brewers Association estimated nearly 3,500 American breweries – they’re currently opening at a rate of almost two a day. Given the sheer volume of businesses, you can imagine that the idea of serving and focusing on the immediate, local community is becoming more important, which is one of the reasons I was interested in writing this story.

We often hear about the “beer bubble” and hitting saturation points for the amount of breweries and beer we can handle, but from my prospective, it’s an entirely local proposition. If a business wants to start and stay small, which offers a variety of benefits, then perhaps it’s easier to handle a greater number of breweries. Maybe we’re just shifting back to a pre-Prohibition culture, where breweries and bars were very much a neighborhood thing.

In my reporting for a different story, I came across Steve Chernoski, a beer enthusiast who lives in Lambertville, NJ. He set a personal goal in 2015 to only drink beer made within 250 miles of his home or wherever he may be vacationing with his wife. He wanted to do it to support local economies, shrink his carbon footprint and highlight the benefit of what local businesses have to offer.

“Of the independent hometown brewers I’ve meet, many of them see themselves as stewards of the community,” Steve said. “A place for ideas to be born and for good vibes in the towns.”

Which is a mindset I’ve increasingly seen not just from people drinking beer, but from those who are making it as well.

As the beer industry grows and evolves, the idea of “local,” in terms of personal connection and literal production, seems poised to play a more important role. Which is why I’m excited to have a front row seat for the rise of the little guys.

Read my All About Beer story about nanorbreweries here.

Related: North Carolina’s Smallest Brewery

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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Who Are the Millennial Beer Drinkers? Part 2: Why Craft Beer is ‘The One’

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This week I’m working on posts to respond to a question posed by reader Briana, who took interest in my (now ongoing) series about the cross section of craft beer and Millennials, who range from 18 to 33.

Mainly, she was curious about whether or not young drinkers have an affinity for buying cheaper beer to get more, rather than spending extra money on craft beer and ending up with less.

The way we left things in my previous post showed that while buying cheap beer for the sake of binge drinking may certainly be a case for some Millennials, available data suggests it’s heavily skewed toward 18 to 24-year olds and most likely, college students.

So if that’s the case, let’s get back to the original question from Briana:

…why are the young, broke, and cool more interested in spending $5 or more on a craft beer when they could be buying a cheaper beer and getting more of it?

To me, there are actually several sociological and cultural patterns that may lend themselves to answering this question. Aside from the natural response, “because craft beer tastes better,” of course.
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Who Are the Millennial Beer Drinkers? Part 1: Do We Have a Problem?

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Tip of the hat to fearless reader, Briana, who chimed in on my previous post regarding Millennials and a preference for craft/local beer. That post, which ran down a list of reasons I believe locally-produced beer is the beer of choice for young drinkers, inspired these questions from Briana:

…why are the young, broke, and cool more interested in spending $5 or more on a craft beer when they could be buying a cheaper beer and getting more of it?

…ultimately their wallets are taking a bigger hit than their conscious on corporate responsibility ever will. While false advertising, local support, and the story all matter there is still something missing.

Specifically, Briana points out her interest in the habits of younger Millennials, which as a whole is an age group that spans 18 to 33 year olds. She asks about 21 to 26 year olds, with curiosity if the “main goal/instant gratification is getting drunk on a budget.”

Thanks to Briana for raising the issue and as I often do, I was tempted to dig deeper. While there may not be absolute, direct correlations to tie drinking patterns together, I do believe there’s a series of preferences and behaviors that leads us to a conclusion.

Let’s dive in…
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Why Local Beer is (More and More) a Young Person’s Game

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Because I have a hard time finishing a thought in just one post, I wanted to add something to my comments on AB InBev’s problem with Millennials.

While my original goal was to answer some of the “why” regarding young drinker’s lack of interest in Budweiser and Bud Light, it occurred to me that the other side should be examined – why are Millennials so damned interested in craft beer? Lots of reasons, surely.

Why are young, small craft breweries different than AB InBev? In a lot of ways, but when it comes to the main reason of my original piece – influence on Millennial-aged drinkers – I think today’s breweries are at an advantage because they HAVE to be open, honest and connected to succeed in a local marketplace. They rely on their community for financial support, but they also rely on them for word of mouth and emotional support.

drink_local_logoLocal is the name of the game now for food and drink. There’s a reason that Millennials – craft beers biggest fans – flock to brands their parents and grandparents aren’t as interested in.

When we say young people love craft beer, it’s easy to point toward key aspects of innovation and taste, both which are leaps and bounds (purposefully) above Budweiser or Bud Light.  But I’d argue that there’s more to it than that.
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This is the Real ‘Winification’ of Beer

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It seems whenever you turn around these days, there’s some media outlet hyping the mainstream impact of craft beer…

Among the phrases to consistently draw ire from beer nerds such as myself is the “winification of beer,” more commonly seen as a headline posing the question: “Is beer the new wine?”

No, beer is not wine, nor is it the “new” wine. Most often, these pieces will focus on aesthetic aspects of craft beer purchasing, like the size of a bottle (22-ounce bombers becoming more prominent) or pricing (those large bottles can be compared to the price of a bottle of wine).

These are simply easily-spotted visual cues that could allow consumers to compare and contrast between wine and beer. No, the real “winification of beer” isn’t on the outside of a bottle, it’s on the inside.
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The Six-Pack Project: Beers from Around the Country

six pack-beerWith Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, we’ve entered the (unofficial) start of summer. Barbecues, beaches and vacations lie ahead.

But what’s a trip away from home without throwing beer into the mix?

Enter the Six-Pack Project. It’s a new, collaborative effort between beer bloggers from around the country to highlight a six-pack of our state’s native brews that we believe best represent what the beer culture of our respective states offer. If someone is coming to visit, what bottles or cans would we want to share?

Here are our rules:

  • Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
  • Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
  • Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
  • Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.

Welcome to the inaugural round of the Six-Pack Project. I hope to include bloggers from across the U.S. in future versions, so contact me on Twitter if you or someone you know may fit the bill.

Some quick notes to about selections for my state, North Carolina:

1. I approached this task as if I were building a flight of beers for you to try. Because of that, I’ve picked six different styles of beers that would (hopefully) take you through a great North Carolina beer experience, although subjectively selected by me.

2. All of these picks can be found year-round in NC beer shops.

Without further adieu, let’s find out what North Carolina has to offer…
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What Makes Beer “Local?”

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Because of immense growth in the number of breweries across the country, the idea of “world domination” may not necessarily be a reality any more. Domination, like many start-ups’ distribution network, can be accomplished in a city, town, state or region.

Is it realistic for any new brewery to become the next Sierra Nevada or New Belgium these days? More importantly – does that matter?

Not necessarily.

One of the great things about our craft beer boom is that as breweries start small, many are staying “small.” Or, at least, staying committed to their hometown audience.

That’s good because in recent years, consumer behavior has shifted toward the “buy local” movement, especially those that emphasize the ideals and practices of “local” or “community” within their business. Essentially, if a business is good to its local, loyal customers, they’ll be loyal right back.

“From a business standpoint, local consumers are a huge component of a brewery’s fan base, and in many cases their bottom line,” said David Ackley, founder of the Local Beer Blog. “A brewery taproom offers a significant profit margin that can be especially useful, if not critical, to smaller breweries just getting off the ground. The local fans are also usually the first to spread the word about a new beer release or a special event, either over social media or by word of mouth.”

Local, dedicated business is important – no doubt – so what is it exactly that makes people think “local” when it comes to their beer? Continue reading