Breweries and Neighborhood Revitalization

There is much excitement surrounding craft beer in Maryland. Over the course of the past two decades the number of craft breweries in the state has risen dramatically, along with a growing foundation of not just local, but regional and national fans of the Free State’s malt beverages. Coming off of the most recent Great American Beer Fest (GABF), many turn their thoughts towards medals and the ability to place ‘GABF award winner’ next to their beers in the taproom. That is all well and good, and Maryland has many GABF champions among her ranks; but is it the most important thing?  It would be easy to digress and discuss quality beer, and the varying palates as I have in the past, but that is not where this post leads. Instead, it is time to discuss what the breweries are doing on the ground, in your local community, and what benefit the average citizen (beer drinker or not) derives.

 

The phrase ‘economic impact’ sounds exciting, full of promise, and pleasing, particularly if you throw in a figure over $800 million. Often those numbers are viewed (and ogled or challenged as the case may be) from a somewhat esoteric and detached frame of reference. It all sounds good (or bad) but what does it really mean for the people living there? The easy answer is that breweries are building and rejuvenating communities. When Union Craft Brewing announced the Union Collective opening in 2018, the anticipation was great. Why? Primarily because of the impact they were already having upon their community since opening. Union Collective will extend its economic tentacles well beyond the initial brewery. Yes a larger space equates to more craft beer produced, more equipment to buy, more sales, more jobs that need to be filled, and more people visiting the taproom.  The oft misunderstood part of this is what it does for the neighborhood at large. Union is taking a vacant, deteriorating structure in a forgotten part of town and revitalizing it. Many partners have signed on to operate within the collective including Baltimore Whiskey Company, Earth Treks, and Charm City Creamery. This will not only draw a diverse market of consumers, it will also continue the critical process of revitalizing the community. Money coming in via jobs and tourism feeds the regeneration of the neighborhood. This includes buildings undergoing repairs, remodeling, and repurposing to attract businesses and new residents. It forces improvement in vital infrastructure like roads, schools, and utilities. Often property values rise once the first dominos (like the building of a new brewery) have fallen. Additionally, the purposeful community outreach and philanthropic work breweries across Maryland engage in must also be factored.

 

Recently NPR covered the opening of a small craft brewery in a remote town in Nebraska where they detailed a dying town looking for a way to breathe life back into it. The answer was a brewery.

 

“If your town isn’t growing, it’s dying.”[1]

 

No truer words have been spoken. It must also be said that the demographic that breweries tap into (pun intended) includes a younger crowd that is often the impetus for change. This was witnessed with the yuppies of the 1980’s that purchased and renovated older homes in moribund neighborhoods, improving entire community (and property values) right along with it. On any drive through Maryland and her cornucopia of towns and cities, detritus can be spotted in each and every one. It might be the old abandoned grocery store in Easton, or the long dormant Sellers Mansion in Baltimore, or a boarded up Mom and Pop corner store in Carroll County, but they have a common element- potential. If a brewer has a vision, these buildings can provide a home, and that can start a revolution.

 

We all want our cities and towns to thrive, with a reduction in crime, and greater participation in the work force for its inhabitants. Breweries are a critical driver toward that goal. To achieve this, our voices must be raised in concert and heard through the statehouse in Annapolis to change the laws and allow our great industry to flourish. Foment the brewing industry and we are all partnering in the rejuvenation of our forgotten communities and people.

 

Sláinte!

 


[1] Kirk Siegler, “Tapping Rural America: Craft Breweries Breathe New Life Into Small Towns.” NPR, October 7, 2017.

 

The Tap House

When it comes to craft beer, it is easy to get lost in the nitty gritty of the industry focusing on BJCP guidelines, craft vs. macro, or ratings, among myriad things. Today I wanted to touch upon a critical partner to breweries- the taphouse (or tap house, as you prefer). Taphouses have grown in popularity (and I would argue necessity) in recent years, paralleling the growth of the craft industry state by state.

Every brewery wants to build their brand. Many include taprooms for interested consumers to sample their brews, and then take a tour of the plant. Brand building does not stop there however, and must extend into the retail sales side of things whether a bottle shop or bar. Breweries without a taproom need to reach the public, and concentrate heartily on this end of the system. The taphouse is a unique and ideal place for both. Why a taphouse over a typical bar? It stands as a beacon to craft beer lovers that fresh (usually) craft beer, often including a wide variety of local offerings is waiting for them. Most taphouses also provide smaller pours, and wee samples of craft offerings for consumers to enjoy a variety of tempting palate pleasers in one sitting without having to order five 16 oz pours. This is a gift to craft beer patrons, as it broadens their experience, exposing them to a multitude of breweries for later purchases. This helps build brands for the breweries. We have all seen and heard about the pint nights at bars, restaurants, etc to raise awareness of a brand, a new release, or a collaboration. That too is a critical component to brand recognition. I would suggest however that following up with placement at a taphouse foments that recognition, and later purchases. Why?

Taphouses know quality craft beer. They understand the import of clean lines, fresh beer, and partnership with the breweries. The beertenders hired are experts (although most are not certified Cicerones, they can elucidate the qualities of every beer on tap). They also are particular about the beers they serve, inviting confidence from their patrons. It is this relationship and venue that is ideal for breweries. Maryland boasts quite a few taphouses, and I am delighted to say they are exceptional. Max’s Taphouse (Baltimore), Baltimore Taphouse, Frisco’s Tap House (Columbia & Gambrills), JoJo’s Tap House (Frederick), Severna Park Taphouse, are only a handful, and the list goes on. Building a brand means not only crafting quality, but building relationships, and ultimately partners. The taphouse provides that willing partner, and becomes a catalyst toward recognition and success.

For many travelling craft lovers, the first place they seek out is a taphouse. That is where they expect to find the best of the local offerings, and a knowledgeable staff to inform them about the breweries behind the beers they sample. That often prompts a visit to the brewery, or at least a retail purchase in the future. It is much the same in Maryland. Maryland is rapidly becoming a beer destination. Taphouses are often a starting point, and from there a trip to brewery is next, or in some cases it is the reverse, sending thirsty travelers from brewery to taphouse and on to the next brewery. It is symbiotic and everyone making good beer, or selling it in their taphouse, or consuming it benefits from the partnership.

It is here that I would like to recognize one taphouse owner specifically. Baltimore Taphouse in Canton has become a mainstay in the city. Every craft beer lover in the region has frequented it at one time or another (or daily). That is entirely due to one man- John Bates. It was his vision, his passion for craft that motivated him to open Baltimore Taphouse. His dreams were realized, through his relationships with breweries, his community, and every patron that passed through his doors. Any person that met him appreciated his kind and passionate soul and his love of quality malted beverages. Sadly,  Mr. Bates passed away on July 22 of this year. His legacy lives on through his wife Kristen, and the incredible business he built. Raise a glass in honor of Mr. Bates, a good soul who loved craft beer, and helped us all to love it even more.

To find out more about John Bates:
Yours For Good Fermentalbes
Baltimore Beer Baron

Room for more breweries?

Looking at the growth of craft breweries in the United States over the past decade, many have pondered if there perhaps are too many breweries these days. Noticeably the question took on more significance once the number of craft breweries eclipsed 5,000 in 2016. Blasphemy or Truth? Reality dictates it is based on upon factors within each state of the union. One thing I love about the Brewers Association of America is their willingness to keep such detailed statistics. This is particularly relevant when it comes to determining the answer to such questions as how many is too many?

According to BA 2016 data, Maryland has not reached saturation yet at 65 breweries. How do they know? Taking the overall craft beer production, barrels sold, population, and economic impact (just under $652 million for 2016) they created an algorithm to determine where each state ranks and when they near the tipping point of saturation. Currently Maryland ranks 36th in the nation with 1.5 breweries per capita. Based on our population each adult in Maryland consumes approximately 2 gallons of beer per year (raising us to 25th overall!) So what does this tell us? We have far fewer breweries than most states, but we drink a lot more craft beer per person. It also means we have room for growth. Vermont does not have room for growth ranking 1st at 10.8 breweries per capita (100,000) and they have a noticeably smaller economic impact than Maryland at $271 million. Vermont has reached saturation, and other states like Colorado are not far behind.

Even with all of this room for growth in Maryland, which is rapidly marking her place as a premier beer tourist destination, there are still more than 65 breweries (2016 numbers)and counting.  How does a brewery in Maryland stake a claim as relevant, worth a drive,  or investment in a six pack? What value can a new brewery add to those already established? It is fairly  simple really. The priority focus of  a new brewery should be to make certain they are producing a quality brew. There is no longer room for errors in the market as consumers are less forgiving, and more willing to drive to the brewery down the street if they feel a product isn’t well crafted. Beyond quality how does a brewery set itself apart? This is where it gets tricky. I am always the first person to state that every palate is different and what one person loves another will find no affection for leaving the field wide open when it comes to flavor and style.

Many breweries try to make their mark via the name- attempting to make it synonymous with the state, or a particular city, or sports team, or important person. When the field begins to get crowded these catchy names may become irrelevant and lost in the mix forcing breweries to find something else to set them above. A niche perhaps? Indeed. There is so much that has changed in the industry since brewing first began in the colonies and even more so since Repeal of Prohibition. Hop varieties have multiplied, offering innumerable possibilities for creative (sometimes adventurous) brewers willing to try something new. Most recently exciting news has come out of Britain that a new strain of yeast has been discovered specifically for lager beer. This offers the possibility of more variety for craft lagers. Another opportunity for brewers is stretching beyond strict BJCP style guidelines as many American brewers have been known to do. Additives are bit tricky, even if one does not want to stay within the guidelines. One of the defining features of craft used to mean no adjuncts (or technically fewer than macro) and specifically corn was targeted as a no-go for craft. Things have changed. One example is a curiously crafted popcorn beer created by a brewery down south- that is thinking outside of the box! A consumer would be hard pressed to find this anyplace else.

Perhaps the ‘niche’ is reversing the trend and going back to what reawakened a love of beer- the historic brews that got us drinking once again. Stillwater Artisanal created a post- Prohibition lager, Premium that relied upon corn and rice adjuncts to mimic the style of the time. Many breweries have seized upon historic beers as a distinctive focal point and the results are often quite delicious- bringing thirsty patrons back for more. The bottom line for new breweries is that there is room for growth in Maryland if they start with quality brews (regardless of the styles they make) it is the first step to longevity and recognition. Beyond that anything is possible in this rapidly expanding industry. It can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

Prost!