If you’ve read these pages often, you’ll have heard the constant drum-beat of our contributors telling our local legislators to support pro-craft beer laws. I’ve prattled on incessantly about the need for Alabama to keep breaking down the obstacles to craft beer growth in the state (not to beat a dead horse, but if you haven’t written to your local rep about the Gourmet Bottle Bill, it will be on the House calendar tomorrow! Get on it!).
One of the key points in these screeds has always been the idea that freeing up the market for craft beer will create economic growth. Naysayers could argue that even the “freest” beer market simply wouldn’t have much of an impact on a local economy. Well, to those who say “nay”, I simply say this: Asheville, North Carolina.
Today, Oskar Blues became the third (!) major regional brewery to announce expansion into the Western half of the Tarheel State.*
*Soon to change their name to the Alehead State.
Earlier this year, we saw Sierra Nevada and New Belgium announce their intentions to open East Coast HQs in Mills River, NC and the River Arts district of Asheville, NC respectively. Now Oskar Blues has selected a location in Brevard, NC…just 15 miles from the new Sierra plant and 30 miles from the New Belgium facility.
Imagine…just a few months ago, Asheville was a sleepy (albeit awesome) little mountain town with about a dozen great, but tiny breweries nearby.*
*OK…Highland Brewing isn’t exactly tiny at 30K BBLs per year, but compared to the new whales in town, it’s still just a minnow. A delicious minnow though. Love that Tasgall Ale.
Now, they’ve got the 2nd, 3rd, and 29th largest craft breweries in the US opening up shop nearby. If you’re an Alehead in Asheville (and based on what I saw during my visit there last Fall, EVERYONE is an Alehead there), you’ve got to be micturating on your carpet in excitement over this news.
Sure, there might be “some” anxiety from the smaller, local boys in town. But in truth, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues aren’t opening up plants in Asheville to drive away the local competition. No offense to Asheville…but there isn’t enough capital in town to make it worth their while. Instead, those three behemoths are coming to town so they can start saturating the East Coast. These new HQs will allow them to produce more beer of course, but they’ll also greatly reduce their carbon footprints by minimizing transportation costs. So while there will certainly be a bit of impact on the Asheville beer market, this is mostly about getting their wares into the hands of Aleheads in the Southeast and, most importantly, in the megalopolis that is the Route 95 corridor.*
*It’s been said by many industry experts that the Southeast will be THE growth market in craft over the next few years. It’s still wide open relative to the other parts of the country, and I can absolutely vouch for the tremendous thirst that Southerners have for craft beer. Actually, we’re thirsty for pretty much anything. It’s hot down here.
The biggest impact for Asheville will have nothing to do with beer though. Having three large-scale manufacturing companies come to town means more jobs, more income, and more tax revenue. If you’re a politician in America in 2012, those three things should be music to your ears. The creation of East Coast HQs for Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues will create hundreds of jobs, bring in hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, and spin off untold amounts of tax revenue over the years. All of these benefits were created because forward-thinking North Carolina legislators realized that if they created a pro-craft environment, they would eventually reap the rewards.
So let that be a lesson to ALL local legislators out there. If you’re looking for an economic stimulus package for your local economy, look no further than craft beer. Make your region as friendly as possible for craft breweries. Eliminate the hurdles to opening a brewery or brewpub. Allow them to brew high-gravity beer and sell it in large-format vessels. Allow taprooms and on-site sales. Loosen up the three-tier system…hell, let the craft breweries self-distribute! Give smaller breweries tax breaks and larger breweries incentives to open up satellite HQs in your area. Do WHATEVER it takes to encourage craft beer to grow in your region.
As North Carolina has proven…the rewards could be immense.