(Nov. 14, 2014) The state of craft beer is strong.
Brewery, restaurant and hotel owners gathered at Burley Oak in Berlin on Monday, Nov. 10 to provide industry insight into just how successful the craft beer industry has become and where it might go next.
Organizer Ann Hillyer, from OceanCity.com, said 90 people RSVP’d to attend he first “State of Craft Beer on the Shore” forum.
“That is a real tribute to how interesting and exciting local craft beer is,” she said. “I think it’s going to mean that we will be successful in making Ocean City a craft beer destination. We want to rival Bend, Ore. and Asheville, N.C.”
Hillyer said many believe craft beer is a fad and that a number of area restaurants are not serving local craft beer.
“Some restaurants didn’t even know you existed,” she said. “Awareness and education is absolutely key to the success of making Ocean City a craft beer destination. We want to drink more beer. We want to create more demand for craft beer and we want to make sure that everybody to knows … that Ocean City is the place to come to get outrageous craft beers.”
Hillyer said there were 18 craft breweries in the region shore and nine within 30 minutes of Berlin.
“This is a real collaborative effort,” she said. “I have never worked with people who are more collaborative than the breweries. It’s an amazing group of people. What they are selling and what they are producing is worth celebrating and it’s worth bringing the focus so we can make Ocean City a craft beer destination.”
According to Anthony Towey, also from OceanCity.com, the craft brewing movement began in San Francisco in 1965 when Fritz Maytag took over the Anchor Brewing Company.
“Maytag comes from a family of pioneers. His grandfather founded the washing machine company. His father developed Maytag blue cheese,” he said. “His beer, ‘Anchor Steam,’ was the first really to challenge status the quo with big, hoppy flavors.”
Maytag would go on to mentor the founders of other pioneering companies, including Starbucks and Sierra Nevada. Towey said the emergence of Anchor Steam also spurred the home brewer explosion of the 1980s.
“I heard Ann mention the word ‘fad’ and I’ve gotten that a lot too,” Towey said. “My contention is fads lose momentum as they go on; revolutions get stronger. And craft beer is getting stronger every day.”
Towey said there were more than 3,000 craft breweries in the U.S. in 2014 with more than 2,000 more on the way. Seventy five percent of all Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery.
In 2013, craft beer contributed $33.9 billion to U.S. economy, including more than 360,000 jobs.
Craft beer sales rose 17.2 percent in 2013 while overall sales fell 1.9 percent. Overall exports fell during the same year, while craft beer exports grew 49 percent.
Towey attributed the craft beer boom on the Eastern Shore to ample land, an abundance of clean water and easy access to highways, distribution networks and prime markets.
“Craft beer can increase tourism during the shoulder season and off season,” he said. “It can also bring a higher number of more affluent visitors. As long as I can remember this is a target demographic that Ocean City has wanted to cater to and I think craft beer is a way that we can get these visitors here year round.”
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association representative Susan Jones, not surprisingly, advocated partnerships between breweries, hotels and restaurants.
“We are all gathered here today because we can bring more revenue to our area by partnering,” she said. “We need to create planned activities for the visitors. They are no longer willing to just sit on the beach and read a book. We have to give people a reason to come to Ocean City and to our local area.”
Jones said hotel packages could include brew cruises, beer pairings with local restaurants, walking tours and group tours.
“For the restaurants in the room I think it’s really exciting,” she said. “The more taps you have at your bar with local beers, you’re helping the local movement. It’s really all about buying local these days.”
Restaurants, said Jones, can offer beer flights, beer pairings, beer dinners and “hoppy” hours.
“The possibilities are endless,” she said. “The whole idea is to work together and partner.”
“The people that drink beer are going to make this destination,” Jones continued. “If you drink it and you ask for it at the restaurants … that will let the restaurants know that they need to serve the local craft beers.”
Tom Knorr of Evolution Craft Brewing Co. and Bryan Brushmiller of Burley Oak Brewing Company delivered the keynote address, “Why Local Beer is Better.”
“Local is so good because of money,” Brushmiller said. “The number one thing about small businesses or buying local is the fact that the money stays in the community. Seventy percent of our revenue comes from the front of this house right here; $5 and $6 pints of beer have built this small business. By you guys coming in and buying a pint of beer … we are able employ 14 people. That’s 14 people that are supporting their families that live here locally. It doesn’t really get more local than that.”
Brushmiller said money spent in a local business filters back into the communities.
“We’re keeping all our money here on the shore,” he said.
Knorr said many local breweries pass their knowledge on to hotel and restaurant staff.
“We’ll educate them throughout the process, which actually makes your staff looks great in the eyes of your guests,” he said. “That’s something that big beer can’t offer.”
Knorr said all 18 craft brewers on the Eastern Shore bring something different to the table.
“They are all completely different, but really all of them have a lot of soul, which is the coolest thing about this.”