Category Archives: Craft Breweries

How Many Breweries?

Every now and then, I come across a headline that raises the question as to whether we are reaching saturation point with respect to the number of craft breweries that we have in the United States. Very often, the question is asked with regard to a particular city. Examples of such headlines include:

Does San Diego have too many breweries?

How many is too many? Two more breweries announce openings in Grand Rapids

Is Cleveland over served by breweries?

For the record, there were 5,301 breweries in the United States at the end of 2016, of which 5,234 were craft breweries. The five metropolitan areas with the largest knumber of craft breweries in 2016 were:

  • Seattle, WA                   123 breweries
  • San Diego, CA              115 breweries
  • Portland, OR                 114 breweries
  • Los Angeles, CA             96 breweries
  • Denver, CO                       93 breweries

The answer to the question as to how many breweries a particular town or city can support is – it depends. It depends on a number of factors; and the existence and strength of these factors differ from place to place. So what are some of the factors that might determine how many breweries a city can support? And what are the strategies that individual breweries (and places) might pursue in order to increase their probability of success in what is becoming an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace?

Population Size and Composition

It would seem obvious that larger cities can support more breweries. Generally speaking there is a truth to this. Portland, OR whose metropolitan area has 2.2 million people has more breweries than Bend, OR, whose metropolitan area has a population of 165,000.  However, Portland also has more breweries than some larger metropolitan areas, including for example, New York and Los Angeles. So clearly there is more than just population size influencing the number of breweries in a place.

Millennials, such as these at Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland, OH, are the driving force behin craft beer’s popularity.

One of those other factors seems to be the population composition of a place. Market research shows the Millennial cohort (21-37 year olds) to be the primary driver behind craft beer’s popularity. So, if a city has more younger people (Millennials) then it may be able to support more craft breweries, than a city whose population has a greater percentage of older people. Some research that I have done with my colleagues Ralph McLaughlin and Mike Moore suppshows that the number one factor, determining how many craft breweries that a metropolitan area can support, is the share of its population who are in the 25-44 age range; the greater the percentage share of 25-44 year olds, the more craft breweries you tend to find.

Beer Tourism
Beer tourists at Heist Brewery in Charlotte, NC

The number of breweries that a city can support may not only depend on the size and composition of its resident population, but  also  on its ability to attract visitors, i.e. tourists, from outside.  Beer tourism is becoming increasingly popular. A town that is a tourist destination may be able to support a greater number of breweries than a similar sized town that is not a tourist destination. Indeed, breweries themselves may become tourist attractions, drawing visitors in from its surrounding communities and even further afield. A number of communities, including Grand Rapids, MI, have been able to attract a growing number of so-called beer tourists to their community. A community than can attract a lot of tourists is not solely dependent upon its resident population to support its craft breweries; thus may have a larger number of breweries than you might expect based upon its population size and composition.

Neolocalism
Vermont has more craft breweries per capita than any other state

Neolocalism refers to the preference of individuals to purchase products and services that are produced locally by individuals who live in the community. Activities in which neolocalists engage include supporting the local music scene, purchasing locally produced fruits and vegetables from a farmers market, and drinking beer brewed at a local brewery. Some people are more committed to neolocalism than others. The more people in a city that have a preference for local products, the more likely it is that it can support a larger number of craft breweries. In the aforementioned research that I did with McLaughlin and Moore, we found that metropolitan areas that have more farmers markets (a proxy for Neolocalism) are more likely to have more craft breweries (even after we controlled for other factors such as the size and composition of the population). In another blog entry, earlier this year, I addressed the issue as to why the state of Vemont leads the nation in the number of craft breweries per capita. One of the key factors in explaining this, is the fact that Vermont is number one when it comes to local food initiatives. On a per capita basis, Vermont has more farmers markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) than any other state. On a per capita basis, it also has more hospitals that are pledged to purchasing local food than any other state. Indeed, on seven variables that measure a state’s commitment to purchasing and eating locally-produced food, Vermont ranks first on six of them. So it is no surprise that the state ranks top on craft breweries per capita – Vermonters love local food and love local beer. Indeed,  Vermonters drink more craft beer per capita (19.6 gallons per adult of legal drinking age) than any other state in the union.

Size and Type of Breweries

The size and typeof the craft breweries themselves is also important. The largest type of brewery, as defined by the Brewers Association, is what is called a Regional Craft Brewery. These are breweries that produce between fifteen thousand and six million barrels of beer per year. They tend to serve geographically extensive markets. For example, Boston Beer Company sells it beer in all fifty states, as well as internationally. Bell’s Brewery, who have breweries in Comstock, MI and Kalamazoo, MI, distribute their beer to thirty-two states and Washington, D.C. In 2016, there were 186 Regional Craft Breweries in the United States.

Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery distribute their beer in xx states (Source: Bell’s Brewery).

As Regional Craft Breweries are not dependent upon the size of the local market, they can be found in smaller communities . Perhaps the best example of this is the Spoetzl Brewery.  Spoetzl is located in Shiner, TX (population 2,069). Spoetzl ‘s beers (including its flagship Shiner Bock) is available for sale in most parts of the country. In my city of Toledo, OH, I can by beers brewed by Spoetzl in several dozen bars and retail outlets. The amount of beer that the Spoetzl Brewery produces has nothing to do with the size of the town in which it is located.

Bars and retailers in Toledo, OH that sell beer brewed by Spoetzl Brewery (Source: Spoetzl Brewery)

Breweries that produce under fifteen thousand barrels annually are classified as either Brewpubs or Microbreweries. The Brewers Association defines a Brewpub as “a restaurant-brewery that sells 25 percent or more of its beer on site. The beer is brewed primarily for sale in the [brewery’s] restaurant and bar.” A Microbrewery, on the other hand, sells 75 percent or more of its beer off-site. Most of the beer it sells reaches the consumer via bars, restaurants, or retail outlets such as liquor stores. A sub-category of Brewpubs/Microbreweries are Nano Breweries.  The Brewers Association does not provide a definition of a Nanobrewery. In fact, very few states define a Nano Brewery. One notable exception is New Hampshire, who  define a Nanobrewery as one which produces under two thousand barrels of beer per year.

Like Regional Craft Breweries, Microbreweries are less dependent upon foot-traffic. They distribute most of their beer to a larger geographic market, and sell it via bars, restaurants, and retail outlets (liquor stores etc.). Think of Microbreweries as small-scale versions of Regional Craft Breweries.

Brewpubs, as noted above, sell most of their beer on-site. As such, they are very dependent upon foot-traffic (either in the form of residents or visitors) to sell their beer. In addition to beer, another attraction of Brewpubs is food. Indeed, the food aspect of Brewpubs is one that is often overlooked. According to the journalist Rebecca Skoch, the fact that Brewpubs sell food, makes them “just as much restaurants as breweries.” The dual-offerings of beer and food has the potential to attract more customers. The food has to be good though. Brewpubs are increasingly recognizing the importance of high quality food. A number of Brewpubs in Chicago, for example, “are refocusing to champion their food, bringing in seasoned chefs to create more polished and elegant menus that will garner as much attention as their beers.” Indeed, Chicago is home to the country’s first Michelin-rated Brewpub – Band of Bohemia. Not all Brewpubs need to provide Michelin-rated food to keep customers happy. An above average hamburger or pizza will probably suffice.

Size of brewery and the primary venue for sales (on-site versus off-site) influences how many breweries a city can sustain. The larger the geographic footprint of a brewey’s market area, the less important the size and composition of the local market is likely to be. In other words, the city is more important as a production location, and less important as market place. So a small city could, theoretically be home to a large number of breweries which are focused primarily on external markets. When it comes to Brewpubs (and Nanobreweries) the size of individual establishments is important. A city could support a large number of Nanobreweries, each producing low volumes of beer annually. In an article in San Diego Magazine, Bruce Glassman asked “Can San Diego sustain 100 Green Flashes? [a Regional Craft Brewery] Probably not. Can it sustain 200 “nanos” making 500 barrels a year? Entirely possible.”

Market Focus

Closely related to size and type of brewery is market focus. Indeed, the three are inextricably intertwined. One of the strategic decisions facing the owners of craft breweries is the extent to which their growth and success is going to be dependent upon nurturing local markets or focusing upon penetrating geographically more distant markets. By definition, the Regional Craft Breweries, such as Stone Brewing and New Belgium Brewing, have been very successful by pursuing the latter of these two strategies. There seems to be an emerging consensus, however, that new craft  breweries (and many existing ones) should focus on developing their local market. Intuitively, this makes sense. The market is not large enough for an additional five thousand New Belgiums (see Bruce Glasman’s quote in the previous paragraph). It might be large enough, however, for an additional five  thousand small-scale Brewpubs, that are focused on serving high quality beer and food to locals and tourists. Focusing on the local market allows a brewery to develop a loyal following of consumers. Writing in Wine & Craft Beverage News, Tamara Scully suggests that:

“One advantage to staying locally focused is the connection to the local consumer, and even control over the product. If a local bar is having issues with the tap, a small brewer can respond. If a bar sells out unexpectedly, distributing your own product can mean a rapid response time, for example.”

Nine Giant Brewing, which opened in Cincinnati, OH, in 2015 focuses on attracting patrons from  its Pleasant Ridge (and surrounding) neighborhood(s). According to co-owner, Brandon Hughes:

“When we started, we wanted to be part of a community. I want to know our regular customers because they live down the street. Our success hinges on our ability to attract those customers and deliver them an experience that compels them to come back and visit us again.”

There is scientific research supporting the contention that smaller breweries, focused on more geographically constrained markets, may be the most prudent approach. According to a study published by Wesson and João Nieva de Figueiredo in the Journal of Business Venturing, the most “successful microbreweries are geographically focused, often producing specialized products with a strong local flavor”.

The Future

So what does the future hold for craft beer in America’s towns and cities? As a Geographer, I would argue that geography is important. Bart Watson, Chief Economist of the Brewers Association, agrees. Watson recognizes importance of place (and differences between places) when trying to figure out how many breweries a particular city can support. As noted by Watson, “it varies by all the demographics and socioeconomics and rules of a place.” Watson also believes that most markets can support more breweries. In an interview in a January 2017, Watson  stated that, “while the craft brewing industry is entering a period of maturation, most markets are not near saturation.”

Ratio Beerworks is one of the many breweries in Denver’s River North neighborhood. I visited Ratio while in Denver last month.

In an article about the market for craft beer in Philadelphia, PA, journalist Mark Dent makes an interesting observation. He suggests that, “thanks to increased consumer desire for locally-made beer, brewpubs have the potential to steal market share from non-brewing neighborhood bars and restaurants.” If Brewpubs are able to steal market share from bars and restaurants, this opens up considerable room for additional growth, and for more Brewpubs to enter the market. Of course, if Brewpubs are successful in attracting customers from bars and restaurants, it could result in some of the latter going out of business. Another city having discussions about craft brewery market saturation is Denver, CO. One area of the city where craft brewery growth is especially prominent is the River North (RiNo) neighborhood (I had an opportunity to visit RiNo last month). RiNo is home to over ten craft breweries. Eric Nichols is a brewer with one of RiNo’s breweries- Beryl’s Beer Co. In describing the drinking scene in RiNo, Nicols says, that, “instead of bars, we have breweries”. An exaggeration admittedly (there are bars in RiNo), but Nichols’ larger point should not be lost. According to Mike Hess, co-owner and Head Brewer, at River North Brewery, many of new craft breweries in the neighborhood have opened “cozy taprooms” and in so doing are going for the “nice neighborhood pub feel”. Hess believes that there is room for more Brewpubs in RiNo.  And it is not just in Denver that such observations are being made. Bryant Goulding, one of the co-owners of Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati, OH describes some of the newer, smaller breweries that are opening up as the “equivalent of the neighborhood bar with a brewhouse.”

So it seems that focusing on local, perhaps even hyper-local, markets might be the key to success in an increasingly crowded market place.  Providing a ‘neighborhood bar’ type ambience, along with high quality food, may also be critical success factors. Of course, the beer has to good as well. The number of breweries that any particular city can sustain will depend upon local conditions, including the size and composition of its resident population and its ability to attract beer tourists. And the places themselves also have an important part to play in brewery success. Whether they adjust zoning ordinances to be more brewery friendly or promote their breweries to out-of-town visitors, the town and cities that breweries call home can make it easier for new breweries to enter the market and for existing ones to sell more beer.

Further Reading:

McLaughlin, Ralph B. Neil Reid, and Michael S. Moore. 2016. Inter-metropolitan location patterns of commercial craft brewing in the United States. Studies in Regional Science, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp. 15-129.

Wesson T, Nieva de Figueiredo (2001) The importance of focus to market: A study of microbrewery performance. Journal of Business Venturing, Volume 16, Issue 4: pp. 377–403.

 

 

2017 – The Year in Review

This is the time of year when many people reflect about the year that is coming to an end. So as I was thinking about a topic for my final blog entry of 2017, I thought I’d compile an inventory of the breweries I visited during the last twelve months.

During 2017, I visited forty-six breweries. That’s an average of a different brewery every 7.9 days. Twenty-two were in Ohio, a further twelve  were inside the United States (but outside Ohio), and twelve were outside of the United States. Outside of Ohio, I visited breweries in Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, and Texas, while outside of the United States I visited breweries in Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Of the forty-six breweries, I had visited five before this year (indicated in italics in the list below). So forty-one of the breweries were first-time visits. The year also included a visit to one non-craft brewery – Carlsberg, in Copenhagen, Denmark. I also paid my first visit to a former craft brewery (10 Barrel Brewpub in Denver, CO), that is now owned by AB InBev. Here is a list of breweries visited:

Ohio Breweries (22)

  • Bad Tom Smith Brewing, Cincinnati, OH
  • Black Cloister Brewing Company, Toledo, OH
  • Black Frog Brewery, Holland, OH
  • Bowling Green Beer Works, Bowling Green, OH
  • Catawba Island Brewing Company, Port Clinton, OH
  • Double Wing Brewing Company, Madison, OH
  • Earnest Brew Works, Toledo, OH
  • Figleaf Brewing Company, Middletown, OH
  • Forest City Brewery, Cleveland, OH
  • GOTL Brewing Company, Geneva-on-the-Lake, OH
  • Granite City Brewery, Maumee, OH
  • Listermann Brewing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • MadTree Brewing, Cincinnati, OH
  • Market Garden Brewery, Cleveland, OH
  • Maumee Bay Brewing Company, Toledo, OH
  • Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, OH
  • Nano Brew, Cleveland, OH
  • Rhinegeist Brewery, CincinnatI, OH
  • Rivertown Brewery, Monroe, OH
  • Streetside Brewery, Cincinnati, OH
  • Taft’s Ale House, Cincinnati, OH
  • Upside Brewing, Sylvania, OH
  • Woodburn Brewery, Cincinnati, OH

US Non-Ohio Breweries (12)

  • 10 Barrel Brewing Company, Denver, CO
  • Blue Heron Brewing Company, Espanola, NM
  • Chili Line Brewery, Santa Fe, NM
  • Denton County Brewing Company, Denton, TX
  • Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, CO
  • Hofbrauhaus, Covington, KY
  • Jagged Mountain Brewery, Denver, CO
  • Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company, Denver, CO
  • Ratio Beerworks, Denver, CO
  • Second Street Brewery, Santa Fe, NM
  • Snowbelt Brewing Company, Gaylord, MI
  • Woods Boss Brewing Company, Denver, CO

Non-US Breweries (12)

  • A-Frame Brewing, Squamish, Canada
  • Backcountry Brewing, Squamish, Canada
  • Brouwerij Martinus, Groningen, Netherlands
  • Brouwerij de Prael, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Carlsberg, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • De Bekeerde Suster, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Howe Sound Brewing Company, Squamish, Canada
  • Mikkeller Baghaven, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Norrebro Bryghus, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Steamworks Brewing Company, Vancouver, Canada
  • Strathcona Beer Company, Vancouver, Canada
  • Warpigs, Copenhagen, Denmark

I look forward to 2018. I am not sure how many breweries I will visit in the coming year. Within the United States, I already have plans to visit Austin, TX, Cincinnati, OH, Denton, TX, Portland, OR, and San Antonio, TX. Outside of the US, trips are already planned to Canada, India, Italy (two trips), Ireland, Portugal, and Qatar. A visit to Austria is also a possibility. I am sure the list of my travel destinations will grow. I hope these travels take me to lots of new breweries. Hopefully, there will also be some new breweries to visit closer to home, including Toledo’s new Patron Saints Brewery, which should be open soon.

So I decided to finish the year with one photograph of each of the breweries I visited during 2017. I hope you enjoy them.

 

MadTree Brewing, Cincinnati, OH
Norrebro Bryghus, Copenhagen, Denmark
Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, CO
Bowling Green Beer Works, Bowling Green, OH
Black Cloister Brewing Company, Toledo, OH
Howe Sound Brewing Company, Squamish, Canada
Woodburn Brewery, Cincinnati, OH
Brouwerij Martinus, Groningen, Netherlands
Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Denver, CO
Earnest Brew Works, Toledo, OH
10 Barrel Brewing Company, Denver, CO
Nano Brew, Cleveland, OH
Double Wing Brewing Company, Madison, OH
Streetside Brewery, Cincinnati, OH
Carlsberg, Copenhagen, Denmark
Steamworks Brewing Company, Vancouver, Canada
Rhinegeist Brewery, Cincinnati, OH
Black Frog Brewery, Holland, OH
Woods Boss Brewing Company, Denver, CO
Snowbelt Brewing Company, Gaylord, MI
Brouwerij De Prael, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Mikkeller Baghaven, Copenhagen, Denmark
Chili Line Brewing Company, Santa Fe, NM
Backcountry Brewing, Squamish, Canada
De Bekeerde Suster, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Catawba Island Brewing Company, Port Clinton, OH
Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, OH
Warpigs, Copenhagen, Denmark
Market Garden Brewery, Cleveland, OH
Jagged Mountain Brewery, Denver, CO
FigLeaf Brewing Company, Middletown, OH
A-Frame Brewing Company, Squamish, Canada
Taft’s Ale House, Cincinnati, OH
Forest City Brewery, Cleveland, OH
Denton County Brewing Company, Denton, TX
Rivertown Brewery, Monroe, OH
Maumee Bay Brewing Company, Toledo, OH
Upside Brewing, Sylvania, OH
Hofbrauhause, Covington, KY
Ratio Beerworks, Denver, CO
Granite City Brewery, Maumee, OH
GOTL Brewing Company, Geneva-on-the-Lake, OH
Blue Heron Brewing Company, Espanola, NM
Listermann Brewing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio
Second Street Brewery, Santa Fe, NM
Strathcona Beer Company. Vancouver, Canada
Bad Tom Smith Brewing, Cincinnati, OH

Happy New Year Everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

Craft Beer in The Mile High City

I just  returned from two days in Denver, CO. I was there conducting site visits at three hotels. One of the hotels will host the 2021 North American Meetings of the Regional Science Association International (RSAI). As Executive Director of the North American Regional Science Council (one of the constituent bodies that operate under the umbrella of RSAI), one of my tasks is to contract with a hotel to host our annual meeting. Such is the demand for hotel meeting space that contracts have to be signed four to five years in advance of the actual meetings taking place.

One of Denver’s nicknames is The Mile High City. As it happens, it really is a mile high. The thirteenth step on the west side of the State Capitol Building is exactly 5,280 feet (one mile) above seal level. Denver is a craft beer drinker’s heaven. The Denver Brewery Guide lists fifty-nine breweries in the city. With so many breweries, some have dubbed the city as “the Napa Valley of Beer”. I am sure that a few of Denver’s peers (e.g., San Diego, CA and Portland, OR) may dispute that moniker. Indeed, when it comes to the number of microbreweries per 100,000 inhabitants, Denver only ranks seventh in the country.

A map of breweries in central Denver (Source: Denver.org)
Denver ranks seventh in the number of microbreweries per 100,000 inhabitants

Denver’s River North (RiNo) neighborhood has emerged as a favorite destination for many craft beer lovers, residents and visitors alike.  Just north of downtown Denver, RiNo is home to over ten craft breweries. RiNo is an example of what is known as a “brewery district” – an area of a city where you find a number of breweries in close geographic proximity to each other. A recent article in the Denver Post did a nice job capturing the essence of such districts:

“The emergence of Denver’s craft brewing district means  drinkers can sample several tap rooms, including on foot or by bike. That is a great advantage for breweries hoping to lure new customers, but it also means there is no room to hide if the beer doesn’t measure up. Breweries need to be on their game because customers have options.”

On my first evening in Denver, I visited three breweries that were within a reasonably short walk of my hotel – Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery, Great Divide Brewing Company, and Woods Boss Brewing Company. On my second evening, I walked the mile to the start of

I visited three breweries on my first evening in Denver
I enjoyed a raspberry crush sour ale at Denver’s 10 Barrel

the River North Brewery District. Technically, it is called the River North Art District. When I arrived there, I used Facebook to check into the “River North Brewery District”. I found that no such designation existed, so I created it. My first stop was 10 Barrel Brewpub. 10 Barrel is one of the ten former craft breweries that are now owned by AB InBev. The Denver brewpub is part of a larger 10 Barrel empire. The original 10 Barrel started as a production brewery in Bend, OR in 2006. In 2010, the company opened a brewpub in Bend. This was followed by the opening of brewpubs in Boise, ID (2013), Portland, OR (2015), Denver, CO (2016), and San Diego, CA (2017). In 2014, 10 Barrel was purchased by AB InBev. It was the third American craft brewery that the Belgian-based conglomerate had purchased (it already had acquired Goose Island Beer Company and  Blue Point Brewing). This was my first visit to a former craft brewery that is now owned by one of the large multinational brewers. I had previously visited Lagunitas Brewing Company in Chicago, but that was before it was acquired by Heineken. I have to say I was impressed with 10 Barrel’s Denver brewpub. The staff were friendly and the honey orange porter and the raspberry crush sour were both excellent.

10 Barrel Brewing in Denver
My Rented World Session IPA at Ratio Beerworks

After 10 Barrel, I took the five minute walk to Our Mutual Friend (OMF) Brewing Company. Opened in December, 2012 OMF has a much cozier feel than the larger and more spacious 10 Barrel. By the time I arrived at OMF I was in the mood for something light, so I had their Camisado Cream Ale. From OMF, it was a short 450 feet to my next stop, Ratio Beerworks.  Ratio was opened in February 2015. At Ratio, I opted for their Rented World Session IPA. It was a nice way to finish off the evening.

I wish that I had more time to spend in the River North neighborhood, but I had to get back to my hotel. There were so many other breweries within a short walk of Ratio. According to Google Maps, Epic Brewing Company was four minutes away on foot, while Beryl’s Beer Co. was a seven minute walk. I had read quite a bit about the River North neighborhood, and had even used it as an example of a brewery district in a paper to be published in The Professional Geographer in February, 2018. Reading about it is one thing. But to actually go there, see the neighborhood, and experience some of the breweries that I had read about was a lot of fun.

With so many breweries, and neighborhoods like River North, it is no surprise that Denver, like a number of other cities across the United States, is promoting its craft breweries to tourists. The city’s official tourist website, www.denver.org, has copious amounts of information about the Denver’s brewery scene. This includes a listing of all the breweries in the city, as well as information on brewery tours, beer-focused walking tours, beer festivals and other beer-related events, and Denver’s beer  history. Denver is also the home of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Held every September, the GABF brings 60,000 beer lovers from all over the world to the Mile High City.

Guided tours of the River North neighborhood, such as this one, are available

I plan to be back in Denver in 2021, to attend the North American Meetings of the Regional Science Association International. I look forward to going back to River North and spending more time there, and visiting the breweries that I was unable to visit this time around. It will also be interesting to see if additional breweries have opened in the neighborhood.

Further Reading:

Nilsson, Isabelle, Neil Reid, and Matthew Lehnert. 2018. Geographic patterns of craft breweries at the intra-metropolitan scale, The Professional Geographer, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp. 114-225.

Au Canada

I just returned from a week long trip to Canada. The main purpose of my visit was the attend the 64th North American Meetings of the Regional Science Association International (RSAI), which this year were held in Vancouver, BC. As Executive Director of the North American Regional Science Council (NARSC), the five days in Vancouver were very busy for me. Between numerous business meetings, research meetings, receptions, lunches, and dinners, I did not have many free moments. I did manage, however, to visit a couple of craft breweries in Vancouver – Steamworks Brewpub in the city’s historic Gastown neighborhood and Strathcona Beer Company in the city’s Downtown Eastside – a neighborhood notorious, according to Wikipedia, for “its levels of drug use, poverty, mental illness, sex work, homelessness, and crime.” One of my local friends agreed with this assessment of the neighborhood, so we did take a cab, rather than walk, to the brewery.

Beautiful Squamish, British Columbia

After the conference, rather than returning straight home, I headed north to the town of Squamish, for a few days. Squamish is about an hour drive from downtown Vancouver. My friend and colleague Gordon Mulligan lives in Squamish . I have known Gordon since 1986, when I was in the doctoral program at Arizona State University in Tempe. Gordon was a faculty member in the Department of Geography and Regional Development at the University of Arizona (U of A)  in Tucson. Once a year, Geographers from across Arizona came together to update each other on what was going on in their respective departments, as well to as to have some fun. Gordon and I hit it off pretty much immediately. We were both economic geographers and both enjoyed drinking beer. It may not seem much upon which to form a lifelong friendship, but here we are twenty-nine years later, still hanging out together. Gordon retired from the U of A in 2006. He then moved back to Squamish. I say “moved back” because he grew up in and around Squamish during the 1950s.

Early 20th centrury hop farm barn (Photo credit: Squamish Public Library)

British Columbia has an interesting brewing history; a history that includes the growing of hops. The first hops were grown in the province in the 1860s. At that time, BC brewers imported their hops from the United States. Two Victoria brewers, Arthur Bunster and Alfred Elliot, decided they would like to use some locally-grown hops. So they started to offer local farmers generous prizes if they were able to grow crops on a commercial scale. Hop production started in the Squamish Valley in 1890. It quickly grew to become one of the area’s major industries.  At its peak, there were ten hop farms in the region with The Squamish Valley Hop Company being the most prominent. Chinese and First Nation laborers provided the workforce for these late-nineteenth century hop farms, The hops were used by local breweries, while also being exported to the United States and the United Kingdom. By 1912, hop production in the Squamish Valley had ceased. The recession of 1910-12 and the start of World War I, combined to put an end to the area’s hop industry.

Howe Sound Brewing Company, one of three craft breweries in Squamish
Gordon and I got an impromptu tour of A-Frame Brewing Company

Today, however, the hops industry is making a comeback in Squamish. In 2013, Mike Holmes founded the Squamish Valley Hop Company. In 2016, Holmes harvested Squamish’s first hops in more than one hundred years. As in the United States, where hop production is experiencing a resurgence in a number of states, craft breweries are driving the demand for locally-grown hops. In addition to a nascent hop industry, Squamish is home to three craft breweries – A-Frame Brewing Company, Backcountry Brewing, and Howe Sound Brewing Company. Gordon and I visited all three when I was there. Squamish has a population of ~19,000, so three craft breweries is quite an impressive number. Squamish is a growing community and it anticipates more growth in the future. Its relatively affordable housing is increasingly popular with Vancouverites, who are willing to make the daily commute. Squamish is also experiencing a tourist boom, with mountain biking, hiking, skiing, and snowmobiling all popular activities. All of this bodes well for current and future breweries in the town. At the same time, there are those in Canada who are asking whether the craft beer bubble is about to burst.

The growing popularity of craft beer in Squamish, not surprisingly, mirrors what is happening elsewhere in both British Columbia and Canada. In 2016, there were 775 breweries in Canada, an increase from the 2015 total of 644. Close to half (49%) of the breweries in British Columbia are under three years old. Two of Squamish’s three breweries, A-Frame and Backcountry, were established in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Of course, large multinational brewers dominate the Canadian beer market.  Molson Coors Brewing Company have a 31.7% share, while AB InBev’s share of the market stands at 26.8%. There is a definite shift towards craft beer, however.  By 2014, for example, craft beer had captured eighteen percent of the British Columbia beer market.

It was a great two days in Squamish – spending time with an old friend and exploring Squamish’s craft breweries. As I noted in a previous blog entry, craft breweries are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Despite this ubiquity, no two are the same. They are all so very different. Each one has its own unique space, ambience, and brews. As I have said so often before, it is a great time to be a beer drinker.

Seeking Local Beer

I have just returned from twelve days in the Netherlands. While there, I spent time in three different places – Amsterdam, Groningen, and Dalfsen. In many respects these three places could not be more different. Amsterdam is the country’s vibrant and bustling capital
city (although not the seat of the Dutch government interestingly), Continue reading Seeking Local Beer

Why Vermont?

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from Will Gordon, a writer for Men’s Journal. He had a very simple question – why did the state of Vermont have the largest number of craft breweries per capita? According to data provided by the Brewers Association The Green Mountain State has 10.8 breweries per 100,000 residents – more Continue reading Why Vermont?

Ohio City and Duck Island

For some time now I’ve wanted to visit the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland. In my academic research on the role of craft breweries in neighborhood change I had read a lot about Ohio City, particularly the catalytic role of the Great Lakes Brewing Company in that process. But while it is only a two-hour drive from my home I had, Continue reading Ohio City and Duck Island

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

This is my third entry about my recent trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. You can read my other two entries here and here. I was there to attend, Beeronomics 2017, the biennial conference of the
Beeronomics Society. Continue reading Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

Il Locale

I was in Copenhagen, Denmark a few weeks ago. I was there attending the fifth biennial conference of the Beeronomics Society. It was my first visit to Copenhagen; my first visit to Denmark, in fact. So I was keen to explore the Danish beer scene. I was there for six days and did indeed get to visit a couple of Danish craft breweries while there, as well as sample a good number of Danish craft beers. What I did not anticipate, however, was drinking a goodly amount of Italian Continue reading Il Locale

The Upside of Nano Brewing

A few weeks ago I visited a new brewery. Upside Brewing is, according to Google Maps, 9.4 miles from my house. The brewery is located in Sylvania, OH, a suburb of Toledo. Upside opened in September 2016. You’d think that The Beer Professor would know about the opening of a new brewery so close to his home but I did not know of its existence until about a month ago when I read this article in The Toledo Blade. Shame on me, but from what I can tell the brewery opened up without a great deal of fanfare. The Sylvania Advantage had ran a story back in May 2016 about the upcoming opening of the city’s first brewery. But I do not read the suburban community’s newspaper that comes out twice a month.

Upside Brewing is a nano brewery inside J&G Pizza Palace in Sylvania, OH

Upside Brewing is located inside J&G Pizza Palace on Sylvania’s Main Street. J&G’s has been part of the Sylvania landscape since 1971; its current owners, the Dallas family, took over the business in 1979. Along with my wife and two friends I visited J&Gs on a Saturday evening. The place was packed; we waited forty-five minutes for a table. Such waits, especially on a Saturday night, are not unusual apparently. Having been around for over thirty-five years this pizza joint has a loyal customer base; plus it has a relatively small seating capacity. As we stood at the front of the restaurant waiting for our table I watched pizzas being made; many of which were picked up by customers for home consumption – J&Gs was doing a brisk take-out trade.

Upside Brewing is inside J&G Pizza Palace

The evening we were there J&Gs had four of its own beers on draft – Palace Cream Ale, Division Street IPA, Ten Mile Amber Brown Ale, and Bavaricana Witbier. The also had one guest tap – Sunshine Daydream Session Ale from Fat Head’s Brewery in Cleveland, OH. I opted for the Palace Cream Ale with my pizza. The beers are brewed onsite by Nick Dallas, son of owners Mark and Jill Dallas. Dallas  started homebrewing a little over five years ago and now uses a one-barrel brewing system to make J&G’s beers.

Upside falls into the category of a nano brewery. There is no official definition of what constitutes a nano brewery although the generally accepted definition is a brewery that uses a three-barrel brewing system or smaller. Nano breweries produce small amounts of beer. For example, Vine Park Brewing Company in St. Paul, MN brew only six to eight gallons per month.

Nano breweries have a number of advantages over their larger peers. First, they are relatively inexpensive to start and operate. Start-up costs are generally somewhere in the five figures. According to Mark Garrison, a writer for Slate, nano breweries provide “an opportunity for skilled homebrewers to dip a toe into the commercial market, without having to find investors or take on crushing debt to secure the kind of funding required to start a microbrewery or brew pub.” This is especially the case when the nano brewery is an add-on to an existing successful business, as is the case with Upside Brewing. If a nano brewery does have plans to grow, however, a couple of years as a successful nano brewery strengthens the position of the brewer when he or she goes seeking investment to expand.

Long Island Oyster Stout – one of the beers brewed by The Blind Bat Brewery

The small size of nano breweries affords brewers with a lot of latitude to experiment, which is good news for beer drinkers looking for new innovative brews. As noted by Derek Pettie, writing in Beer West, “nano breweries are able to experiment at will because of the low stakes and freedom to, well, brew whatever they want.”  Paul Dlugokencky, owner of of Blind Bat Brewery in Long Island, NY stated “I brew what I’m interested in drinking, as well as what I think might be interesting to brew. At my size, I can afford to take a chance on what might be considered to be an odd or weird beer. Commercial appeal [hasn’t] been a factor in anything I’ve brewed.” A nano brewery allows brewers  to test the market for their beers, while developing a customer base. This reduces the risk should they decide to scale-up and invest in a larger brewing system. Nano breweries also tend to get to know their customers fairly well. According to Tony Ammendolia of Final Gravity Brewing Company in Richmond VA, “being as small as we are allows us to have face-to-face interaction with all of our customers, since the only place you can get our beer is in our tasting room.” Indeed a couple of years as a successful nano brewery strengthens the position of the brewer when he or she goes to seek investment to expand.

Three different models of nano breweries have been identified:

1. Proof of concept. These are started by brewers who have plans for larger scale breweries. However, they refuse to or do not have the capital to invest in a larger brewery. They use the nano brewery to test the market for their beer. One example of such a brewery is 56 Brewing of Minneapolis, MN. They started out in a 700 square foot space in the northeast of the city in 2014. They very quickly outgrew this space and in 2016 vacated it to move to a larger facility. Starting out small, however, proved to be a smart business move according to 56’s co-owner Kerry Johnson. Commenting about their growth strategy Johnson noted that “starting small and building our reputation is a huge asset.” The space that 56 moved into in 2014 had previously been occupied by NorthGate Brewing who, in a similar fashion, vacated it when the space was no longer large enough. After 56 moved out another nano- brewery, Broken Clock Brewing, moved in and are now brewing there.

Chris Harris, owner of The Black Frog Brewery in Toledo, OH

2. Second income. In these cases passionate homebrewers want the best of both worlds – to run a brewery while maintaining the security afforded them by their regular jobs. While keeping their day jobs these individuals brew in the evening or on their days off. The Black Frog Brewey in Toledo, OH is an example of such a brewery. Owner and brewer Chris Harris works full time as a claims representative for the Social Security Administration. His brew days are Wednesday and Sunday,  while the Black Frog taproom is open on a Friday and a Saturday.

3. Add-ons to existing restaurant pubs. Many restaurant owners recognize the value of brewing their own beer on-site and adding it to their menu. Lack of space means that a nano set-up is ideal. Upside Brewing is an example of this model. To some extent this is a low risk approach as the brewery is being added to what is hopefully an already successful business. There is a built-in potential customer base and, as long as there is space to add the brewing equipment there is no additional outlay needed to acquire space.

It was the Austrian economist Leopold Kohr who championed the idea that small is beautiful- if you want to see evidence of the efficacy of this idea look no further than your nearest nano-brewery.