Earlier this month I was in Seattle, Washington. I was there for the 2015 Beeronomics Conference. This is an event organized by The Beeronomics Society, an international non-profit association of scholars and professionals who conduct research on the economics of the beer industry. The conference is a biennial event. The first was held in Leuven, Belgium in 2009, the headquarters of the Beeronomics Society. This was followed by conferences in Freising, Germany (2011) and York, England (2013). I attended the York conference and found it professionally interesting and worthwhile. This year’s conference was a three day event. On the first day conference attendees went on a field trip to Washington’s Yakima Valley to learn more about the state’s hop industry. This was followed by two days of presentations about various aspects of the beer industry.
While the vast majority of the 75 or so conference participants were economists there were a few interlopers from other disciplines such as Marketing, Agribusiness, and of course my own one of Geography. All had one thing in common – each had a passion for and were conducting research on some aspect of the beer industry. A broad range of topics were covered by those presenting their research. Presentation titles included “The Impact of Mandated Vertical Restraints: Evidence from Entry in the U.S. Brewing Industry”, “Production Risk and Maximum Residue Limits in Hops Production” and “Decomposing Productivity Growth under Imperfect Competition: The Case of the German Brewing Sector”. My own presentation was titled “Craft Beer and Local Economic Development”. It focused on three opportunities that I see for the growing craft beer industry to contribute to local/regional economic development in the United States – the opportunity for communities to attract a new regional craft brewery as the latter invest in additional production capacity in another part of the country, the opportunity for communities to capitalize on the tourism potential of their craft brewing industry (ale trails, beer festivals, etc.), and the opportunity for communities to use craft breweries in neighborhood revitalization efforts. My presentation seemed to be well received and those in the audience asked a number of interesting questions afterwards. While most of the attendees at the Seattle conference were from the United States there were a number of scholars from other countries including Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Macedonia.
A small number of representatives from industry also in attendance. At lunch one day I sat next to a lady who was in the business of selling malted barley to brewers. I asked her what she thought of the conference. She praised the event (and my sense is that the praise was genuine) and said that, in her opinion, those working in the industry could learn a great deal from some of the research being conducted by those in the academy. One of the most interesting presentations at the conference was by Robert Vail, Director of Allied Brands for the Boston Beer Company. The Boston Beer Company, of course, brews the iconic Samuel Adams line of beers. In 2012 The Boston Beer Company launched its Angry Orchard line of hard ciders and Robert Vail’s presentation focused on the success of this brand and its role in creating greater consumer demand for hard cider. While still a small segment of the alcoholic beverages market (if hard cider was a beer it would account for just over 1% of beer sales) sales of hard cider in the United States increased by 90%, 89%, and 71% in 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively. Bart Watson also made a presentation at the conference. Bart is the Staff Economist of The Brewers Association, the trade group that represents the interests of America’s craft brewers. presentation focused on recent trends in the craft brewing industry. While Bart made no predictions about the future growth of the craft beer industry he did note that the United States was currently experiencing a net gain of 1.9 new craft breweries per day – a quite astonishing figure when you sit down and think about it.
It was great to spend a couple of days with scholars and industry insiders who share my interest and passion for the beer industry. At most of the conferences I attend I will be lucky if there is a single presentation devoted to the topic, although at the last two annual conferences of the Association of American Geographers there have been a couple of organized sessions that focused entirely on the beer industry. Seattle, of course, is a great beer city. It has over 50 craft breweries. I took the opportunity to visit a few while I was there, including The Pike Pub and Brewery which was just down the street from my hotel. There I had dinner and caught up with an old friend who had just recently relocated from Toledo to Seattle.
Plans are already in the works for Beeronomics 2017. The host city is likely to be Milan, Italy. Venues are important and the choice of Italy is an excellent one. The country has a burgeoning craft beer industry with over 500 craft breweries. Quite impressive for a country that we often associate with wine. As they say in Italy Saluti.