Beer Tourism

Last week I was in Manchester, VT. I had been invited there by Paul Connor, who is Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of South Burlington. Paul had organized a panel discussion at the Fall Conference of the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association. The panel was titled “Brewing Up A Revitalized Downtown”. This was my first visit to Vermont in twenty-seven years. My first, and only visit there, was in the Spring 1990, when I had interviewed for the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at Middlebury College. I was not offered the position.

On of the coincidences of Paul’s invitation is that a few days before he e-mailed me I had posted a blog entry on why Vermont had more craft breweries per capita than any other state. Manchester is relatively small community (population ~4,400). To get there I flew to Albany, NY, where I picked up a rental car and drove the remaining sixty-five miles to Manchester. My panel session was the following afternoon. There were three of us on the panel. In addition to myself, there was Stephanie Bonin, owner of Duo Restaurant in Battlebro, VT and Whitney Packer, Manager of the The Tap House at Catamount Glass in Bennington, VT.

One of the topics that I highlighted during my presentation was the development opportunities surrounding beer tourism. Beer tourism is an emerging and growing phenomena. A beer tourist is a tourist who visits any beer-related venue or event such a as a brewery, beer festival, or beer museum. A study of beer tourism in Kent County, Michigan found that the average beer tourist visited for 2.27 days and visited 3.7 breweries during that time. This suggests that beer tourists tend to engage in short trips; for example over a long weekend. The same study found the economic impact of beer tourism in the county to be just over seven million dollars. Kent County is home to some excellent small breweries, including Founders Brewing Co.

Beer tourists in Charlotte, NC

A study of beer tourists in North Carolina found that the average beer tourist was thirty eight years old; sixty-one percent were male, sixty-one percent had a bachelors degree or higher, and sixty percent were married. The same study used a technique called Factor Analysis to discern the primary motivations underlying beer tourism. The analysis showed that the primary motivation was the actual experience of visiting a craft brewery, particularly the opportunity to sample North Carolina beer, to taste new beer, and to  expand existing beer knowledge.  This suggests that beer tourists seek a unique experience; an experience that can only be attained by visiting breweries outside of one’s place of residence. The desire to visit multiple breweries over the space of two or three days is consistent with a typology of craft beer drinkers developed in another study. This typology identified four types of craft beer drinker – enthusiast, explorer, loyalist, and novist. The vast majority of craft beer drinkers are either explorers of enthusiasts. The main difference between enthusiasts and explorers is that the former have a deep interest in the brewing process and brewing history, while the latter have little interest in either of these. However, it is what enthusiasts and explorers have in common that is interesting – they both have the desire to visit as many breweries as possible. This makes them the ideal beer tourist.

The Columbus, OH Ale Trail is one of many across the United States

To enhance the beer tourists experience, many communities and regions have developed ale trails, whose brochures and websites provide the beer tourist with information about breweries in a particular community or region. The most important piece of information provided is a map, showing the relative location of breweries in a community or region. This allows tourists to put together an itinerary of breweries to visit, with some trails even providing suggested itineraries. In a previous blog entry I wrote about the Columbus, OH Ale Trail.

Cascade Brewery in Hobart, Tasmania
Tyskie Brewery in Tychy, Poland

In addition to visiting craft breweries (many of which are quite small), beer tourists also visit what I refer to as destination breweries. These are breweries that are sufficiently large as to be destinations in and as of themselves. The best examples of these are the breweries of large macro-brewers such as Anheuser-Busch (AB). Six of AB’s twelve breweries offer tours – St Louis, MO, Fairfield, CA, Fort Collins, CO, Houston, TX, Jacksonville, FL, and Merrimack, NH. While I have not toured any of the AB breweries I did tour the Hudephol Brewery in Cincinnati in 1986, about a year before the brewery closed. I have also toured a few large breweries overseas, including the Tyskie Brewery in Tychy, Poland and the Cascade Brewery in Hobart, Tasmania in Australia.  The Tyskie Brewery includes a museum. Museums offer yet another opportunity for beer tourism. In recent years I have visited the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland and the Museu da Cerveja (Museum of Beer) in Lisbon, Portugal. Both were quite different experiences – the former was large and vibrant and colorful and I spent well over half a day there; while the latter was more much smaller and more humble and needed no longer than  an hour to tour.

Another beer-related tourist attraction are beer festivals. These range from lasting just a single evening to events that last several days, with the latter attracting greater numbers of tourists from a larger geographic area. There are literally hundreds of beer festivals that occur across the United States; the granddaddy of them all, of course, is The Great American Beer Festival. Held every fall in Denver, CO, this three day festival attracts ~60,000 beer aficionados.  The economic impact of the festival on the city of Denver is in excess of twenty-five million dollars.

Beer tourism is growing. Many communities and regions realize this and are strategically working to take advantage of the economic benefits that this can bring. Places that do not invest some resources in marketing and leveraging their beer-related assets may be missing out on a wonderful opportunity.

Further reading:

Kraftchick, Jennifer Francioni, Erick T. Byrd, Bonnie Canziani, and Nancy J. Gladwell. 2014. Understanding beer tourist motivation. Tourism Management Perspectives, Volume 12, Pages 41-47.

Pezzi, Maria Giulia. 2017. From peripheral hamlet to craft beer capital: Apecchio and the ‘Alogastronomia’.  Italian Journal of Planning Practice, Volume 7, Number 1, Pages 154-185.

Plummer, Ryan, David Telfer, Atsuko Hashimoto, and Robert Summers. 2005. Beer tourism in Canada along the Waterloo-Wellington ale trail. Tourism Management, Volume 26, Number 3, Pages 447-458.

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