Tag Archives: Vermont

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.

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 than any other state in the country. Will was writing an article about Vermont’s craft brewing industry, and wanted an answer to this question. In his e-mail, Will asked if I had time to chat with him on this topic. I responded that I would, and we agreed to chat the next day. This gave me less than twenty-four hours to come up with an answer to Will’s question. I had some hypotheses, of course, but some research would be required to verify (or refute) those.

My first thought was that perhaps Vermont has a large millennial population. There is a considerable body of research suggesting that the popularity of craft  beer is driven primarily by the millennial demographic.  While there is no universal agreement on what constitutes a millennial, the Pew Research Center defines this cohort as comprising individuals born after 1980. According to the website overflow.solutions, 25.9% of Vermont’s population are millennials. This places Vermont forty-fifth out of fifty states – not a particularly high rank;  suggesting that Vermont’s love of craft beer may not be driven by this particular cohort.

After refuting the millennial hypothesis, I decided to look at per capita beer consumption in Vermont. How did the state measure up on that particular measure? According to an article in the 24/7Wall Street, Vermonters (aged twenty-one and over) drink an average of 35.7 gallons of beer per capita. This places them fifth in the country. When it comes craft beer, Vermont ranks even higher. The 19.5 gallons per capita that its drinking age population consumes makes Vermont number one in the country. So Vermonters drink more craft beer per capita than the residents of any other state – this may go a long way to explaining why is has so many craft breweries.

My next line of thinking led me to examine the concept of neolocalism – the preference of some Americans to consume food (and perhaps beer) that is produced locally. Some scholars, such as the geographer Wes Flack, have suggested that part of the reason for the popularity of craft beer is this demand for locally-grown and locally-manufactured products. We see evidence of this demand in the increasing number of wineries and farmers markets across the country. The number of wineries in the United States increased from 1,755 in 1996 to 11,496 in 2016. Between 1994 and 2014, the number of farmers markets increased from 1,755 to 8,268.

But what about Vermonters? How does their demand for locally-produced products compare with other states? One way to measure such demand is to look at things such as the number of farmers markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) in a state. With its ninety-six farmers markets and 149 CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) Vermont, on a per capita basis, ranks number one in the country. 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 seems that the neolocalism movement is alive and well in Vermont. Vermonters, more than the residents of any other state, love to purchase locally-grown food. If they feel that way about purchasing local food, I would argue that there is a pretty good chance that they may feel the same way about purchasing locally brewed beer. This commitment to purchasing local products, along with Vermonters love of beer (and craft beer in particular), is the key driver behind the state having the highest number of craft breweries per capita.

There is one more piece of the puzzle, however, and that relates to the quality of the beer being produced by Vermont’s breweries. In general, craft beer drinkers tend to have high standards when it comes to beer quality. Breweries producing a sub-standard product are unlikely to survive in the market place. When it comes to having access to high quality beer, Vermonters have nothing to worry about. According to the beer rating site, RateBeer.com, ten of the one hundred top-rated beers in the world in 2016 were brewed by two Vermont breweries – The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead Brewery. Only Massachusetts and the country of Belgium, each with fourteen brews, have more beers in the top one hundred. Moreover, in the same year, Hill Farmstead Brewery was rated as one of the top ten of breweries worldwide. Since 1983, nine different Vermont breweries have won medals at the annual Great American Beer Festival. All of this suggests that Vermont breweries are producing beer that is of very high quality, both in the eyes of the craft beer drinker and expert judges. Vermonters, it would appear, have access to some world-class, locally-brewed, beer. Vermont breweries also have a reputation for innovation and creativity. They are, for example, credited with developing a new style of beer – the New England IPA.

The iconic Heady Topper

A couple of Vermont breweries, and the beers they brew have something akin to a cult following in the world of craft beer. For example, Heady Topper is a Double IPA (8% ABV) brewed by The Alchemist at their brewery in Waterbury, VT. Distribution of Heady Topper is limited to a twenty-five mile radius of the brewery. The Alchemist have a second brewery, eleven miles up the road in Stowe, VT. As the Waterbury brewery is not open to the public, Heady Topper is available for purchase at the brewery in Stowe. Visit the brewery in Stowe, however, and you will (along with everyone else) be limited to purchasing no more than two four-packs of Heady Topper per day. There are a small number of retail outlets in the immediate area, where Heady Topper can be purchased. But such is the limited supply of this much sought-after brew, most outlets only have it available for sale on one day of the week. So, for example, if you go to Alpine Mart in Stowe make sure it is a Monday, as that is the only day they have Heady Topper in stock. If they happen to be sold out when you get there, you can always wait until Tuesday and go to Bessary’s Quality Market in Burlington, VT to get some. Even those stores that receive shipments of Heady Topper often sell out within an hour. This means that to get your hands on some Heady Topper, you can expect to stand in line for an hour or so before the store has opened. And when you do so, there’s a decent chance that the person standing next to you has driven a couple of hours for the privilege of doing so. Heady Topper is not one of those seasonal or limited-release beers; it is brewed year-round, but there is simply not enough produced to keep up with demand. As for me, I have tasted Heady Topper once in my life; this past February in Santa Fe, NM of all places. I was in Santa Fe for a conference and my colleague Rachel Franklin, who teaches at Brown University in Providence,  RI was nice enough to put a can in her suitcase for me.

And so, I raise my glass to all those Vermonters who eat locally-grown food and drink locally-brewed beer. Their support of and commitment to their local food system is to be admired and commended. And to them I say Cheers.

Additional Reading:

Flack, Wes. 1997. American Microbreweries and Neolocalism: “Ale-ing” for a Sense of Place. Journal of Cultural Geography, Volume 16, Issue 2, Pages 37-53.