Tuesday, October 29, 2013

This Week: The US (economy)

Drink Beer; Save the Economy

After covering the Colorado drinking for scene for three years now, 3 years as a blogger for Drinking Made Easy and 1 year for DrinkDenver, I have seen the brightest star in the US economy and that star is beer. Whether a casual drinker or total beer snob the size of the beer industry in the US has seen unprecedented growth over the last decade and completely exploded the last few years.  All this growth culminated in October at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, the world’s largest gathering of brewers and beer judging competition. Try and wrap your head around these numbers:
There are currently 2,538 breweries (including brew pubs) operating in the US with 409 breweries opening in 2012. Craft brewers (defined as small independent breweries making 6 million barrels annually or less) sold an estimated 13,235,917 barrels of beer in 2012 and the industry’s retail dollar value for 2012 is $10.2 Billion, note the “b.” If you include large production breweries (such as MillerCoors), that number increases to $99 Billion. The Coors Brewery in Golden, the world’s largest single-site brewery, employs 1,300 people alone. In the Denver-Boulder metro area, just one small part of the country, some 12 breweries/brew pubs opened or are in the process of opening in 2013. Breweries like these employ 108,440 people across the country, including servers in brew pubs. (Facts and figures provided by the Brewers Association and Coors Brewery).
The numbers are nice, but let’s expand on this topic by considering all the businesses that brewing supports.
Agriculture – Hops are one of the fastest growing (pun intended) production crops in the country and US hops are quickly becoming some of the most sought after in the brewing industry. Washington, Oregon and Idaho lead the country in hop production, but other regions are not far behind. Don't forget barley and wheat crops either. With the creativity of the beer industry, other agricultural products, like honey, peaches, apples, cinnamon, even chillis, are finding their way into beer. Did you know the Wynkoop Brewery in Denver makes a beer with bull testicles? But I digress. Following in the footsteps of chefs, there is also farm-to-keg movement with brewers seeking out the freshest and most local of ingredients to use in their beers.
Manufacturing – In order for you to buy a six-pack of your favorite craft beer, someone had to put that beer in a bottle or can. That means an increase in production of machines that bottle, can, seal, label and pack beer. Of course brewing beer takes a lot of equipment too; fermentation tanks, chillers, pipes, kettles and kegs. As breweries continue to open and expand, they will need more equipment.  New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues breweries will all begin construction on facilities in Ashville, NC, next year and Green Flash Brewing in San Diego will begin construction on a facility in Virginia Beach in 2015. Sierra Nevada is the country’s second largest craft brewery while New Belgium is the third.
Hospitality – As briefly mentioned in the statistics, brew pubs are included in the craft beer industry. A brew pub is a place that serves food and has an on-site brewery that produces beer consumed by customers of the pub. And other, non-brewing restaurants are getting in on the popularity by holding beer pairing dinners and tap takeovers. People who cater and hold special events are inviting craft beer into these events and events planners are having special beers created just for those special occasions such as weddings and anniversaries.
Tourism – Fanatics will seek out the places where their favorite beers are brewed. Think Guinness in Ireland or Hofbrauhaus in Munich. Beer cities in the US are gaining a following as well. Places like Ashville, NC, Boulder, CO, San Diego, CA and Portland OR, are growing hot spots for beer connoisseurs from around the world. Resorts are adding brew pubs to their properties. Examples include the McMenamins chain of hotels with brewpubs, or brewpubs with hotels depending on your point of view, and the new “destination brewery” being built in Littleton, CO by Breckenridge Brewery that will include a BBQ restaurant, retail outlet, hop farm, special event center and visitor center. Airports are serving more and more craft beers and several airports even have brew pubs on site. Sporting arenas are adding craft beers to their menus and one, Coors Field in Denver, has a brewery inside the ballpark, The Sandlot.
You may wonder, with all the other pressing issues the country faces, why discuss this? Because I think the industry is bigger than most people outside of it realize. A press release I received the other day just proves my point. Denver Beer Company, started in August 2011, just purchased a 48,000 sq. ft. warehouse to open as a production facility. The company will begin bottling and canning their beers in Spring 2014. The company purchased canning equipment from Wild Goose Canning in Boulder and barrels and fermenting equipment from DME in Prince Edward Island, Canada.  The company has hired Unleaded Group in Denver to create labels for the new bottles and cans. Denver Beer Co. will be hiring people to work all that equipment soon. All those jobs in just in three years. There’s a saying in the brew business, Drink Locally, Think Globally. So instead of feeling guilty about spending your hard earned cash on some craft beer, instead savor that beer. Breweries are located where their customers are, in the community, in your neighborhood. And the people who brew beer are passionate, smart, well-educated folks. Because they brew for their neighbors, they strive to make the highest quality beers possible.
The next time someone asks you to join them for a beer, do it. You’re supporting a local industry that supports many other industries around the country. Do it for you; do it for your country.  

This blog was rejected by Jean Chatsky, Money Guru for the Today Show, former editor of Money Magazine and author of several self-help financial books. Jean made a request for guest bloggers on Twitter and I answered thinking I could write about saving money while traveling.  Her assistant Arielle said they had enough travel advice and since I wrote for DrinkDenver, maybe I could offer a blog on “ways to save money during happy hour.” Really? Last time I checked happy hour pretty much EVERYWHERE meant half price or 2-for-1 drinks and cheap finger foods. Anyway, I offered up this idea, that if more Americans drank beer, we could save the economy. Arielle said no because it wasn’t “personal enough.” However, I thought my idea was fun and light (and true!), and we can all use some humor in this heavy, serious economy. I’ll let you be the judge.