Breweries have continued to crop up across the country in recent years, and the public’s taste for beer is getting more refined — thanks to the trend and increased exposure local breweries get when establishments feature their taps.
Citywide celebrations have taken the idea of showcasing craft beer to scale. From Maine to California, brewers’ guilds and other associations have organised special events to bring local, independently produced craft beer to the forefront.
Some cities have rallied around breweries based nearby to organise week-long events replete with seven (or sometimes more) days of beer-and-dinner deals, discounted pints and free tastings.
Beer aficionados in Philadelphia laid the foundation for the emerging tradition, where even the first go-around in 2008 exceeded founders’ expectations. Co-founder Don Russell’s goal that 10 to 20 restaurants would play host to 75 events in the inaugural beer week was far exceeded when 50 restaurants signed on for a whopping 350 events throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.
This year, 215 bars, breweries, and distributors provide more than 1,000 events to celebrate local brews and businesses. That’s up from 165 participating establishments last year.
“I think it’s a sign that craft beer has matured quite a bit,” Russell says.
A take-off on Philadelphia’s frothy festivities, New York Craft Beer Week, last month capped off its fourth go at highlighting the Big Apple’s burgeoning craft beer scene. The main purpose of these types of events is to expose small businesses to a wider range of people, says Josh Schaffner, the director of New York Craft Beer Week.
“We want every business [participating] to get their due course,” he says, noting that this year more than 150 bars, restaurants, stores and breweries signed on to participate—a precipitous increase from the original 59 in 2008.
Besides bringing small-time brewers’ names to these events’ billings, the purveyors of the local beer get an extra boost. Drawing the beer-savvy and beer-curious into participating bars and restaurants for these events not only spikes business during beer week, but offers businesses a chance to woo new customers.
Each of this year’s NYC businesses paid a $250 fee to be mentioned in promotional materials, including the “Passport” pass that beer week-goers had the option to buy; for $10, customers got a discount on local craft beer at each of the stops. Participating businesses also received 35 Passports each, to be sold or distributed as they saw fit—for a chance to recoup everything they spent to be part of the event, and then some.
Naturally, however, not all beer drinkers can visit every one of the 150 bars during beer week—the reason why the Passport offer is good through labour Day 2012. The idea? To offer an incentive for beer drinkers to take the long way home and discover new establishments in their city. The challenge of organising a beer week, says Schaffner, is putting local establishments on a pedestal and encouraging people to see New York through a “beer lens.” The goal is to show just how robust and unique the food and drink scene can be.
In Philadelphia, the focus on the local bars and eateries is clear. For rookie participants, beer week organisers offer “hand-holding” materials to enlighten managers about what types of beer events work and don’t work to build a beer week reputation and following. That means in subsequent years, the same participating venues are better equipped to stage successful events and self-promote — which works in everyone’s interest.
Marty Mendiola, president of the San Diego Brewers Guild, which sponsors San Diego Beer Week, says it’s important that craft beer weeks focus on pairing food and drink, as many of the events now do. That way, customers try out both new restaurants and breweries, a boon to local businesses beyond just breweries.
Schaffner says, “It’s not just the breweries that are the small businesses. Our hope is to provide a return to businesses above and beyond what they could do on their own.”
Plus, engaging restaurants and adding food to the mix also teaches people to have a finer taste for beer and see it as a more refined, complex drink—and move it away from the stereotype as being the drink that’s pounded at college parties.
Showcasing “responsible ways to enjoy beer,” says Mendiola, helps brewers boost sales beyond beer week as people find favourites. San Diego’s several dozen brewers have cultivated quite a reputation for themselves, he says. Even though the beer week there is just three years old, it’s become a tourist destination.
Philadelphia, New York, and San Diego beer weeks are young, but thriving. Each has seen an uptick in businesses joining to be part of the festivities. As the events grow and become more organised, breweries and food and drink establishments alike will reap the benefits of greater visibility and patronage.
Up until New York Craft Beer Week, “there was no body or organisation or group that collectively presented these businesses under one banner,” featuring all they have to offer, Schaffner says. “It’s about civic pride as represented through the beer scene.”
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