I used to have a poster hanging in my office that featured a retro graphic of a smiling man hoisting a beer and it read, “Beer will save the world. I don’t know how, but it will.” It always gave me a chuckle. But now, after attending several craft beer festivals in New Jersey over the past few weeks, I find myself thinking about that sign in a very different way.
You’ve heard of the Industrial Revolution, right? The ornate aesthetics associated with the Victorian age resulted from the fact that intricate decoration could be mass produced and thus affordable to the masses. Then there was push back. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, the Arts and Crafts movement was born. It promoted artisan and hand produced items as more desirable than products made in huge factories. Craft beer lovers, does that story sound familiar? Hint: the word Craft.
While I was talking to the large collection of New Jersey brewers at the festival, I kept hearing comments that would have made the likes of William Morris or Gustavus Stickley proud: Locally sourced, higher quality, fresh. New Jersey craft brewers undoubtedly make wonderful beer but that isn’t the only reason for their success. People love the story. They are excited about the fact that they can visit the place where it’s made and talk to the people who made it. They may even know someone who provided the ingredients. Off the top of your head, can you tell me who the head brewer at InBev is? There is pride and loyalty to a product made in your own backyard in much the same way a sports fan roots for the home team.
Craft brewers have known about this phenomenon since they got going in the 1980’s. The idea is catching on. The food industry is seeing a big surge in the Locavore and farm-to-table idea. Restaurants routinely highlight menu items that are produced locally. A recent report on NPR talked about the banking industry, in a reaction to “too big to fail,” seeing the growth of small, local banks. Craft banking? Why not?
I believe Craft Brewing has been a catalyst in this movement. There’s no denying their success. The Brewer’s Association reported that craft beer grew by 15% (in dollars) in 2011. Overall beer sales are down by 1.3% and have been flat for years, but the craft beer market segment is now approaching 10% of the market share. The national brands are shrinking while the small, local brewers are increasing their foothold in the market place. Those are staggering numbers in a depressed economy. Craft beer has been sustaining double digit growth for a while now too.
That doesn’t even take into account the boost to tourism, tax revenue and jobs that Craft brewing spawns. The jobs aren’t just brew house work either. All that beer has to be marketed, delivered and served. Ingredients have to be produced too. Even hop farming is on the rise. All of this is really good news for New Jersey in particular.
The Brewers Association came up with a ranking of States by how many breweries they have per capita. At the very top, Vermont has about one brewery for every 30,000 people. By comparison, New Jersey has only one less brewery than Vermont but ranks a lowly 42. There is only one brewery for every 439,595 people in this state. That means we have plenty of room left for more breweries! But wait, there’s more. There is momentum now to change the laws governing the brewing industry in New Jersey. Senate Bill S-641 will ease restrictions on how production breweries market and sell their beer and will also allow brew pubs to bottle and distribute their beer if it‘s signed into law. If I were a venture capitalist, I would be champing at the bit.
So maybe, just maybe, beer will save the world. At the very least it’s going to make New Jersey an even cooler place to live and enjoy great beer!
Peter Culos is the editor of “Beer Bites,” a new monthly feature about breweries, bars and good beer in the garden state. A graphic designer by day, and a life long New Jersey resident, Peter was first introduced to the novel idea that beer could actually have flavor during several visits to the UK. He’s been riding the craft beer bus ever since. It has been called the ultimate social lubricant and Peter’s philosophy on beer is, “I’d rather split my last good beer with a friend than drink the whole thing by myself.” Besides beer he also likes history, dogs, Jeeps and painting. In the past, he has written a History and Art blog for the Weider History Group and occasionally contributes to his own blog, history-geek.com. Life is short. Drink good beer.