The Session #112: The Other Beer Economy

The SessionThis month’s edition of The Session is hosted by Carla Jean Lauter, The Beer Babe, who wants us to write about The Other Beer Economy:

Growing alongside of the boom of breweries are many small businesses that are supporting, or supported by the craft beer industry.

Yet, we rarely give these businesses a second thought. They are the second beer economy, often operating behind-the-scenes. I think we could give them a bit more credit for keeping things growing, sharing the products of our local breweries with more people, and sometimes even literally keeping the beer flowing.

For this month’s session, let’s talk about those businesses in the beer world that aren’t breweries. What are the roles that they can play? What opportunities still exist for new niche roles to be developed? What can local/state/regional governments do to encourage this kind of diversity of businesses around an industry?

Much of the final chapter in my book Bend Beer: A History of Brewing in Central Oregon is in fact on this secondary economy (I titled that chapter “Beer Town, USA”). I finished writing that up about two years ago and since then the local “beer economy” has grown even stronger. Here’s a bit of what I wrote:

Beer tourism is the primary and most visible of these ancillary activities, a natural evolution of the region’s history and dependence on tourism and recreation. Of course beer has long accompanied enthusiasts on their outdoor excursions, be they camping, fishing, skiing on the mountain, trips to the lake, and so on; and… the outdoor guide company Wanderlust Tours was among the first to explicitly link craft beer with the regional tourist industry, offering specialty beer tasting as a feature of several excursions. With the creation of the Bend Ale Trail by Visit Bend in 2010, several companies began offering customized “beer tours” that supplemented the Ale Trail and highlighted the region’s melding of craft beer culture with the local lifestyle.

For the summer of 2013, a Bend visitor survey revealed that 45% of respondents included brewery visits and/or the Bend Ale Trail among their activities (54% reported simply visiting a brewery), with 6% reported brewery tourism specifically as the main purpose of travel to Bend. To help put these percentages in perspective, Dean Runyon Associates reported the annual tourist spending for Deschutes County to be nearly $500 million that same year.

It’s not just in tourist dollars that beer feeds the local economy. In 2013, the brewing companies in Central Oregon employed approximately 870 people (1.32% of private-sector employment), up from approximately 450 in 2010. Hundreds if not thousands more were employed by businesses in some way impacted by the brewing industry, such as beverage distributors, construction, beer bars, growler fill stations, Silipints, and even hop growers.

Bend Cycle PubOff the top of my head, this is a quick list of the beer-related economic categories that we have here in Central Oregon now:

  • Beer bars
  • Growler fill stations
  • Growler manufacturers
  • Beer/brewery tourism, which can be further subcategorized:
    • Beer tours (guided tours in a van or vehicle)
    • Outdoor recreation (rafting, hiking, snowshoeing trips that incorporate beer)
    • The Cycle Pub — touring breweries on a group-pedal-powered “party bike”
    • The Bend Ale Trail — self-guided tour for stamps and prizes among over a dozen local breweries
  • Hop farms
  • Barley farm and maltster (one!)
  • Beer soaps
  • Silipints — recreation-friendly, silicone pint “glasses” that are flexible and nigh unbreakable
  • Beer festivals and similar events
  • Homebrew shops
  • Niche-y artists and crafters, producing everything from paintings using only beer, to handcrafted bottle openers, to coasters, to custom bottle and growler carriers and more
  • And of course, beer writing(!)
Silipints

Silipints from the Bend Ale Trail

Farther out, coming out of the Portland area for instance, the growth and spread of mobile canning and bottling companies are servicing smaller breweries across the state that don’t have the finances or space to install their own packaging lines.

I didn’t even get into the distributors and related services like tap line cleaners because they’ve become common in many sizable cities and beer regions, but they certainly add to the list. The fact of the matter is, beer has become one of the tentpoles of the local economy here, along with tourism/recreation and (some would say) real estate.

I certainly think there’s room for more, though I’m not going to try to predict what, exactly; the range of beer-incidental business we have now is already much more varied than I would have thought even five years ago. I suspect we’ll continue to see more beer tourism and beer recreation type business ideas develop, based on this region, which is definitely something the City of Bend and Visit Bend (the official visitor center and tourism development agency) both encourage.

The good news is, there’s plenty of opportunity for anyone who wants to open a beer-related business in Central Oregon!

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