Economic & Business Development


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Bryon Tonnis, Karen Tonnis, Laura Mullen, and Colin Mullen, the founders of Bent Paddle Brewing company in Duluth, Minnesota. Their company’s story illustrates the economic patterns that Jeff Alworth is describing. (James Fallows)

If you’re going to subscribe to only one magazine — well, really you should be subscribing to more! But you could start with The Atlantic, and then move on to include, as I have, All About Beer on your list (subscribe!).

I mention it now on general principles, and because its site now features an interesting piece by Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible, extending my premise that craft breweries have become a no-joke indicator of larger civic revival. This is how he explains it, in a way that rings absolutely true to what my wife Deb and I have seen from Georgia to California to Mississippi to Minnesota:

[Fallows] suggests that the appearance of a craft brewery is one effect of community health—but I’d argue that it’s at least in part the cause of a community’s vitality.

Breweries are industrial operations, and they’re expensive. Beer is a mass beverage, and even making it on a brewpub scale means you have to have quite a bit of space for the brewhouse, fermentation, and storage. All that equipment costs a lot, and real estate does, too. When you’re spending a quarter- or half-million dollars on equipment, you can’t afford expensive commercial space. So breweries end up on the fringes, in bad parts of town where the rent is cheap. That alone is the first step of revitalization. [Emphasis in first paragraph was from Alworth. This emphasis is added by me.]

But breweries aren’t like the average industrial plant. They are people magnets, bringing folks in who are curious to try a pint of locally made IPA. In fairly short order, breweries can create little pockets of prosperity in cities that can (and often do) radiate out into the neighborhood. Pretty soon, other businesses see the bustle and consider moving in, too.

It doesn’t hurt that breweries often find run-down parts of towns that have great buildings. Once a brewery moves in and refurbishes an old building, it reveals the innate promise of adjacent buildings to prospective renters.

Alworth gives an example of the way a brewpub is affecting development in bigger cities like Tampa. Then he adds:

Tioga-Sequoia brewery in downtown Fresno (James Fallows)

But the effect may even be stronger in smaller communities. Little towns are often underserved with regard to cool places to hang out. When they open up shop, they provide much-needed social hubs. That the rent is cheaper there than in big cities gives these breweries a competitive boost, to boot—and we have seen many small towns (like Petaluma, California; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Milton, Delaware) spawn outsized breweries. And whether they’re in small towns or cities, breweries serve an important community-building function. They’re not only a nice place to spend an evening, but serve as venues for events like meetings, weddings, and even children’s birthday parties.

Agreed on all points. So you’ve now heard this from two separate beer-interested writers, Jeff Alworth and me. By journalism’s hallowed two-source rule, it must be true.

Bonus beer news:

The hottest thing on the ever-hot Seattle beer scene is Holy Mountain beer. At least that is what the Seattle Times tells us. (Thanks to Bruce Williams.)

Some craft brewers are not as small and craft-ish as you think, according to this list of corporate ownership of “crafty” brews, from Men’s Journal. This is a complicated subject — if we were describing it in beer (or wine) tasting terms, we could even say it was “layered” and “complex”! A shift in ownership to a much larger parent company makes a brewery less “local,” by definition. It doesn’t necessarily make it bad.

For instance: I hadn’t realized that Lagunitas, of Petaluma, California, is half owned by Heineken. I still like their beers. On the other hand, I don’t like Blue Moon beers, which is separate from the fact that they’re owned by MillerCoors. But it’s an interesting list, so check it out. (Thanks to Michael Ham.)

The economics of brewingWhile waiting for your subscription copy of All About Beer to arrive, you could check out its stories on economic/city growth trends. For instance, “Breweries Flourish in Industrial Parks” and “Beer As An Economic Stimulus.” Seriously, these are interesting.