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The Coppertail Brewing Company in Tampa Bay produces a Night Swim porter beer described as “dark, luxurious, rich, and roasty with a hint of chocolate that’s best enjoyed with a partner,” hence the name, “which pairs well with barbecue brisket.”
Craft beer is big business in America with a passionate following of consumers who appreciate the nuances of beer flavor, texture, and character as much as their wine-loving brethren. According to the Brewers Association, U.S. sales of small batch suds jumped 16 percent in 2015.
That translates into a growing demographic of niche travelers who are willing to spend incremental dollars in craft brewpubs, local independent breweries, beer trails, and a growing array of beer-themed special events.
Tourism bureaus in Denver, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, and San Francisco were some of the first to develop travel experiences and digital storytelling around craft beer. Over the last couple of years, the trend has become more mainstream across the entire country as more bureaus see the potential to drive overnight visitation and higher spend, especially to underserved neighborhoods.
Visit Tampa Bay, for example, produced the Bay Crafted web campaign last year that won the top HSMAI Adrian Award in the “Complete Campaign” category. It also helped lure the 2016 Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference to Tampa.
The microsite describes the major homegrown brewers on Florida’s Gulf coast, including the Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Cigar City Brewing. It then shifts to smaller microbreweries and their local communities, like “hipster-friendly Seminole Heights,” where Angry Chair Brewing serves beers such as Raspberry Berliner, German Chocolate Cupcake Stout, and Strawberry Mojito Kolsch in its tasting room.
That kind of specific insider information is exactly what beer tourists are searching for, according to Patrick Harrison, VP of marketing at Visit Tampa Bay.
“We realized about 18 months ago that we had the opportunity to target visitors through craft beer, like Portland and Denver have been doing,” said Harrison. “But no one was really combining that with a sunny destination [on the East Coast], and we have a big group of craft brewers here in Tampa Bay.”
So the bureau got all of the beermakers together to help develop the Bay Crafted campaign and ancillary beer content on the website. Harrison said the brewers jumped at the opportunity because many of them are too small to market themselves effectively, and it was notable how all of them wanted to make sure everyone was included.
“I was really impressed by their community spirit, and how they were very much of the opinion that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Harrison explained. “Some of these guys are so small that they’re lending bags of hops to each other. It was really case where they felt they had something special to offer visitors, but they were looking for someone to lead the charge.”
Visit Tampa Bay spent $50,000 on digital and radio ad buys to promote the campaign in-state. Harrison said that resulted in 11,000 additional rooms nights based on incremental overnight visitation growth from target drive markets like Orlando/Daytona and West Palm Beach.
“We didn’t want this to look touristy because it was supposed to be an authentic story about craft beer,” he added. “Other destinations are doing content like this, but we wanted to make ours the biggest and the best, and get people to stay another night to visit some of the 26 breweries we have.”
Food, Beer & The Maker Culture
San Diego and Denver have spent the last decade battling over the right to be called the “Napa Valley of Beer.” Both of them are seeing a continuing surge of new craft breweries, and both offer insight into the future of beer tourism marketing and its impact on destination brand building.
Kerri Kapich, COO of the San Diego Tourism Authority, told us that San Diego is the “craft brew capital of America” with around 130 craft breweries, which she said is expected to rise to 150 by the end of the year.
In Colorado, 80 percent of the more than 100 craft breweries in the Denver metro region and 300 across the state opened less than five years ago, according to Jesse Davis, director of communications at Visit Denver.
“A good craft beer scene is extremely valuable for us, illustrated by the number of layers around which we can brand the destination,” said Davis. “There’s the cool factor for one, and a unique cultural experience. I think the creativity and innovation around craft beer is also something that people are becoming more aware of.”
Kapich agreed, telling Skift, “Beer gives us a new story angle for culinary media, men’s pubs, and travel too, but we don’t think of beer as a separate thing. It’s part of an inclusive story in San Diego that can combine the arts, neighborhoods, food, nightlife, so it’s all very seamless. People want the full experience.”
Tourism bureaus and their local partners are developing more events that combine food and beer, paralleling the success of food and wine festivals, such as the Denver Bacon & Beer Festival and the San Diego Brew & Food Festival.
The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, the nation’s largest, launched the Paired program in 2015 to promote food-beer pairings.
“Trying to get tickets for that is like trying to get front row seats at a Rolling Stones concert,” Davis said. “This is all about creators and makers trying to market themselves by crossing lines to work with new people and create amazing culinary experiences.”
The Brewed Food Movement
Inspired by that, and the growing Brewed Food movement, beermakers are developing more working relationships with chefs. For example, Chef Trey Foshee at Galaxy Taco in San Diego wanted a beer with a little more corn flavor, so he partnered with Benchmark Brewing to produce an exclusive Galaxy Corn Lager.
“Brewers tend to be very collaborative people,” Kapich said. “They’re always trying to reach out to people to make the craft brew industry more approachable and inclusive.”
She added that tourism bureaus are also developing more sophisticated niche storytelling around craft beer directed at typically high-spending culinary travelers, because people interested in craft beer also tend to be drawn to artisanal food unique to the destination.
Along that vein, San Diego put together an online Craft Beer Hub positioning local brewers as destination ambassadors, coined “The Rebels of Brewing.” The content is integrated into the tourism bureau’s Guides to The Good Stuff local insider series, and the corresponding video below has been viewed over 337,000 times since March 9 this year.
All of this demand for U.S. craft beer isn’t limited to the domestic market, either.
In a joint initiative by the Denver Beer Co. and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, the city is developing a new trade relationship with Japan. The goal is to help more local companies like Denver Beer Co. access international markets, which has the added benefit of promoting the Denver brand to overseas travelers.
“In Japan we have seen a significant rise in interest in American craft breweries and the unique flavors they are creating,” said Charlie Berger, co-founder of Denver Beer Co. “American craft brewers are at the forefront of what is hip in Japan. Many large Japanese cities have craft beer bars and liquor stores dedicated to craft beer imports.”
The Rise of The Beer Trail
Cities across North America are developing and/or promoting beer trails linking breweries and brewpubs together, with printable maps and lots of related content to drive visitation to local communities and small craft brew businesses.
Denver: The Denver Beer Trail and this PDF map feature 20 local establishments to explore the city’s extensive craft beer lifestyle. Davis said the Trail doesn’t necessarily include some of the big corporate restaurant chains in Colorado serving up to 100 beers on tap. He explained, “The focus is really on quality over quantity where you can get a true sense of the passion that the brewers put into their craft.” Content about the Trail is supported with the Beer Aficionado’s Guide to Denver, Beers Brewed in Denver, and the Great American Beer Festival.
Tampa Bay: Visit Tampa Bay has a Beer & Microbreweries webpage listing a wide variety of breweries and neighborhood brewpubs, followed by an extensive list of special events around the year celebrating craft beer. For fans of beer trails, the tourism bureau directs visitors to the popular Tampa Bay Brew Bus. There are multiple itineraries for different types of tasting experiences.
St. Petersburg/Clearwater: Next door to Tampa, the Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater tourism bureau developed an comprehensive Craft Beer Trail and a series of beer-themed videos. Harrison said St. Pete and Tampa are “tied at the hip” when it comes to promoting the destination to international markets and convention planners, with beer experiences becoming a more prolific part of the marketing process.
San Diego: Rather than developing a beer trail itself, San Diego promotes third-party sources, including the San Diego Brewers Guild 2015 Craft Beer Map & Guide and the San Diego Brewery Guide. There’s also a series of blog posts written by local beer experts, such as A Hop Lover’s Downtown Tour.
Jacksonville: Visit Jacksonville is going after the craft beer consumer with its Jax Ale Trail initiative. The website reads: “Four local breweries, Engine 15 Brewing Co., Intuition Ale Works, Aardwolf Brewing Co. and Pinglehead Brewing Com,. all won medals at the Best Florida Beer Championship this past year. In Jacksonville, we are pioneer hipsters . . . minus the Brooklyn attitude.”
Brooklyn: That Brooklyn attitude is on full show at the seven breweries listed on Explore Brooklyn’s downloadable Beer Trail Tasting Tour Map. The popular Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg produces a series of beer festivals in the northeast, and it’s open for tours.
Portland: Travel Portland says that it has more breweries than any other place on earth, which isn’t actually accurate, but it does have one of the most varied craft beer webpages among tourism bureaus on earth. For instance, there’s content on “brew ‘n view” movies and “kid-friendly breweries.”
New Mexico: The New Mexico Ale Trail is a statewide initiative with an interactive map. The 38 road stops range from Cazuelas Mexican Grill & Brewery in Rio Ranchos to the husband-and-wife-owned La Cumbre Brewing in Albuquerque, who feel they have the best IPA in the country.
Michigan: A lot of beer experts in Michigan. Experience Grand Rapids promotes a Beer City Ale Trail with a surprising amount of brewery production tours. The tourism bureau also lists a wide range of Beer City Hotel Packages and a Beer City Brewsader Passport that visitors can collect stamps for at each stop.
Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Craft Beer Trail was once “The Cradle of American Libation” and the greatest beer city in the Western Hemisphere during the American Revolution, according to Visit Philly. The website goes into a good bit of detail covering the 53 stops on the Trail.
Asheville: The Asheville Ale Trail is a favorite for people who know these things, based on the amount of times it’s referenced by beer media. There are various self-guided walking and biking itineraries, and a “Brews & News” event blog. Meanwhile, Explore Asheville has a great Beer Scene portal that’s part of its innovative Foodtopia platform, which promotes locals who operate travel companies, versus the companies themselves.
Oklahoma City: Even if tourism bureaus don’t have a lot of craft brewers in their city, like Oklahoma City CVB, they can easily put together a simple Beer Tour page.
Indianapolis: Visit Indy features a crowdsourced Instagram feed focused only on beer.