Once upon a time, a very long time ago, all brewing operations were hyperlocal. In fact, most homes brewed their own beer, as well as bottling their own wine, growing their own vegetables and raising their own livestock. That changed with the Industrial Revolution and Prohibition in the US further altered the landscape. After Prohibition was repealed, only a handful of breweries were left standing and most were anything but local (a very few exceptions existed, such as Spoetzl Brewery in Texas, the makers of Shiner).
The explosion of craft beer has created something of a reversal of these trends, with breweries becoming smaller, and more local-focused. While not all small breweries are local and even fewer are hyperlocal, there’s a growing trend towards focusing almost exclusively on a very limited area of operation, distribution and service. How would you even go about defining a hyperlocal brewery, though? Interestingly, it can be done in a couple of different ways, and they’re not all solely concerned with the extent of the brewery’s distribution.
Let’s touch on the most common element first – distribution-only. These breweries may or may not source their ingredients locally, and they may or may not have plans for future expansion to other areas of the country. For now, they do limit their distribution to a relatively narrow geographic area. For instance, Rapscallion Brewery out of Boston refuses to distribute their beer any farther than 200 miles from their location.
Another element of the hyperlocal brewery that’s gaining traction in some areas is the draft-only model. There are several good examples of this – The Southern Brewing Company in Georgia, Rapscallion (mentioned above), and a number of small ones in Colorado – that refuse to bottle or can their beers. Their brews are only available on draft. This has an interesting side effect. It encourages fans to head down to the brewery’s tasting room, or to one of the local establishments with the beer on tap. This fosters economic growth for the immediate area, and helps grow local businesses.
Locally Sourced Only
The number of breweries following this particular model is very few, but it’s growing. The main challenge here is that so few breweries exist in an area where all the ingredients for their brews can be found. However, hops cultivation is exploding across the country, and some brewers are growing their own if they can’t find a local supplier. The same applies to barley. Some are even harvesting their own wild yeast (Creature Comforts and Southern Brewing out of Athens, GA, are prime examples of breweries harvesting wild yeast, and Southern Brewing even has their own apiary for locally-sourced honey).
By sourcing ingredients locally, these companies are spurring growth for their suppliers – small farms and growers of everything from wheat and barley to fruits and vegetables, and a great deal more. It goes beyond even this, though. Everything from barrels for aging to tap handles can be sourced from the surrounding area, or the state in which the brewery operates if nothing else.
A hyperlocal brewery must do more than just source its ingredients in the area. They must become part of the larger community, and that means doing more than just brewing great beer. This is one area where craft breweries excel, though. To cite Rapscallion again, one of the elements in their mission statement is to “support local farms, organizations and charities”. They do this in a number of ways, from charity drives to fund raisers. Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens runs weekly events to help the local community, including events to recognize and celebrate local nonprofits to sponsoring a farmers market in their parking lot, hosting the Georgia Food Bank and much more.
Challenges They Face
Of course, it’s not all golden for these companies. They face a wide range of challenges. Because they’re hyperlocal, their market is very small, which means that profitability is limited. Most of these breweries aren’t in business to get rich, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, they do need to keep the lights on and the taps running.
It also means they rely heavily on their local fans and supporters to spread the word and evangelize on their behalf. Word of mouth does more good for these organizations than any number of celebrations and special events.
There’s also the challenge posed by larger craft breweries expanding into the areas served by these companies. It creates dilution, although it does give craft beer lovers far more options than they would otherwise have.
Why do they put themselves through all this? It’s for love of the beer. It’s for love of their area. It’s from the desire to help other businesses grow and succeed, fostering greater prosperity for a place that’s near and dear to their hearts.
How Things Will Change
When it comes to these nimble, innovative breweries, the future is uncertain. One drawback to eschewing expansion and growth in favor of driving local achievement is a limitation on what most people would call “success” today. The future is cloudy to say the least, but one thing is for sure. If they hold true to their principles and their fans support them, they’ll continue to thrive. Without that support and enthusiasm, they will ultimately fail no matter how good their beer or how involved with the community they might be.
Do you have any favorite hyperlocal breweries? How do you support them? Are you buying their beer and introducing your friends to it, taking tours, visiting the tasting room or patronizing other venues where their brews are served?