Most of us in Asheville only notice the Asheville Brewers Alliance during Asheville Beer Week, if we notice it at all. That’s when a group of volunteers from the ABA organize and promote the dozens of events that happen that week — and help pull off the Beer City Festival.
Alliance members don’t take the rest of the year off, but with no other signature events, a website that was out of date until last month and a Twitter account with fewer than 50 tweets, they haven’t exactly been engaging with the public in years past.
“The ABA started as a way to get everyone [from Asheville breweries] in a room together,” says Anne-Fitten Glenn, communicatrix at Oskar Blues Brewery and current member of the alliance’s board of directors. “Our industry is collaborative in many ways, but also competitive. … It’s a lot harder to have a conflict continue for a long period of time when you have the chance to discuss something face to face.”
As time went on, the organization became more active but primarily behind the scenes, according to Billy Pyatt, co-owner of Catawba Brewing and treasurer for the ABA. “People in general don’t see a lot of what we do because much of it is technical events for the brewery members — draft beer seminars, sensory evaluations and so on. We also do service projects — we’ve built a house for Habitat for Humanity, and this past winter we kicked money toward fuel for people that needed it. However, we don’t do a great job of publicizing that,” he says.
Changes at the Alliance
Last month, the ABA made a couple of big moves that signal the organization is about to change in major ways. First, it added board members from Oskar Blues Brewery and Sierra Nevada Brewery — two operations that are much larger in scale than other breweries with board members in the alliance. They’re also not technically in Asheville, but then again, neither is the new president, Joe Rowland of Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City. “Really, we are much more than just Asheville now,” says Pyatt.
However, the change in size and scope is not the biggest news at the alliance. That would be the hiring of the organization’s first independent and paid director, Jennifer Vincenzo McLucas. “From my point of view, we have some great people with a lot of energy, but none of us can handle the entire job of the ABA director, which is to market Asheville beer,” says Pyatt.
According to Pyatt, alliance members always have great ideas, but their day jobs (which often turn into night and weekend jobs) mean they only have so much spare time. “Jen will be able to keep us all on task and to make sure things get pushed forward. She’ll be the one to communicate on behalf of the ABA to the public,” says Pyatt.
What will having that director mean for the ABA? “We still need to put a plan in place for our next one, three and five years, and we’ve only had one meeting since I’ve been on board … so I don’t have a ton of specifics yet,” says McLucas. “However, I can say that if people are coming to Asheville for the beer or going to a brewery they wouldn’t have because we nudged them in that direction … then we’ll have done our job,” she says.
As far as initiatives go, McLucas says there could be a variety of approaches. “It could be press releases, working with local tourism development organizations on daytrip itineraries or overnight trips, or it could be events,” says McLucas. “We want to plant the seeds and get our breweries on more tourism radars.”
Glenn says the ABA will have increasing ownership of Asheville Beer Week and more consistent communication and marketing. Other new events are not out of the question. “When it’s winter and things are slower, how do we get people visiting breweries?” asks McLucas. “If the answer is new events, the ABA will absolutely consider it.”
Some changes will also come on the digital side. McLucas wants to make it easier for breweries to have resources available online. “It can be as simple as a library of logos,” says McLucas. “When breweries collaborate [on beers or events], we should have what they need.”
However, the beer-drinking public won’t be left out. McLucas says that the alliance’s new website, which launched last month, is only the first step on that front. “We’ll be making it a lot more robust, with things of interest beyond Asheville Beer Week,” says McLucas. “And our fans and followers, especially those visiting Asheville, will find that our Facebook page and Twitter handle will be great resources.”