Those of you who love local beer already know the score — it’s three.
Asheville has — for the third time — clenched the title of BeerCity USA via the online poll of the same name (though we tied with the much bigger town of Portland, Ore., in the first poll, in 2009).
Asheville won with hardly a whisper of competition, getting 7,002 of the 14,999 votes, trailed by San Diego with 2,374 votes, and Portland with 1,495, according to poll organizer and Brewers Association president Charlie Papazian.
Clearly, Asheville gets out the vote. Well, unless it’s an off-season election year (anyone remember the municipal 2009 primary? There were 7,152 votes cast in that one).
The key to victory seems to be the tightly woven beer and “buy local” communities.
“The social media connections are strong here,” says Oscar Wong, president and founder of Highland Brewing Company. “And those of us in the business pay attention to what’s going on in the beer community.”
Joe Minicozzi, executive director of the Asheville Downtown Association, notes: “Asheville has a very supportive ‘buy local’ community. It’s part of the city’s zeitgeist to buy local, and that includes beer.”
Papazian, who visited the city in February, writes on Examiner.com about Asheville: “The city is not only behind its small brewers, but behind local business. I encountered several people at non-brewery restaurants, ticket counters, rental car desks, hotel management and more who were far from being what one might ‘brand’ as beer enthusiasts. Yet they were very aware of their city’s brewers and what they meant to the people of Asheville.”
The Asheville Brewers Alliance, created almost three years ago, also offers a way for the local and regional breweries to stay in touch and support the broader goal of getting folks to fork over their cash for locally made craft beers.
“I think the camaraderie of the Alliance makes it easier to support each other,” says Tim Schaller, owner of Wedge Brewing and president of the ABA. “It’s easier to support each other when you’re all sitting in a room together once a month and doing events together such as the Beer City Festival.”
According to BeerServesAmerica.org’s data for 2010 for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, the beer industry’s economic impact approached $340 million. The beer business also employs around 3,700 people in the district and puts more than $79 million into federal and state tax chests.
“Craft breweries are good for local economies. They create jobs, contribute to city coffers, are often generous to local charities and causes, and are usually willing to move into areas that are in need of rehabbing,” writes John Holl in an article for CraftBeer.com.
A number of Asheville breweries brew in old warehouse spaces, including Pisgah Brewing out at the Eastside Business Park in Black Mountain, Craggie, Green Man and Asheville Brewing in the industrial area just south of Asheville, Wedge Brewing next to the railroad tracks in the River Arts District, and most recently, Southern Appalachian Brewing in the old historic area of Hendersonville.
In addition to breweries, the WNC region has seen a number of tangential businesses pop up and thrive — from Brews Cruise to Bruisin’ Ales beer store to small home-based businesses such as soap made from hops and leather pint-glass coozies.
Another boost for the local economy are the beer festivals (there are four, by last count). To celebrate the BeerCity USA win, the second Beer City Festival took place last Saturday, at Roger McGuire Green downtown. The noon to 6 p.m. celebration was slated to happen whether or not Asheville won the poll, says organizer and Barley’s Taproom owner, Jimi Rentz. Rentz also is the head organizer of the Brewgrass Festival. The festival has become so popular that ticket buyers crashed the sales server for hours when tickets recently went on sale. Was this a result of the Beer City poll win? It’s difficult to know.
The Beer City fest primarily showcases beers and breweries from the Carolinas. Also, for the first time this year, the fest included the presentation of Asheville’s first Beer Master. The Asheville Beer Masters Tournament is a competition consisting of a series of contests on beer trivia, knowledge and passion. Based on the Wyncoop Brewing Beer Drinker of the Year and Philadelphia Beer Geek contests, Asheville’s take on brew nerdiness was organized by Budweiser of Asheville’s Craft Beer Manager Mary Eliza McRae (McRae also has worked for The Duck-Rabbit Brewery and Highland Brewing). Trevor Reis of Asheville became the first Asheville Beer Master, and he’ll spend the next year being an ambassador of sorts of the local beer scene (yes, it’s kind of like being a beer quaffing Miss America).
While it’s clear that the BeerCity poll is unscientific and supposed to be in good fun, a number of folks take issue with it.
“Internet polls are silly. If that’s what people want to do for fun, there’s no harm in it, but the BeerCity poll was especially silly in that Asheville and Portland were able to combine for 14,000 votes, whereas other great beer cities had nothing,” says Portlander and beer blogger Bill Night. “So it was embarrassing to see Portlanders get so worked up about a slugfest between two smallish cities — on an Internet poll without much reach — especially when it seemed that someone was able to generate as many votes for Asheville as were needed to stay on top.”
Turns out there were around 4,000 fewer votes cast overall in the BeerCity poll in 2011 than in 2010, so perhaps there was a loss of interest.
“A lot of people got very worked up about it in 2009 and 2010. This year a number of us watched it out of curiosity, but most people had caught on to the racket and ignored it,” Night says.
Ultimately, whether or not the poll has meaning doesn’t matter much. The consensus here is that it draws attention to Asheville’s beer industry, which is a significant part of our local economy. And it pulls together the people who work in and care about this industry.
“This shows the enthusiasm and support of the community for our city,” Minicozzi says.
“I just want to thank Asheville for voting,” Schaller says. “This challenges our brewers — when tourists come here to drink beer, it better be really good beer.”
I say cheers to that.