Asheville Beer Week is about the brewers. And, of course, it’s about the beer. But this year, as the event enters its fourth year, and the Asheville Brewers Alliance celebrates its first year with a staff director, Jennifer McLucas, the festival is also about something bigger: the local economy.
With about 20 craft breweries in the Asheville area and more throughout Western North Carolina, the industry is beginning to have a significant impact on both the economy and the community as a whole. The ABA reports that its membership, which stretches to include areas such as Bryson City, Andrews and Boone, directly employees a minimum of 1,200 people at this point — and this number doesn’t include support-service employees.
“Beer is really Asheville’s new manufacturing industry,” says McLucas. “And as an organization, [the ABA is] trying to make it easier for breweries to do business in Western North Carolina.” The ABA is currently working to change state legislation that makes it difficult for breweries to collaborate with other businesses and nonprofit organizations on advertising. Plans are also in the works to commission an economic impact study of the brewing industry in Buncombe and surrounding counties.
McLucas notes that the WNC brewing industry is tightly linked to other aspects of the community, including the nonprofit sector, the food scene and tourism (most beer events, she says, have a 50:50 ratio of locals to tourists). “Asheville Beer Week is a celebration of the impact that we’re having,” she says. “It’s a drinkable invitation to what we’re doing in Asheville.”