Craft beer by its definition is a direct contrast and antithesis to everything that ‘Big Beer’ represents. Delve deeper into the stories behind some of the world’s best craft breweries and there’s a popular theme, a small band of friends that have clubbed together to pursue their collective dream of owning a brewery.
A far cry from the multinational conglomerates that run their breweries from the boardroom. And whilst I’ve already documented some of the ways that big breweries have looked to lower their carbon footprint, small craft breweries because of their size and logistical limitations often have to find different ways of ‘giving back’.
Success isn’t guaranteed nor is it a one-way street, a fledgling craft brewery is entirely dependent on its surrounding community. There’s a variety of ways that a craft brewery can appeal and win support from its community, from shared ownership to charitable initiatives to small gestures like allowing dogs and kids in taprooms.
It was reading about Sierra Nevada offering free thanksgiving meals for those affected by the California wildfires that got me thinking about the strong connection breweries now have with their community. In some parts of the States such as San Diego and Portland, craft beer bars and taprooms are now as commonplace as coffeehouses.
In some cases, they’ve helped revitalise whole neighbourhoods and brought communities together. It’s no surprise to see a taprooms appeal, an informal watering hole with access to fresh beer brewed onsite. Add quiz nights, gigs, comedy nights, fundraising parties and even onsite restaurants in to this mix and you have more than just a venue for drinking.
Breweries have imbedded and ingratiated themselves in to their communities. From Philadelphia’s Crime and Punishment brewery hosting art exhibitions and sponsoring the local little league to Norfolk, Virginia O’Connor’s hosting folk festivals and even weddings! Craft beer taprooms are seen as cornerstones of communities, urban oases where people can come together, relax and have fun.
In Manchester, the renowned Cloudwater brewery are hosting a festival this March, called ‘Friends & Family and Beer’. 2018 proved that the global beer community was tighter than ever before, Cloudwater themselves collaborated with breweries from all over the world. This festival is a celebration of inclusivity and togetherness. And the calibre of breweries attending from the UK, Europe and the States is a testament to this.
Fellow UK craft brewery Thornbridge in Derbyshire curates an annual festival ‘Peakender’, in the picturesque Peak District. Bringing together breweries from both near and far as well as talks, activities, even circus workshops throughout the day. It might be a beer festival but like the inaugural Cloudwater festival, it’s about family, friends, coming together.
Up and down the UK too, craft breweries are establishing themselves as pillars of the community. London’s Five Points recently procured and restored a beloved local pub a stone throw away from the brewery and has set up an annual partnership with two local charities. They’re not alone.
The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) reported in 2017 that 84% of it’s breweries support local charities with 21% of those supporting more than five. It’s common for breweries to offer apprenticeship schemes to young people in the local area. Furthermore, Ignition brewery, based in Lewisham, London are a brewery that employ and train people with learning disabilities, whether in the brewery or their taproom.
So it’s clear to see that craft beer and community are intertwined, both strengthening and enabling each other to grow and prosper. And in my opinion, it’s largely because of the collective pride in having a ‘neighbourhood brewery’, whether it downtown Sacramento to East London. People inherently want to support their local businesses, to feel part of something. These breweries that are usually the product of a singular vision from a few people and one built on heaps of passion and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And as long at craft breweries value their community than they will both continue to impact upon them positively.
Writer: Tom Pears