Since 2005 when North Carolina’s “Pop the Cap” law raised the limit on alcohol volume in beer from 6 to 15 percent, the number of breweries in the state has exploded. From just 45 breweries in 2010, the craft beer industry has grown to more than 130 breweries, with an economic impact of $790 million
And a recent survey by the N.C. Wine and Grape Council showed that the state’s wine industry has grown 33 percent from 2009 to 2013, with an economic impact of $1.7 billion. And wine-related tourism is up 65 percent.
Ask Glenn Cutler of the NC Beer Guys if he thinks the state can support a thriving beer AND wine industry, and without hesitation, he answers, “yes.”
“Every now and then, a winery, brewery or bottle shop won’t survive. But it won’t be a saturation issue,” Glenn says.
When the NC Beer Guys – Glenn and fellow beer lover Dave Tollefsen – started their website and craft beer promotion work three years ago, there were about 70 breweries in the state. Today, they count roughly 140, with more coming online all the time. Glenn and Dave travel the state visiting breweries and craft beer, using video to introduce their followers to the state’s breweries and craft beer industry.
The question that the NC Beer Guys get more often is whether the state can support another brewery, and Glenn’s answer is still affirmative.
“Many people in the state are still more than an hour from a brewery,” he says. “There’s plenty of room for the good ones. And there are plenty of new drinkers discovering craft beer and local craft beer.”
Glenn believes that the rising beer and wine industries can only mean good things for the state’s tourism industry, as evidenced by the 65 percent increase in wine tourism that the N.C. Wine and Grape Council discovered in its survey. The economic impact of wine and beer festivals is also huge, he says. The festivals are held all over the state, he says, even in communities that don’t have a brewery of their own.
From tourists who come and spend the night at a festival, to the tourism dollars generated at festivals, the craft beer industry has had a positive impact the state’s economy. Even the growth of food trucks that support beer festivals and breweries that don’t serve their own food owe much to the state’s growing craft beer industry.
In addition, the beer industry’s quest to produce beer made from local ingredients has helped support N.C. agriculture, said Glenn. Agriculture supports the brewing industry by producing the raw ingredients need for brewing, and breweries in turn offer their spent grain from brewing to farmers as livestock feed.
“I think that the brewing industry will absolutely spark the resurgence of small family farms,” said Glenn. “You can grow barley, wheat and hops (three of four beer ingredients) on small acreage.”
The biggest challenge to expanding agricultural production to support brewing is discovering which hop varieties – traditionally grown in the Pacific Northwest – will grow well in the warmer North Carolina climate.
Glenn and Dave can’t say exactly how many NC breweries, bottle shops and festivals they’ve visited during the years they’ve blogged and interviewed folks about North Carolina beer – he says they’ve visited most, but not all. At the rate that new breweries are opening, it’s not easy to keep up, but the NC Beer Guys say it’s sure worth trying!