The Red-Headed Step-Carolinaby timmons / May 04, 2012
"It's amazing the clarity that comes with psychotic jealousy."
North Carolina has done it again.
After announcements over the last few months from both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium that they'd be opening up shop in the state, Oskar Blues has done the same. That's three major-league craft breweries from west of the Mississip choosing our neighbor to the north as a future East Coast home.
Even forgetting the future footprints of those giants, North Carolina plays home to roughly 60 of its very own craft breweries, a number that's rising all the time. Meanwhile, South Carolina continues to hold its own with less than 10 -- four of which are of course local to us, breweries near and dear to our hearts (among other vital organs).
So, what gives? Why North Carolina? More to the point, why not South Carolina?
Reasons, and opinions, certainly vary. The presence of so many craft breweries was likely an attraction to the bigger players, a sign that the state was comfortable with and welcoming to the industry. There's plenty of soft reasons I've heard kicked around - culture, natural surroundings, "reminding us of home," that kind of stuff. That's all well and good, but there are more concrete reasons for opening a brewery in N.C. versus S.C., given an unfettered choice between the two.
North Carolina's state government is certainly not perfect. I have no examples for this, but they are a government, so they are bound to be doing SOMETHING wrong at any given time. But, in the beer department, they seem to be enlightened. There is a clear recognition of the cultural and financial benefits of being a craft beer-friendly state. The financial impact of craft brewing in North Carolina since its inception was excellently summed up by our friend Win Bassett, Executive Director of the North Carolina Brewer's Guild, in a presentation at Ignite Raleigh 3. Watch it here, and cower at these stats:
- 37,000 jobs
- $3.8 billion
These numbers speak for themselves. Unfortunately, our State House doesn't seem to be listening. North Carolina breweries enjoy limited self-distribution, where production up to a certain number of barrels can be sold directly to on- and off-premise accounts by the brewery. Maybe more importantly, you can visit a North Carolina brewery and order a pint. A real, full pint. Like a big boy. Hell, you can order pints, plural. This has led to some breweries creating rather nice taprooms and live performance spaces, making them destinations as opposed to waypoints. Our breweries, meanwhile, must lose a chunk of profitability to distributors when selling any amount to any account, and can only give you four samples per day when you visit, making even the most well-intentioned of visits short and sweet.
Don't get me wrong, South Carolina has made serious strides over the last five years. We popped (rather raised) the draconian alcohol cap on beer in 2007, and ushered in legal tastings and limited direct-to-consumer sales at breweries in 2009. These were great steps that significantly changed the lives of brewers and beer fans alike for the better. But until we reach parity with North Carolina, out-of-state breweries will continue to look towards the greener grass north of our border.
Thirsty for action? Keep an eye peeled on the South Carolina Brewers' Assocation site, where you'll see legislative efforts spelled out as they arise. Short of that, why not contact your local and state representatives voicing your general support for the craft beer industry? Point out the crystal clear benefits of being a more welcoming state. Point out the tax revenue and employement that we lose every day, and will lose in the future, by NOT having 60 craft breweries in our borders and 3 massive players on the way. [Of course, this isn't a zero-sum game, but what's wrong with a little drama?]
If you get a chance, visit N.C. sometime, and get really jealous about our situation. Psychotically jealous. It's a hell of a motivator.
In addition to his role with the Brewers' Guild, Win is a co-founder of ncbrewing.org, a premiere source for craft beer info in N.C. Craftbeercollective.com serves a similar purpose. Carolina beer websfolk unite!
Image courtesy of Wikmedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons.