A couple posts ago I was envisioning what my brewery would be like. I mentioned some things about the on-site food service and it got me to thinking generally about food service at breweries. Here are some thoughts on the current state of the craft beer community and it’s relationship with food.
A brewery is a destination
A friend and I were sitting at a small “alehouse” in my birthplace, Hollister, California. We were enjoying appetizers and beers, reminiscing and envisioning, gabbing and conjecturing with the bartender.
An older gentleman stuck his head through the door and asked about a previous brewery at this location, which had long since been closed. I can only guess that he found an old website that hadn’t been taken down, or perhaps he finally followed up on a friend’s suggestion from years ago?
He pulled his head out the door and glanced at his wife in the car. He told us that he’d check with her about stopping in anyway, and he walked away. A minute later, he and his wife both came in for lunch. It wasn’t what they were looking for, but it would do. The current alehouse doesn’t make beer, although they claim that they will soon begin brewing.
Now, Hollister is a small town. It’s kind of out of the way.
As my life has progressed, I have gained friends from other parts of the world or other parts of the state. Friends from other countries might have heard the word Hollister from a well-known clothing company of the same name. (No relation, to be certain!)
Friends from other parts of the state know Hollister as the town they passed while going somewhere else. After all, there’s Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area south of town, which attracts mainly off-road motorcyclists. And there’s Pinnacles National Monument, oops—it’s recently been upgraded to Pinnacles National Park, further south of town. It’s a great place to hike or camp, and to see the critically endangered California Condors, which have a reintroduction site there.
And then there is the biker rally, which draws more than a hundred thousand people each 4th of July weekend.
Other than that, people don’t really come to Hollister. There just isn’t a lot to see.
We’re certainly not a beer destination.
This older man and his wife who had lunch at the alehouse were obviously from out of town. They came to Hollister for beer.
Yes, people go out of their way to find beer. We want to drink it where it’s made. We want to talk with the people who make it. We want to see the facilities, taste the ingredients, hear the stories.
Breweries are destinations. People come from far away to see breweries. We’re hungry when we get there.
Beer creates community
And when we get there, we want to hang out. We don’t want to just pay $10 for a tour and a pint glass, then go. We want to stay awhile.
Today’s craft beer patrons are not the consumers of decades past. We don’t give money for nothing. We want something in exchange for our dollar.
It used to be that people were content to walk into a big box store, grab the product they were familiar with, and do the same old thing.
Craft beer drinkers are part of a fast increasing segment that is no longer satisfied with this type of transaction. We want a closer connection with the people to whom we are giving our money. We recognize that saving a buck is not the most important thing, when it means that the person who makes my goods isn’t paid a fair wage. So we’re willing to pay more for quality goods from someone we know, who is making a product from quality ingredients and treating their employees well.
A closer connection to the company is playing out in a big way in the digital sector, where app developers encourage their users to submit feedback to improve their products. Easy avenues for feedback are built into many products that I use on my computer and my smartphone. I let the developers know when I find a bug, I send suggestions for improvement, and it’s really neat to see my input incorporated into future iterations. It gives me ownership of the product. It builds loyalty to the company.
The entire craft goods movement is driven by this and other philosophies, such as reducing greenhouse gases by limiting transport of goods, and combatting disparity by sending our money to small local companies rather than distant corporate headquarters. Craft beer is also driven by these principles.
But I digress.
People come to the breweries to hear stories behind the beer they love, and to share stories with the friends who came with them. We want to stay awhile. Food helps keep us there.
Food facilitates communion
And food helps build community. Conversation, food, and friends. It’s natural. Conversation and food go together like grain and hops. Like yeast and water. Like ABV and IBUs… I think we all get it.
It’s hard for me to explain. Anna Brones explained it much better in her description of A Three Course Story.
A Three Course Story was a Tumblr blog documenting the stories shared over meals at St Paul’s Church West Hackney in London, England. Two times every week, North London Action for the Homeless puts together a 3-course vegetarian meal at St Paul’s for anyone who wants it.
A Three Course Story is a study of the stories at the intersection of food and community.
Although the patrons come mainly because of a shared need for food, they themselves are quite diverse. Yet they all share the desire for social interactions, conversation and company.
“They need to eat, but they need to talk to people, too,” says Rosie Spinks, curator of ATCS.
“Food nourishes us,” says Brones, “but so does being with people.”
“Food is a means to conversation, it provides us the space to interact with fellow human beings, something that we so very much crave.”
“Ultimately, we care about food not just because it sustains but because it helps us to be with others; no matter who we are we need social contact, crave community, and food makes that contact much more attainable. Cook a meal and there are few that will say no to sitting down around a table to eat it with you.”
I don’t mean to correlate modern, American Millennials and Gen Xers to the homeless of London. (Forty-nine percent of Millennials and 40 percent of Gen Xers drink craft beer.) I’m just saying that food brings people together.
Food builds and strengthens relationships. Craft beer consumers want a relationship with their brewery. Allow people to build relationships at your brewery, allow people to build relationships with your brewery—by serving food there.
So my brewery will have food—of course! Any craft brewery should have some sort of food service.
What sort of food service do you enjoy at your favourite craft brewery? Please let me know in the comments below.
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