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What business here needs is more beer

January 23, 2012
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

We hope that headline got your attention. It's true, too. Specifically, it's microbreweries that would help the Adirondack economy. Few enterprises are as brimming with promise right now as craft brewing, not just for the entrepreneur but for the surrounding town as well.

Here's the goal, set by Ken Tucker of Ticonderoga: Let's have at least one local beer made in every sizable community in the Park.

Mr. Tucker envisions a regional network of small breweries that would use a distribution system he's working to build through the Adirondack Brewers Coalition. Imagine visitors (and locals) doing Adirondack beer tours around the region, spending money at more than just the breweries in each town.

At most times in history, Mr. Tucker's plan would sound dreamy and far-fetched, but not these days. The 1990s microbrewing splurge wasn't a fad. It flowered and matured, and now there's a new generation of craft beers: far more micro, varied and delicious than ever.

Want numbers? Though overall U.S. beer sales were down by about 1 percent by volume in 2010, the craft brewing industry grew by 11 percent in volume and 12 percent in dollars - up from 7.2 percent growth in volume in 2009 and 10.3 percent in dollars, according to the American Brewers Association. According to the association's website, 1,753 breweries operated for some or all of 2010, the highest number since the late 1800s, before Prohibition chopped that number down significantly.

And unlike in the '90s, when the big national breweries watered down the market with their mediocre "craft" brews, this time, in our observation, the bigs have instead doubled down on their cheap varieties; ever notice how much more they play up Miller High Life in stores these days? And that's great for beer drinkers, because it means the cheap stuff is still cheap (and much of the time, all one wants is a cheap, watery beer) while the good stuff is better than ever - an experience in a glass.

So while it's a new golden era for beer, what makes Mr. Tucker's idea so great is the regional coordination. It would make things more exciting for the Adirondack tourist and more supportive for the brewers, who would be emboldened, boosted and peer-educated, knowing they were part of something bigger than themselves.

None of these companies would have to compete against each other. The more local brews there are, the more people will talk about and drink them all.

It's important that this new brew wave follows the 2000s explosions in small-scale wineries and spirits (think P3 vodka of Lake Placid). But even more importantly, it follows the local farm movement. Small farmers are developing new varieties of hops and barley, sometimes for a brewery, sometimes to brew their own. As more people eat locally, they're inclined to drink locally, too, especially if the beverage is a local specialty.

And that's what this is all about, really - local specialties. Promoting them makes tourists curious to visit each place and try each one. It would be better than winery tours because breweries are often downtown, where visitors can experience the community rather than the countryside (and, by the way, be surrounded by more other local businesses to spend their money at).

Craft beer is an excellent match for northern climates like ours. And while there are plenty of beer snobs out there, it is the beverage of everyman and, increasingly, everywoman.

There are already some success stories up here. In Lake Placid, the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery and Great Adirondack Brewing Company have been going strong since the 1990s. The former went into the bottling business, and for several years now you've been able to buy Lake Placid-brand beer in supermarkets all over the Northeast. Great Adirondack never bottled, which is the expansive part of the operation, but one doesn't need to. One doesn't even need a brewpub or restaurant, as these two have, although that's a nice way to get customers in the door, so to speak. A home- or farm-based operation could have its product served at local taverns and be perfectly content.

A group of businessmen in Tupper Lake recently formed a limited liability company under the name Big Tupper Brewing and intend to open a small brewery. The idea came about when Lake Placid Pub and Brewery owner Chris Ericson provided a one-time beer as a fundraiser for the effort to reopen Big Tupper Ski Area.

It's kind of amazing that both Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake don't already have local beer brands. What better way to draw tourists from Lake Placid?

A Saranac Lake shopkeeper we know once told us that during the summer, he has at least one customer a week ask where the Saranac brewery is. He has to tell them, "Utica." The Matt Brewing Company, which makes Saranac, has apparently passed on the chance to establish a Saranac Lake presence to match its Saranac brand. There's a demand they're missing. It's time for some local people to step up and fill it.

There are plenty of homebrewers out there. Blend those skills and ideas with some entrepreneurial spirit, and it seems like a pretty good bet, especially in a weak economy since it requires less overhead than many enterprises. We encourage local brewers, businesspeople and investors to act soon, while this regional idea is still on the rise.

 
 

 

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