Craft beer isn’t done with its heyday yet, and if local crafters and connoisseurs have their way, it won’t be anytime soon. Compared to eight years ago, there’s a more diverse market of craft beer product and avenues to explore new brews, whether it’s at a beer tasting, on draft at a brewpub or at the local craft beer store. There’s an increase in interest from consumers, and local breweries are on the rise.
But how sustainable is the beer industry in the Granite State?
US News recently published a report on the challenges craft brewers face on both federal and state levels, but local New Hampshire brewers are applauding state legislation that has made it easier to apply for a license and start a business in brewing.
“They just reduced the cost for starting up and getting licensing approval,” Henniker Brewing Company Marketing Manager Ryan Maiola said. “Before, the licensing fees were higher, so that was a barrier for a lot of people.”
“It makes it really accessible for people to take advantage of those trends,” Scott Schaier of Brew NH said. “There’s a lot of things that are sort of coming together and creating a perfect storm. … There’s a lot more demand from consumers, all the way down to millennials up to people that are retired. It’s a great time I think for beer in general, and it’s a great time for beer specifically in New Hampshire.”
Sure, you’re probably familiar with New England craft beers like Magic Hat, Shipyard, Long Trail and Switchback, but have people who live in Vermont or Maine heard of beers like White Birch Brewing, Smuttynose or Woodstock?
“Smuttynose is in half the U.S. states, and a couple international territories, and I think Redhook is in 50 states,” Schaier said. “Vermont in New England has been the pioneer of craft brewing and beer tourism. … We’ve got a long way to go to catch up.”
Currently, there are 32 breweries in New Hampshire (and that number is on the rise), while Vermont has about 125 breweries. Schaier said that it isn’t a bad thing that so many new Granite State breweries are opening up in a short amount of time.
“It’s a renaissance thats happening here in New England and across the country, and New Hampshire is really just in the infancy stage of it,” he said.
White Birch Brewing Company founder and president of the Granite State Brewers Association Bill Herlicka said that, as a state, we have much more to do.
“The scene is vibrant and growing, but then I tell people to stop and take a look and see, how much of what you find around town is New Hampshire-made?” Herlicka said. “The scariest statistic I’ve ever heard, but also the biggest opportunity: New Hampshire is number one in sales and consumption of beer in the country, but only 1.3 percent of the beer purchased in New Hampshire is made in New Hampshire, for craft beer.”
In comparison, Herlicka said that neighbors in Vermont and Maine are much more supportive of their own locally brewed state beers, with 12 to 15 percent of craft beers purchased in Vermont made in state, and 10 to 15 percent bought and brewed in Maine, depending on the region.
“Why are they embracing their own made-native beers more than New Hampshire is? Well, those states don’t have the same population fluctuation that we’ve seen over the last 20 years. It’s a different industry here,” Herlicka said. “I’d give us a C-plus in terms of business sustainability. … I’d give New Hampshire’s brewers a B-plus. I think there is a real diversity of concepts, there’s a really good level of execution and I think it’s a really diverse group of highly motivated brewers, men and women, trying to see their batch turn into reality.”
New Hampshire pride
Both Maiola and Herlicka said it’s the loyal customers who stop by to fill up growlers and chat with their local brewers that have helped their companies succeed.
“People are excited that we’re only 30 minutes away,” Maiola said.
Herlicka attributes the low percentage of New Hampshire craft beer support to two factors: national beer brands and a transient population. While more consumers are moving into southern New Hampshire, Herlicka said they’re more likely to order what they’re familiar with (beers from other states) rather than New Hampshire-made products.
“That’s the biggest challenge we face as an industry in this state,” he said. “As we’re getting our feet under us, as the number of breweries, and breweries in the larger sense [brewers, manufacturers, brewpubs], is growing, we still face a marketplace that doesn’t know we exist, we still face a customer base that’s not being given opportunities to try our brands and see that they like it. … Because a lot of people have moved into southern New Hampshire where the majority of the population is, there’s no interest in or affinity to New Hampshire made.”
There is good news, however, as local beer stores and restaurants are more willing to feature New Hampshire made products. Places like Bert’s Better Beers and even the Market Basket in Hooksett are putting local beers on the shelves, while restaurants and bars like Cask & Vine in Derry and Strange Brew Tavern in Manchester rotate their drafts to introduce local product to customers.
Plus, “The craft beer industry as a whole is more one-for-all,” Maiola said. “Everyone helps each other out. The better the other craft breweries are doing in the state, it’s better for everyone.”
As seen in the June 12, 2014 issue of the Hippo.