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The Social Economy of Craft Beer

BY: ON August 16, 2013

A massive fermentation tank at Jackie O's Brewery in Athens, OhioCapitalism! Hardworking Americans strive five days a week to bury the competition. Then Friday comes, and we raise a glass with the same men and women we recently attempted to crush. Some might say that’s magical, some would blame the beer, and die-hard enthusiasts would say the two are one-and-the-same. Fittingly, the mellowing powers of beer extend past the bar and into the boardroom. Across the country, and particularly in Ohio, craft breweries are sprouting like wheat and finding that collaboration (not competition) is the key to their collective success.

Case in point: this weekend two Ohio cities are highlighting artisanal brews from across the nation. Columbus is hosting one of their semi-annual Beerfest events. Meanwhile, Dayton is kicking-off seven days of sudsy celebration, Dayton Beer Week, with their own brewers’ bacchanal, AleFest.

These large scale events are key marketing opportunities for nascent and small-scale breweries nationwide. They offer the chance to show off wares, trade secrets and form strong customer relationships that keep the cash (and beer) flowing. To get a feel for what it takes to take on America’s brewing behemoths, I got in touch with the creative strategist for Jackie O’s Bar and Brewery in Athens, Ohio, Matt Spolar, and the owner/manager of Yelow Springs Brewery, Lisa Wolters.

“It’s a small world. We all know each other;  we’re not in competition,” Wolters explained. “We all help each other because the real competition is the ‘Big Three.’”

This David vs. Goliath social message is core to Yellow Springs Brewery’s brand. Their tongue-in-cheek motto is “Crafting Truth To Power.”

Indeed, if America’s master brewers eschewed collaboration we’d still be drinking beer that hasn’t changed since the 1890s. Competing against national brands is only possible if breweries co-operate.

“Today we’re setting up for Columbus Beer Fest… none of us could put on this event by ourselves,” says Spolar. “We couldn’t have a Jackie O’s brew fest, but we work together, and we collaborate and everyone benefits.”

Yellow Springs Brewery will be in Dayton showcasing their flagship Captain Stardust Saison, while Jackie O’s will be in Columbus promoting cans fresh from their brand new 40-barrel brewhouse along with some high ABV concoctions (Dark Apparition and Brick Kiln Barleywine). This weekend’s events are more than a collaborative marketing opportunity though. Both breweries are working on projects that will see them team up with other Ohio beer producers to create special edition hybrid libations.

“It is not like the ‘Big Three’ buying out the smaller guy,” says Spolar. “It is more like how can we help the better guy. The bigger the industry is as a whole, the better we’ll all do.”

In this small-but-growing segment of the economy the American dream seems to have more to do with lifting up the Joneses than keeping up with them. And, in case you think this prime example of the social economy this just a passing craze, I’ll leave you with this quote from the website of Yellow Springs Brewery:

“The craft beer revival happening across the U.S. offers authentic alternatives to mass-market tastes and, well, as corny as it may sound, supports the American Dream — that life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone.”

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