On average, a new brewery opens every 16 hours. Yet the average craft brewery produces less than 200 barrels of beer a year, which puts an exclamation point on just how local the industry really is, with thousands of breweries solely serving a local or regional clientele. That’s why, whenever I travel, I make it a point to try the local beers, the ones I can’t get back home. And the airlines have begun to take notice. Delta has started serving regional craft beers. Minnesota-based Sun Country offers Surly, brewed in the Twin Cities. Craft beer is available on Virgin America, Frontier, and Southwest. And more and more carriers are expected to follow suit and add craft beers to their beverage carts. Bart Watson, Chief Economist for the Craft Brewers Association, says the demographics of craft beer drinkers match up extremely well with the demographics of frequent fliers.
In fact, Watson says, as craft beer enters more and more arenas, “We’re getting close to the point where all the boxes have been checked.” That doesn’t mean saturation – far from it. What it does mean is a craft beer presence at some level all across the board. For example, baseball season will open shortly and at least 28 of the 30 major league stadiums now offer craft beer, in many cases dozens of options. The Washington Post crunched the numbers last summer and concluded that the Cincinnati Reds offer the greatest variety, with 130 different beers available at the Great American Ball Park along the Ohio River.
But beyond special events, like a day at the stadium, craft beer lovers have begun to expect that they won’t have to go out of their way to find good beer. Grocery stores are increasingly complying, Walmart and Target too. The Duane Reade drugstore chain owned by Walgreens has opened growler filling stations at a few locations in New York City.
Now, Watson says, “The next big frontier is convenience stores.” He predicts they will begin to embrace craft in the near future. A relatively small chain, APlus, with locations at Sunoco gas stations, has begun selling craft beer in New York State and the Charleston, South Carolina area – offering not just bottles and cans, but also filling growlers on site. And that gives new meaning to the request, “filler up!”
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