IT IS TIME TO EMBRACE CRAFT BEER’S CONTEMPORARY REVOLUTION

We’ve all been there. A long day turns into a painful day turns into a one-of-those-days, and by the time you’ve finally cleared your loads only one thing can put it all back together again: diving into an ice cold beer.

How about literally diving into a beer at the end of a gruelling day at the office?

Scottish craft beer brand BrewDog are no stranger to publicity stunts – think bottles of a 55% ABV ale stuffed into a taxidermy stoat; driving a tank down Camden High Street; and fermenting a salty IPA at the bottom of the North Sea – so their latest tomfoolery should come as no surprise: a hot-tub filled with their famed Punk IPA, beer-based toiletries, and your own tap beer in each room… Welcome to ‘the world’s first craft beer hotel’.

This being BrewDog and their brash bravado, there are already a glut of properties that might lay claim to that title, but there is surely no other that will enter the world with such a fracas – one of the world’s fastest growing drinks brands, the craft brewer has made its name on the back of divisive projects that unsettle and irritate; even if the hotel that accompanies their state-of-the-art 100,000-square-foot brewery in Columbus, Ohio, will no doubt be a landmark success.

The DogHouse
The DogHouse

Even before ground is broke on another multi-million pound project for the antagonistic Scots, craft beer continues to make the headlines. A staple for the millennial creative classers, alongside your favourites like third-wave coffee and handmade wool socks, artisan brewers have been going from strength to strength in recent years: the craft industry contributed $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016, and big brands like Anheuser-Busch InBev (who turn over some $45 billion a year) continue to aggressively sweep up highly-regarded breweries – most recently the much-acclaimed (now much-maligned) Wicked Weed.

Such notable success comes courtesy of the fiercely independent market that North Carolina’s Wicked Weed left behind – Instagram and the rise of the ‘hype beers’ has seen a rise in fanatical enthusiasts that hang around industrial brewery gates like ‘60s groupies waiting to catch a glimpse of Jagger or Richards backstage, and the obsessions are only deepening.

“They would set up chairs, go inside and drink and come back out and spend the night in the parking lot”, explained Henry Nguyen of California’s much-hyped Monkish Brewing Company to The New York Times earlier this year. “It was about 15 hours of waiting, sometimes for only six cans.”

If this sounds like Doomsday preppers panic-buying basic rations, think again: this is grown men spending the night camped out to ensure they walk away with beers that come in at over $20 for a four-pack. Those same beers on rare appearances across the pond can set you back in excess of £10 per can; with even rarer beers – take Three Floyds’ revered Dark Lord stout, for example – putting you more than £60 out-of-pocket. If you thought craft beer was a phenomenon four or five years ago, think again.

And only fools should allow phenomena to go ignored – in an age of differential making all the difference, many within the travel industry are overlooking the new wave of craft beer’s sustained revolution. With an unrelenting march that looks to have grown unstoppable, now is high time to embrace the obsessive nature that has seeped into the world’s third most popular drink.

With Cigar City Brewing one of North America’s most noted breweries, and a number of high-profile newbies in the area, Tampa Bay’s tourist board were one of the first in the U.S. to introduce craft beer to their storytelling – the Bay Crafted campaign taking away a prestigious top honour at an awards show hosted by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International a couple of years back. San Diego, oft-lauded as the world’s craft beer capital, naturally makes a fuss of their local assets, and the same can be said for cities and states across the nation as craft breweries continue to open at a rate of knots.

Mikkeller, San Diego
Mikkeller, San Diego

“A good craft beer scene is extremely valuable for us, illustrated by the number of layers around which we can brand the destination”, explains Jesse Davis, director of communications at Visit Denver, where 80% of the more-than-100 craft breweries in the metro region opened less than five years ago. “There’s the cool factor for one, and a unique cultural experience. I think the creativity and innovation around craft beer is also something that people are becoming more aware of.”

Becoming aware of? Truth is, if you hang around a leading craft beer bar in any top city long enough to sink one or two strong local IPAs, you’ll find someone from somewhere else who’s made this place their first port of call. Craft beer tourism is on the rise, and BrewDog know that. If you build it, they will come.

Stepping into the American market with some scale, the Scots recently opened their first Stateside brewery on a 42-acre site in Columbus, Ohio. A gargantuan space that’s accompanied by an equally vast tap room, DogTap, and to which crowdfunding has been secured for an additional sour beer facility and boutique hotel, where that IPA-filled hot-tub and personal tap will be accompanied with malted barley massages, craft beer breakfasts and a ‘shower beer fridge’. (The uninitiated may want to Google the curious ‘shower beer’ sensation.)

Dogfish Inn
Dogfish Inn

Naturally, the abrasive beer giants bill this as a world-first; but with much less brouhaha, Delaware’s 16-room Dogfish Inn has for some time been providing a design-conscious place for craft beer tourists to rest their head when making a pilgrimage to the Rehoboth Beach brewpub and Milton production brewery of Dogfish Head, the renowned brand who were one of those at the forefront of craft beer’s new wave. Packages include a private, behind-the-scenes look at one of the country’s most famous breweries; a glimpse at their 200-barrel brewhouse, wood-ageing room and bottling line; complete with beers, cocktails, and food that top off an all-inclusive experience for craft heads.

Brew fanatics will find a number of spots to bed down and indulge in their hoppy obsessions across America, but it’s not just the home of craft beer that is enjoying this contemporary renaissance: state-of-the-art facilities are opening their doors in cities around the world – Copenhagen, Manchester, Barcelona, Stockholm… The sort of folk who are putting their expensive beer hauls up on Instagram each and every night are not just seeking out the top bars and breweries when travelling somewhere, they’re travelling somewhere exclusively with the former in mind.

The Alchemist
The Alchemist

Which means fingers need to be pulled out, and adding ‘local craft beers’ to your press release needs an upgrade – just as a bartender should know their Syrah from their Shiraz (or not), and be able to knock up a negroni or old fashioned with the ease of putting one foot in front of the other, so too should they know the difference between their DIPAs and their TIPAs, their Gueuzes and their Goses. Minibars and normal-sized-bars, too. Think about it. At stylish Burlington bed and breakfast, Made Inn Vermont, the owners celebrate their region’s most famous brews, and a welcome drink in the shape of an IPA from internationally-revered brewery The Alchemist is surely one of the most universally-envied amenities for dedicated followers of hops. A can of Heady Topper or Focal Banger will set you back a small fortune in Europe, yet here it accompanies a record player and vinyl collection, art book library, vintage games and other local delicacies in making the B&B your very own home-from-home.

In an age of hyper-locality and the importance of celebrating the cultural landscape of your neighbourhood, engaging with your local craft brewers is a no-brainer. They themselves are already typically ingrained in their community, catering to and collaborating with local artists, artisans and creatives – bringing them onboard for events and collaborations, stocking their latest releases, and educating one another is simply the right thing to do.

Barr Copenhagen, Photo © Line Klein
Barr Copenhagen, Photo © Line Klein

So too should be interaction with your restaurants and chefs – a cross-pollination of ideas between the kitchen and the brewery has fuelled many new award-winning eateries: in New York, short-lived Brooklyn restaurant Luksus – a collaboration between chef David Burns and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of noted brewery Evil Twin Brewing – was the first to receive a Michelin-star featuring a beer-only drinks list. Over in Copenhagen, Jarnit-Bjergsø’s brother runs perhaps contemporary beer’s most famous brand, Mikkeller, and is opening a number of restaurants, including the munch-regarded Øl & Brød. Associated microbrewery, To Øl, themselves have a celebrated eatery in BRUS brewpub; and the former Noma space is now occupied by Barr, a new Nordic restaurant from René Redzepi and Thorsten Schmidt that boasts some 90 different beers. As is the case in the travel industry, overlooking the importance of beer in the modern food and beverage landscape would be a big mistake.

Whether it is hospitality and the brewing world colliding with all the conceited commotion of a BrewDog, sharpening up your local credentials, or offering something that X, Y, or Z aren’t down the road… The most important consideration (and this goes way beyond beer) is to keep both eyes and minds open. Being receptive to new ideas; being responsive and poised to react; being open to collaboration and learning new things – embracing craft beer’s creative new wave could be a metaphor for any new trend: the important thing is avoid complacency. At all costs.

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James Davidson
James Davidson is a contributing writer for THE SHIFT and editor-in-chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.