The new economy
It's also making disparate brewers more respected as colleagues. Yuengling's Casinelli remembers his brand being "ostracized" from craft beer events such as Philly Beer Week as craft brewers formed their own subculture and looked at Yuengling "like we were Anheuser-Busch, Miller or Coors." Because many craft brewers went into business at the same time and, as Covaleski says, "we envied the big guys to some extent because of what they had accomplished and they just sort of mocked us because we were never going to amount to anything," there was a greater sense of kinship among the newcomers.
"We helped one another when somebody's yeast died, we sold used equipment to one another, we transferred each other's beer to beer festivals and helped each other out at beer festivals, so it was like a bunch of kids who grew up together and were just happy to do what they did, which is make beer," Covaleski says. "I think the camaraderie on the craft level cause the large brewers to take a different look at how they might play with their brethren."
In reality, mutual interests helped bring regional brewers into the craft fold and created an alliance where Covaleski says there were once two noncommunicative sides "from seemingly different worlds." Two years ago, a bill moving through the Pennsylvania legislature that threatened to take away small brewers' right to self-distribution helped bring those two sides together.
"In December 2009, I got a call from Dave Casinelli, who I never spoke with before, and he left a message saying 'I have something I think you may or may not know about that I'd like to share with you, give me a call,'" Covaleski says. "It was this House Bill 291 here in Pennsylvania that I hadn't been paying attention to at all, and he was reaching down to say 'I don't know if you read this, but it could be significant to you.'"
With such legislation now going national with the help of the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness act, craft and regional brewers are fighting not only for the growth of the sector, but for the closet economy craft beer has become. Craft brewing accounts for more than 100,000 jobs in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association, but ancillary benefits broaden that a bit. Yuengling's Casinelli says that his brewery's success brings more than 50,000 visitors a year into Pottsville for tours of Yuengling's original facilities. That visitor base is more than triple Pottsville's population and is a boon for shops, restaurants and other area businesses.
Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, says that with more than 1,700 breweries operating in the U.S. -- the most since 1905 -- the majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery. That gives the breweries a sphere of influence that expands from the workers at the facility to the farmers that Koch and Casinelli say have come to their Pottsville and Boston facilities to pick up trailer loads of Yuengling and Boston Beer spent grain (and the 70% of its remaining food value) to feed their slightly tipsy dairy cattle. Craft beer site RateBeer's owner Joseph Tucker says his local Whole Foods in Sonoma County, Calif., uses Russian River Brewing spent grain to make bread.
"The basic economic benefit of the local brewer is that profits stay local," Tucker says. "Portions aren't sent to multinational headquarters located on another continent."
In Boston Beer's case, that profit's benefit could extend well beyond his local bases in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In cooperation with microloan provider Accion USA, the brewer launched the "Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream" microfinance program in its brewing markets in 2008 and just expanded them nationwide this year. Already among its success stories are Voltage in Cambridge, Mass., which started with a $2,000 loan to buy an espresso machine for a catering business that grew into an eight-employee coffehouse and art gallery near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While the program has also helped start and grow a Venezuelan restaurant in Astoria, N.Y., Koch says he'd really like to see it produce the next Sam Adams -- even if that beer takes 20 years to succeed just like his did.
"That's what I would envision for the craft brewing component of Brewing the American Dream: Somebody who has a small brewery but, with a $10,000 loan, can buy a fermenter and some kegs that will enable them to grow their business 50%," Koch says. "Hopefully they'll do that, pay the loan back and we can give them a bigger loan."