Craft beer industry being marketed as a tourism draw – contrary to some lawmakers’ contentions

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A few craft beer brewers are becoming a bigger part of the Sunshine State’s largest industry — tourism.

Visit Jacksonville is just one of the organizations trying to grab a few of the 100 million Florida visitors expected in 2014 by developing a marketing strategy to transform the area’s growing craft beer scene into a tourism draw.

The campaign — known as “Jax Ale Trail” – may still be in its infancy, but Visit Jacksonville has already announced the launch of a statewide digital advertising campaign after the July 4 weekend, according to director of marketing and product development Katie Mitura.

The craft beer tourism campaign will consist of local social media advertising, as well as ads reaching into Southeast Georgia. Mitura said the promotion would initially cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

“That’s a hot buzzword in tourism — craft breweries and dining and going to different communities and experiencing that,” Mitura told the Jacksonville Business Journal. “We have an amazing opportunity to promote to outsiders to come and visit our breweries.”

The city’s tourism arm will collaborate with several Jacksonville breweries distributing craft beer: Aardwolf Brewing Co., Bold City Brewery, Engine 15, Green Room Brewing, Intuition Ale Works, Pinglehead Brewing Co. and Veterans United Craft Brewery.

Promoting beer in Jacksonville is not limited to independent craft brewers: Anheuser-Busch’s Brewery in the city’s Northside will be included, offering tours of both the plant and beer school.

Last session, a handful of Florida state Senators rejected the idea that beer could be part of a vibrant state tourism industry, claiming the “tourism exemption” under which breweries operate is inappropriate. However, few can deny the allure of craft beer—as a product, an industry and an economic driver.

People are not be the only targets of Florida craft beer tourism; the state is also trying to attract independent brewers looking to expand operations. A new brewer in Florida would not only help bolster the burgeoning beer tourist trade, but it also a clear boost to local and state economies, offering tax revenue and jobs.

For example, California-based Stone Brewing Co.— the 10th largest craft beer brewery in the United States — is just one West Coast brewer looking for a foothold  in the East Coast. In an article for GerrnvilleOnline.com,reporter Steve Jones says Stone Brewing is eyeing South Carolina as a new home, because of the recently passed law allowing breweries to sell beer onsite.

The state House and Senate approved a bill last week that allows factories to produce unlimited amounts of beer, as well as operate on-site restaurants serving food. The bill was a direct overture to Stone Brewing, which says it could commit as much as $30 million in investments, with hundreds of new jobs in a new East Coast brewery.

Deschutes Brewery, the nation’s fifth-largest craft brewer based in Oregon, is also considering an expansion, with South Carolina in the running.

“With the law you guys passed, (Deschutes founder Gary Fish) said we might have to take another look at South Carolina,” Deschutes representative Marie Melsheimer told Jones on Friday. That expansion could bring around $50 million to the state.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.