It may be the beginning of a modern Gold Rush, but instead of prospectors heading west in their search for gold, this time, it's the gold that's headed east.
With the recent announcements of extended distribution and additional brewery locations planned in the Southeast, it's clear that our corner of the country has grown too serious about good beer to be overlooked any longer.
This ostensibly started last year, when Chico, Calif., craft-brewing giant Sierra Nevada announced that it would open a second brewery in Mills River, N.C., in 2014. It didn't take long for similar plans to take shape with fellow West Coasters — Longmont, Colo.-based Oskar Blues opened a second brewery location in nearby Brevard, N.C., in December, and plans were announced this year for Fort Collins, Colo.'s New Belgium and San Diego's Green Flash to follow suit, opening new brewery locations in Asheville, N.C., and Virginia Beach, Va., respectively.
While none of these new breweries are located near Florida, much less within the state itself, the implication is clear — the Southeast is hot in the beer scene right now, and let's be honest: Florida is fast becoming a major player in that market.
Mike Stevens, co-founder and CEO of Grand Rapids, Mich.'s Founders Brewing has said as much. In a news release this month he noted, "Florida has grown tremendously in terms of craft beer savvy and awareness in the past couple of years." His brewery will expand distribution of its full product line into Florida next month.
However, three of the four breweries setting up shop on the East Coast already have distribution in Florida and the surrounding states, so that's clearly not the only motivation. The addition of a second brewery has quite a few benefits, for both the brewers and the consumers.
Sierra Nevada has long taken pride in being an environmentally conscious brewery. The Chico facility uses waste water and methane gas byproduct to power fuel cells that provide the brewery with its own electricity, recycles over 99 percent of its physical waste products, and even converts used cooking oil from its brewpub into biodiesel fuel.
By opening a new brewery in North Carolina, Sierra Nevada will eliminate the need to ship its beers clear across the country to satisfy demand, which is no small matter, considering it's currently the sixth-largest brewing operation in the United States.
While New Belgium already distributes to North Carolina and the immediate surrounding states, an Asheville brewery will make it much easier to break into a few new and lucrative East Coast markets, like Pennsylvania and New York. Although the new brewery won't be open for at least another year, New Belgium isn't wasting any time moving into Florida — distribution of its beers will start here in the summer.
And then there's the issue of freshness. While shipping times from coast to coast are hardly outrageous, a beer's freshness is still crucial, especially with the hop-forward, flavor-packed beers that Green Flash is known for. Many of the brewery's beers are built on a foundation of fresh, floral hops — the ingredient that deteriorates most quickly in beer that's been sitting in a truck for a while before it sits on the shelf at a local beer store. And considering more than 30 percent of Green Flash's beer ends up on the East Coast anyway, it only makes sense to bring the source closer to the consumers.
It would be arrogant to assume that Florida is the sole reason for this push toward the East Coast, but it would also be foolish to dismiss our state's influence in the craft-beer scene. There are precious few high-output craft breweries that are not currently distributed in Florida, and within a few months, that number will be even smaller. If I'm right, we'll see it shrinking further in the near future.