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Craft Breweries Make their Mark by Tapping into the Community

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By Kate Collier

A quick Google search for “craft beer news” will pull up dozens of articles on the black cloud of growth decline supposedly hanging over the industry.

In a recent article, Gregory Dunkling, program director for UVM’s Business of Craft Beer Program, spoke about the state of the craft beer industry, acknowledging that the exponential growth experienced by craft beer in the past decade was indeed settling down “from 15 to 18 percent growth in previous years to 9 to 11 percent for the past year.”

However, Dunkling assured brewers that this news was positive, providing greater stability and sustainability to small, local businesses.

Jennifer Kimmich, co-owner of The Alchemist brewery in Stowe, echoed his certainty. “People will support their local craft breweries and by staying small and local. You really mitigate your risks while staying connected to your community.”

Some breweries are thriving within their communities, finding success through putting more focus on the community aspect of their business, even supporting other local businesses and charities through their taprooms.

We caught up with Amy Lieblein, digital marketing and events manager for Burlington’s Switchback Brewing about “Stretch and Sip,” a monthly yoga class held in their taproom.

Tell us about the thought process in developing “Stretch and Sip.” Where does something like that come from? It’s an inspired idea.

Sarah Quinttus from SoulShine Power Yoga came to us with the idea and we loved it so much we couldn’t turn it down.

About how many people do you have showing up on any given session?

It depends on the season, and the time of year. In the winter, we see more people when there is less to do outside. We can hold up to 30 people in one class and we do reach capacity. Last summer, we experimented with holding classes outside down the street from the Brewery at Oakledge Park in Burlington and people loved it. We will be doing that again this year.

Is this a serious yoga practice, or are people there for the beer?

It is a serious yoga class! We do a one-hour, all levels, vinyasa flow class. Then after you can indulge in your included pint or flight.

I know there’s a lot of talk about the over-saturation of the craft beer market. Do you feel like this is a way of differentiating yourselves? Has it worked?

We just felt like it was really in line with who we are as a company. A lot of us practice yoga and drink beer so we thought…why wouldn’t combining the two work?

What else do you do to bring people into your taproom?

One way is events that include beer and cheese pairings, beer and chocolate pairings, music every Friday night from 6 to 8 p.m., fundraisers such as the two dog parties we’ve had, called Barktober Halloween Bash and our Mardi Dog Party. Both benefitted the Humane Society of Chittenden County.

How important is it for local breweries to stay connected to the people they serve?

Differentiating-yourself-in-a-crowded-craft-beer-marketStaying connected to the communities we serve is hands down one of the most important aspects to running a business in Vermont. For us, we distribute to states throughout New England but we never lose focus on Vermont. Vermont is our home. Our roots. If we become disconnected from Vermont, it would mean becoming disconnected from who we really are.

In order to stay true to ourselves, we must never lose our bond with Vermont. Same goes for the other states we serve. One of our biggest efforts is to help the communities we are in, whether it be participating in fundraisers or donations. When you serve your community, it is beneficial for all.

What’s the community reception been like for “Stretch and Sip,” and what are your thoughts on expanding it?

People have been very receptive to it. Moving “Stretch and Sip” outside to Oakledge this upcoming summer will only take it to the next level. Yoga on the waterfront followed by a beer. I can’t think of a better way to start off a Sunday.

Learn more about UVM’s Business of Craft Beer Program.