I’m often asked by casual observers of the craft beverage industry whether it has peaked. My answer is always an emphatic no. Craft beverage consumption is evolving in unique ways, with drinks being consumed in previously unheard of places such as movie theaters and laundromats. And the current demand outpaces the supply. This makes for a bright future for the craft beverage industry.
The question arises because of the remarkable growth in the industry. New York is home to more than 900 wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries, which generate billions of dollars of economic impact. Of these, 139 are in the Mid-Hudson Valley: Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster. Just five years ago, there were only 57. In fact, 5,000 Hudson Valley-based food and beverage businesses employ more than 57,000 people, and the number is growing.
To those wondering about a slowdown, I’d say that a natural leveling of the number of businesses being licensed may occur. But production and sales will continue to rise. Millennials are passionate about their craft beer and they are driving growth.
Craft breweries are helped because they are hyperlocal and have built-in cheerleaders. Enthusiasts have a love for their local brewery that is akin to the love of a local sports team — some are diehard Yankees fans, some like the Mets.
Institutional support helps, too. Tourism departments pitch in with fantastic marketing and advertising campaigns and economic development corporations like Hudson Valley Economic Develop Corp. (HVEDC) help with programs such as the upcoming 4th Annual Hudson Valley Beer, Wine, Spirits & Cider Summit. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has invested heavily in the craft beverage industry, promoting Taste NY and offering incentives, lowering fees and loosening regulations.
HVEDC strongly supports craft beverages because we find they are increasingly interwoven with other industries and boosting economic growth. We’ve seen restaurants pair local brews with food in their establishments and craft beverage entrepreneurs sell locally produced fresh food in their tasting rooms and pubs.
That’s just the tip. Hudson Valley-produced craft beverages are now sold at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Yonkers, a movie theater chain, and in laundromats in downtown New York City and in Brooklyn, and that trend will soon travel farther north into the Hudson Valley. Discussions are ongoing about combining more food and beverage tours and incorporating craft beverages into cultural events like museum visits and other fine arts venues.
The region’s ethnic groups are adding to the excitement by brewing and distilling their traditional drinks. Nahmias et Fils distillery in Yonkers is producing mahia, the Moroccan liquor, and KAS Distillery in Mahopac is making krupnikas, an alcoholic drink popular in Lithuania and Poland.
It’s clear that craft beverages are quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon. Producers are choosing to locate in old buildings in downtown areas, drawing traffic and revitalizing neighborhoods. This can be seen at the Yonkers Brewing Co. and the Newburgh Brewing Co. and plans by Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. to open a new destination brewery in Peekskill.
As the marketplace matures, so does HVEDC. Four years ago, it started the Hudson Valley Beer, Wine, Sprits & Cider Summit as an educational forum and networking opportunity for craft beverage entrepreneurs. With just weeks to go before the fourth summit on Oct. 4, more people have signed up than ever before.
This year, the keynote speaker is a 35-year veteran of the beverage distribution industry, who will discuss the changes coming to the industry. After all, craft beverages’ biggest backers are millennials who are used to ordering goods and services from their smartphones. What will this mean for the future?
HVEDC has also created the Bet on My Business Academy, a hybrid classroom and job-shadowing executive education program to match local entrepreneurs with major hospitality and industry leaders who impart their wisdom and experience to this new crop of business owners.
Typically, fledgling businesses find investors to fund the next level of growth. At HVEDC, we are working to help existing businesses scale up and grow. So let’s all drink to their success.
Laurence P. Gottlieb is the president and CEO of Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp. in New Windsor. He can be reached at email@example.com.