3 Things Craft Beer Can Learn From Western Massachusetts

For the past several years if you measure success by volume, number of breweries, or fan-base size, craft beer is growing strong. I had an interesting chat at the 2015 Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference in Asheville with Jessica Miller of Hey Brewtiful about what that growth meant to craft beer and its bloggers.

Quick background

I grew up in a Tennessee suburb where as a kid I watched an army of national chains slowly absorb most of the mom and pop hangouts. I’m envious of people who grew up around here who can visit great places they knew as a kid. Local favorites thrive here because the community talks about them the same way Nanas brag about their grandchildren.

1. It’s Good For Brands When Bloggers Have Day Jobs

Like me most bloggers attending BBC make their living doing something else. I design and develop WordPress websites, but also build social media audiences and reach out to bloggers on behalf of clients. It’s something I enjoyed in California, but adore in Western Massachusetts.

strawberry picking in Hadley, MA
In Western Massachusetts CSAs are numerous. When buying local means a little hard work, people are all for it.

People here are vocal about what they love. If they blog they’re likely reaching as many people chatting at their day jobs. Those are the conversations that reach crossover audiences, people who weren’t already looking for information. A beer brand might not see the value of a blog run by a grade school teacher, but I read a hilarious re-tweet on Twitter from one who said,

“I hate to burst your bubble, but when the kids go home, we DRINK.”

So when it’s quitting time in Cubicle-Land people aren’t Googling for beer recommendations, they’re asking that girl or guy in the office who has tried every craft beer made within 50 miles of my desk.

2. Small Towns Can Support Great Things

People around here think of the entire Pioneer Valley as “local.” Greenfield is a great example. It’s not a huge town, but it’s supported local projects-turned-national brands like Real Pickles and Pierce Brothers Coffee. It’s currently rallying around new businesses like Artisan Beverage Cooperative and Lefty’s Brewery as they branch out nationally too.

Artisan Beverage Cooperative's Assistant Brewer Sarah Nolan gives a quick tour and a taste of their Ginger Libation from the tap.
Artisan Beverage Cooperative’s Assistant Brewer Sarah Nolan gives a quick tour and a taste of their Ginger Libation from the tap.

It’s easy to find those products in Greenfield, but you’ll also find them at the upscale Northampton package store Provisions or hole in the wall breakfast spots like The Roadhouse in Belchertown. No matter how small the town is around here, you’ll find local brands front and center, and local people talking about them.

Night Shift is a big name in Boston, but their distribution is limited. That doesn't stop specialty store Provisions in Northampton from driving a few hours each week to pick some up themselves.
Night Shift is a big name in Boston, but their distribution is limited. That doesn’t stop specialty store Provisions in Northampton from driving a few hours each week to pick some up for their store.

3. Skip The Pretense

Despite the fact this area churns out some of the country’s hippest stuff, the hipster factor of Western Massachusetts is minimal. Yes, I know millennials in the area living in hand-crafted yurts and others making their own limoncello, but they aren’t obnoxious. They’re curious go-getters who don’t think you have to be elitist or annoying to try things. The cooperative culture is a part of every community here, from the farm shares to magazine startups to freelance writers. We help each other, and the hippest thing in the world is people doing what they love. A brand doesn’t need to give away a promotional beard wax to get attention, just share what they love with their local fans.

Foster Your People

Grass roots advocacy is what gets brands noticed outside their home court. Passion is contagious. When outsiders see a town excited about a place to get tacos or beer or ice cream they want in on that. No matter where you are though there are bound to be bloggers living close to you that are excited about what you’re doing. Get to know your grass rooters. Even if their audiences seem small, the passion they have for the local scene is invaluable to brands who want to grow.

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