That rather meaningless poll turned out to be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, as Asheville and Western North Carolina became home to three big craft brewers seeking to open East Coast breweries and expand their reach. New Belgium picked a spot near downtown Asheville, while Brevard became home to Oskar Blues and Mills River home to Sierra Nevada.
Now another big craft brewer – Oregon-based Deschutes Brewing Co. – is considering an eastward expansion and eyeing a location just west of downtown Asheville. But aside from an editorial or two in the daily newspaper, there’s little expression of the mountain metropolis’ desire to draw another craft brewer.
It’s Roanoke that’s winning the public relations campaign for Deschutes. The Roanoke Times practically publishes one editorial a week extolling the virtues of the city and its bubbling craft beer industry. Most recently, the newspaper wrote an editorial specifically addressing just one potential reader – Deschutes CEO Michael LaLonde. A snippet:
The first thing you’ll want to know is how new the craft beer community in Roanoke and environs is. We are not “the beer capital of the East,” as Asheville is called, and surely rightly so.
Roanoke Railhouse opened up in 2009; most of the other breweries are only a year or so old. We are certainly not a community suffering from “brewery fatigue,” as some say they are. Craft beer is still something of a novelty here. But we are starting to create a “beer culture” we think is really cool — and which you would instantly define.
Ultimately, that’s a philosophical call you have to make: Do you want to be in a place with a lot of other breweries, or do you want to be in a place where you’d immediately be looked upon as a leader in the community — not just among breweries, but in the larger business community? We can’t answer that for you.
Aside from the newspaper, beer fans in Roanoke have taken it upon themselves to shower Deschutes with love. Michael Galliher recently started a Facebook page urging “Deschutes 2 Roanoke.” That page now has more than 4,000 fans, and it continues to grow.
The online PR campaign for a brewery may not be the most critical issue for Deschutes as it makes its decision, which is likely to come early next year. But it certainly doesn’t hurt, and people notice. SFGate.com recently published an Associated Press story about cities jockeying for position with Deschutes. A snippet:
Fish said the brewery team that undertook the site search expected some buzz about a new Deschutes Brewery operation possibly coming to town, but nothing like the outpouring of enthusiasm and public jockeying he’s seen.
“I think we all imagined something like this,” he said. “Personally, I didn’t think it would get to the extent that it has, people writing songs about us and social media campaigns. I’m getting handwritten letters, some really sincere, heartfelt stuff, and that’s hard to ignore.”
Fish said the team pared the initial list of potential sites to 110, then visited 35, many of those visits documented by local media. Local media also reported on moves by local and state officials to secure property and create economic incentives to lure a brewery, conspicuously unnamed, to their areas. In mid-September, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe downed a pint at the Deschutes Brewery & Public House during a swing through Western states to attract economic development to his state.
The story goes on to note that another Virginia resident is writing three songs to put his love for Deschutes to music. Fans can, and do, make a difference in these situations.
I don’t think Asheville is suffering from “brewery fatigue,” as the Roanoke Times would have it. The craft brewing world in Asheville and Western North Carolina is alive, kicking and continuing a steady growth. But it is true that Asheville doesn’t have a chip on its shoulder any more when it comes to garnering respect for the craft brew it produces
So Asheville has nothing left to prove, in terms of courting yet another sizable out-of-town brewery. But the city still has a lot to gain from a new addition to what is now a significant economic sector that cannot be ignored. Deschutes and its 100 or so jobs would only build upon the incredible infrastructure of craft beer knowledge, tourism and drink offerings that have grown up over the past 20 years of Asheville’s beer renaissance.
LaLonde, the Deschutes chief, visited Asheville just a couple of weeks ago. He hobnobbed with WNC’s craft brewers, and he was clearly impressed, according to coverage by Tony Kiss of the Asheville Citizen-Times. But will he and his colleagues choose Asheville over Roanoke? Who knows, but it wouldn’t hurt for a few more Asheville fans to tell Deschutes directly just how much they’d like to see them here.