An important thing one must consider when thinking about opening a brewery is who your clientele might be. I mean, what is your market. To explore this, I took a little stroll to my local grocery store (shown as number 3 on the map below).
Our town is small, so we have a small grocery store. It’s not a chain. So far as I know, there is only one other Breen’s store, and it’s about 20 miles away in an equally small town.
Inside, it’s pretty standard fare. You won’t get a lot of specialty foods, but you’ll be able to feed yourself. That makes good sense, as we are generally a farming community.
The beer refrigerator is, as one might expect, mostly ‘Big Beers’. There is actually a surprizing number of hard cider beverages as well. The ‘craft’ part of the fridge (much of which are the ‘craft’ arms of Big Beer) is only about 1/5 of the space, with another 1/5 occupied by hard ciders. The rest is Big Beer is cans and cases.
In the last couple of years, the craft craze has made it to our little town, and Breen’s added a build-your-own craft pack section. It’s not refrigerated, and these aren’t all true craft beers. In fact, these are mostly just beers that aren’t the typical Big Beer lagers and pilsners.
I have to say that it is pretty forward thinking of Breen’s to have this section, to allow their clientele the opportunity to try these crazy different drinks in a low-risk kind of way. I mean, no-one wants to risk buying a whole 6-pack of something gross, but one bottle each of six different beers means there’s a good chance of finding something you’ll like.
This is rural western New York. It’s interesting to see what happens if you head West about 20 miles. At that point, you are suddenly in the suburbs of Rochester, NY. I decided to compare rural Breen’s beer market with those of stores that are closer to the urbanized area of Rochester.
I drove about 5 miles West (one town over) to their grocery store, which is one of a larger regional chain called Tops (number 2 on the map). It was immediately obvious that their beer section was bigger.
I decided to go further down the road, to the mainstay of western New York shopping, Wegman’s. If you’re not familiar with Wegman’s, let’s just say, many consider this store a destination, not just a place to stop for a few things on your way home. When my husband and I first visited this area to look for a new home, our realtor insisted on taking us to dinner at Wegman’s…and it was a good meal.
By this point, I’m not even 20 miles from little old Breen’s, but look at this place!
I’ll be honest. If I’m in the mood for a new craft beer, I stop at Wegman’s on the way home.
If you look at the map above, you can see the distribution of breweries in the region around my home (the blue dot on the upper right). The two ‘breweries’ near my home are actually a winery and a ciderworks. As it happens, there’s not a single craft brewery in my county (that I’m aware of).
I suspect that part of this is that there is not so much demand in the area as there might be in a metropolitan area like Rochester. Also, agriculturally, much of what is grown in my county is fruit, apples specifically, which totally explains why there are so many ciders available at the local store.
So how would this help me were I to start a brewery in my hometown? Well, first of all, people around here like the easy drinkablilty of the Big Beers. They like the convenience of cans. If they’re gonna go out on a limb, it’ll be the limb of an apple tree and they’ll try a cider.
But! They’re becoming interested in the newer ‘fancy’ beers. (Once, in a *very* remote part of Wyoming, a craft beer I asked for was called “exotic,” but that’s another story. There’s not much in the way of brewing happening right now in my region, but there seems to be plenty of room for growth.
One benefit of life in the small town is that it’s highly likely that I can just walk into Breen’s and ask them about their beer sales. I’d like to know how the craft beer is moving through the store. No doubt they’d be willing to oblige me. I should also head to the next town east and visit their even smaller grocery store and look at their beer section. I wonder how it will compare?