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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Annual Report: Craft Brewing Provides an “Economic Engine” for Hampton Roads

As the craft beer movement gained steam across the United States, Virginia was in danger of missing out on the party.

Outdated laws restricting on who could sell beer on premises meant that other parts of the country realized the benefits of a dramatic change in beer drinkers' tastes a decade ago.

This in Virginia changed in 2012 when the General Assembly passed SB 604 (signed by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, in a brewery no less), which cleared the way for on-site beer sales. This legislation made it more profitable for large and small breweries alike to operate within the state.

Once Hampton Roads rolled out the barrel, craft beer boomed in the region.

As detailed in the 2018 State of the Region report, produced by ODU's Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy, the change has been dramatic. Before the passage of SB 604, there were only four craft breweries in Hampton Roads. By May 1, 2018, that number had increased to 29.

The large number of craft beer openings here mirrors changing consumption patterns of beer lovers. Between 2011 and 2017, the share of the beer market dedicated to offerings produced by craft brewers — known by the Brewers Association as "small, independent and traditional" — increased from 5.7 percent to 12.7 percent.

"Our craft brewery scene is made up primarily of brewpubs and microbreweries, which have continued to thrive in recent years," the report notes. Their clientele, typically upscale and Caucasian, reflect some of the same ethos that underpins the "buy local" movement in every retail sector. Sales are also encouraged by a "tasting culture" which adds an experiential element to consumption — craft beer aficionados frequently buy the product and drink it onsite.

The craft beer trend has been joined by a new thrust toward craft distilleries, producing small-batch spirits for a niche market. The craft distillery movement still has a way to go to match the enthusiasm for locally brewed beer, the report notes.

The growth of craft brewing in Hampton Roads matches the nationwide expansion of the industry, but the State of the Region report notes it is still uncertain how many breweries the region can support. Green Flash Brewing closed in Virginia Beach this year.

However, the industry shows no signs of disappearing. It's both as an economic engine and an outcome of the region's recent boost in prosperity. Residents appear to be raising a glass - of local craft-brewed beer - to toast their success.

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