In case you have lived under a rock for the past couple of years, craft beer is booming in the Little Rock area. It seems the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (LRCVB), which is the promotion arm of the city, is gearing up to make it front and center in their new “Locally Labeled” campaign.
The campaign is similar to those in other cities or regions. The campaign promotes craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries in the area by raising awareness of the businesses. The program offers a passport (book with stamp locations) to drive visitors and locals into the breweries to get a stamp or sticker for each participating. Once the booklet is full it can be exchanged for a prize.
“The popularity of the beverage tourism industry continues to expand,” Gretchen Hall, President and CEO of the LRCVB said. “Wine and ale trails are very common across the country. We created the Locally Labeled guide and passport to increase awareness regarding the unique collection of craft ale, wine and spirits in the Greater Little Rock area. Our new guide will promote these local establishments to visitors and residents, as we as provide an incentive to visit all locations.”
It is a program that has worked in everything from the Fayetteville Ale Trail to winery promotions in Napa Valley.
So why now?
Craft brewing has exploded in Little Rock. As we examined a little earlier this year the total output has grown exponentially. In 2013 Arkansas as a state produced less beer than Lost Forty Brewing alone will do over the next 12 months. Even worse, Little Rock was just a small portion of that, with only a few nano breweries and Diamond Bear producing beer. Arkansas ranked 50th in per capita brewing and Little Rock metro had one of the lowest outputs of any similar sized areas.
In those two short years we have grown to eight breweries with another three expected to open soon. Thankfully all seven breweries that have either a taproom or restaurant (no Moody who operates out of Damgoode) are participating in the promotion along with area wineries and distilleries.
Locally Labeled is a great start to promoting brewing and distilling in the area. I wish city support would have happened a couple of years ago as the craft movement was taking place across the country. This is in no way a hit on LRCVB, they can’t promote something that is not there.
Support should have, and still needs to happen from attracting new brewers. Tax incentives for brew-pubs and a designated brewing district would help. There were rumors of the city establishing a brewing district several months ago. This needs to happen. By concentrating brewers in an area it attracts visitors to those pubs increasing overall revenue. Additionally the sales tax on alcohol in the city is the biggest burden to growth. By lowering the amount guests pay it will increase the popularity of craft beverages.
As I said, Locally Labeled is a great start, but it can’t end there. Craft beer tourism, while growing, is not enough by itself to attract a sizable impact. Culinary travel is increasing, and increasingly those traveling for culinary are interested in craft beer. The big bridge there is promoting the growing culinary scene in Little Rock and educating visitors on craft beverages once they are in the restaurants to pick local products, not just within the brew pubs themselves.
It is a stretch to think someone is going to drive 45 minutes to BoBrook farms in Roland or an Enchanted Evening on Wye Mountain when they have limited time in the city. While those products certainly deserve to be promoted, only a very small percentage of culinary travelers will ever get out that far. If they do not get out then the passport idea starts to fall apart and could have an impact on how many other places in town they visit. The promotion has to increase and become more innovative, not just leaning on a decade old (albeit well established) promotion tactic.
What Locally Labeled is great for, however, is locals and frequent travelers to the area. It is a great opportunity to get out and explore the metro and meet some great, hardworking individuals who are making world-class beverages.
I encourage every Rock City Eats reader to get out and get to know these people and understand their craft. If you do not walk away from Stone’s Throw with a feel of how much Ian loves brewing beer, or go to Lost Forty with an appreciation for the thought and experimentation they put into their small batch beers, then you really are better off drinking Miller Light.
Get out this Thursday night (October 15th) from 5:30 – 7:30 at the River Market Pavilions for the Locally Labeled Launch Party. The free event will feature a special performance by Little Rock’s Amasa Hines, a 7-piece band known for their psychedelic Afro-futurism sound that formed in 2010, plus Locally Labeled participants, including Rock Town Distillery, BoBrook Farms, An Enchanting Evening Winery, Stone’s Throw, Lost Forty Brewing, and more. Participants will have areas set up for sampling and some sales; guests must be 21 or older to attend. You will be able to pick up your passport at the event.