Annette Wallace was looking for more than a nice place to have a reception as she planned the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Economic Development in Springfield, Mo., recently.
Wallace, a Certified Meeting Professional with the Missouri Department of Economic Development, wanted a venue that spoke to her audience — a place that showcased local products and ingenuity.
She opted for Springfield Brewing Co., a craft brewery housed in a brick building in downtown Springfield.
Her group of 200 had the brewery’s second floor to itself, enjoying the beers made there and hearty pub fare during a two-hour, casual reception.
“It was a huge hit,” Wallace said. “It was an opportunity for people to sample the local flavor and get a taste of Springfield.”
For a local vibe, brewpubs and craft breweries can be hard to beat. And, because of growing interest in locally made brews, the number of breweries and brewpubs is growing.
According to the Brewers Association, based in Boulder, Colo., there are some 1,700 craft breweries and brewpubs in the country today, a number not seen since the late 1800s. The association says most Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery.
As Wallace discovered in Springfield, craft breweries give meeting goers a chance to meet entrepreneurs, learn about an interesting process and taste local products.
Colleen Neumann manages a restaurant in Boulder and helps organize tours of the city’s 10 craft breweries.
“They get up and close and personal and meet the team or the person who created the idea behind the beer, then they taste the beer. It is a completely new experience.
“We consider ourselves beer geeks,” said Neumann. “We taste beer just as some taste wine, and we appreciate the uniqueness and craftsmanship that goes into those beers.”
Here’s a look at a number of breweries in small cities around the country:
Board Boulder bus for brews cruise
The Boulder Brew Bus isn’t a typical tour mobile. A school bus turned hillbilly shack, it’s outfitted with recliners and sofas instead of the typical bus seats.
And the path taken by this tour for about 25 people – to three Boulder craft breweries – is atypical, too.
Tours begin at West End Tavern, a pub that showcases beers from the city’s breweries as well as others. There, groups dine before or after they take off on the approximate three-hour adventure. The typical tour takes in Avery, Upslope and Twisted Pine breweries — all a bit different in their focus, according to Neumann, West End’s general manager.
“Twisted Pine has chili beer and other different flavors; Avery does a lot of barrel aging, and Upslope is a small brewery so visitors get to see all the aspects of brewing,” she said.
Hays hones its “liquid bread”
What happens when a former farmer with a knack for brewing beer, a businessman with an interest in preservation and a Kansas town with a Volga-German heritage converge? Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Co., a craft brewery in downtown Hays, Kan.
Since the microbrewery and diner opened in 2005, eight blocks from Fort Hays State University, tourists have hopped off Interstate 70 for a taste of the Lb. brews, so named because area farmhands called beer “liquid bread.”
The brewery is housed in four forgotten storefronts that have been combined, restored and decorated with hand-painted murals, county road maps, local limestone and industrial lighting.
Groups dine at big tables in the dining room or in two small private spaces.
Along with the expected German cuisine comes dishes from Mexico, Spain, France and the Orient.
“Our chef does a great job of bringing in different culinary traditions,” said brewery rep Deanna Schultz.
Kansas law prohibits free beer samples but diners can opt for a sampler — eight different brews in 4-ounce mugs. Because of the brewery’s layout, tours aren’t offered, but servers well-versed in the business’ history are happy to share its story, according to Schultz.
The brewery’s success has inspired other businesses, including Singers, a music venue across the alley that opened this fall and can be booked for events.
Brewery leaves no stone unturned
Stone Brewing Co.’s $26.6 million in expansions will make it even more of a name in Southern California.
Already, beer lovers travel 45 minutes to Escondido from San Diego and more than two hours from Los Angeles to visit. Stone’s success has turned Escondido into city of brewery startups, and a number of tour companies now offer brewery tours.
In the next several years, Stone plans to make it easier for visitors to extend their day trips by opening a 40- to 50-room boutique hotel across from its existing operation. The hotel will have meeting space, a large catering kitchen and outdoor event space. The company is also expanding its brewing facility and building a restaurant closer to San Diego.
For now, groups find plenty of dining and event options in the brewery’s Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens.
Within the handsome building, guests look one way and see stainless steel tanks used for brewing; in the other direction, through ceiling-to floor doors of glass, they view a one-acre garden (available for events) peppered with koi ponds, fire pits and plantings. Beer education classes, tastings and beer pairing dinners can be arranged.
Beers available go beyond the nine produced by Stone Brewing Co. Thirty-two beers are on tap; another 120 are offered by the bottle.
“It is like the ‘Field of Dreams,’” said Stone’s Randy Clemens. “If you build it they will come. We are certainly out of the way, but if you are doing something unique and making great beer, people will come for it.”
North Carolina’s a hotbed of brewing
Between Asheville and its 11 craft breweries, and up and comer Raleigh, with seven breweries and three more on the way, North Carolina has become a hotbed of brewing.
In Asheville, the Outdoor Industry Association took a break from outdoor activities during its fall conference in 2010 to visit the Wedge Brewery in the River Arts District.
Other Asheville breweries include Highland Brewing, whose new tasting room features a stage and a bar, and the north end location of Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co., where a movie theater seats 150 people. Even Asheville’s Grove Park Inn has gotten in on the act by brewing beer.
In Raleigh, Natty Green’s Pub and Brewing, in the 1908 Raleigh Electric Powerhouse building, has a game area with a private bar and a patio. Boylan Bridge Brewpub’s deck looks out on the Raleigh skyline.