“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” —Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlett, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
BY THE EDITORS / LISTS COMPILED BY JENNIFER FITZGERALD
A year ago in Capital at Play, in the September 2015 issue, we published a map of the 18 counties of Western North Carolina, listing all the then-current breweries, wineries, distilleries, and cideries dotting this corner of the state. All totaled, there were 71 separate entries, of which the breweries numbered 42. Twelve months later, it has become clear that our statement “the region is home to a growing number” of such businesses was accurate—prescient, even.
Indeed, if you scan through our updated map and accompanying lists, and do a quick count, the tally now resides at 92; the breweries themselves clock in at 61 total, a 45% increase. That’s hardly a nominal figure, although it should come with a caveat: It’s highly unlikely that growth like that can be sustained, and even though practically every week one hears of another small town that’s finally gotten or will be getting its first brewery, a saturation point is inevitable, and we’ll probably see a degree of consolidation taking place as well. One thing’s for sure, however, people in Western North Carolina do like their beer, wine, spirits, and hard cider, and in 2016, it’s definitely an interesting time to be in the alcohol industry.
For our updated map, we decided to expand it, data-wise, to include some additional and highly relevant information. First of all, we wanted to know if the company had an on-site taproom or tasting room rather than just being strictly a manufacturer. With only a very few exceptions, the answer was “yes,” which is significant because a business can definitely boost its profitability by selling direct to the public in addition to operating as a wholesaler. Next, we asked how many barrels or bottles they produced, on average, per year, as a measure of size and productivity. The ranges were striking—beer production, for example, dipped as low as 140 barrels annually (for some of the microbreweries), and as high as 500,000 (those with a national presence), and there was a corresponding low-high range for the wineries, distilleries, and cideries.
Finally, we wanted to determine the number of full-time and part-time employees the companies had, as a general indicator of how the alcohol industry directly impacts the regional employment outlook. This also yielded a range, as one would expect, but the bottom line is, yes, the alcohol industry is a major economic driver for Western North Carolina.
We should note that we accumulated our data points the old-fashioned way: traditional journalistic inquiry, calling and emailing the principals, and consulting publically-available online resources. Many other such surveys typically arrive at their data not by direct polling/querying, but by utilizing algorithms, which if you think about it, is akin to looking at the forest but not at the actual trees. In some instances, for the purposes of clarity, we averaged out or estimated the published figures; feel free to take a look at the map and data on the Capital at Play website for a somewhat more detailed breakdown. (Note, also, that some respondents were unavailable when we reached out to them, but we’ve still attempted to be as complete as possible.)
Got all that? We intend to keep the online version of the below information updated on a regular basis, so please let us know of any corrections or additions we need to be aware of. [Below: click on each link to bring up the corresponding list of businesses.)
IN WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA THERE ARE APPROXIMATELY:
1150 full-time jobs in breweries,
wineries, and distilleries
590 part-time jobs in breweries,
wineries, and distilleries
1.25 million barrels of beer
2.15 million bottles of wine
45,500 barrels of cider
349,000 bottles of spirits
We realize that our hard and true numbers are lower than those touted by others, but our desire to arrive at a clear idea of the rate of growth in this industry required that we avoid the application of any overly optimistic multipliers, or the assumption that there has been a significant rise in the employment of accessory industries (distributors, attorneys, and accountants to name a few). It is clear that, despite the tremendous growth in the number of alcohol producers, our research shows most of them working with the same attorneys, accountants, distributors, and other local service providers in their supply chain. These are, as Joe Friday put it, “just the facts”.
Source: Data derived from Capital at Play 2Q of 2016
Note: Some respondents did not respond by time of press.