3 IN YOUR TOWN: The state of craft beer with Heaven and Ale
"We are not brewing for our egos,” explains CEO and Co-Founder, Joe Winland. “We are brewing for 150,000 people in our county. So it's a balance between being creative and esoteric and outgoing with our recipes, but it's also about hearing the voices of the people we want in here and making beer that they love every day."
The craft beer industry sales reached nearly 28 billion dollars last year. And that's just from sales of the product. The ripple effect from the industry reaches out much further. For example, Travelocity has published a beer tourism index -- signifying that a percentage of their customers are seeking out brewpub experiences. Cities and towns across the country are seeing an increase in tourism dollars based off of travelers coming to spend time at specific breweries they’ve read about online.
"When I go somewhere, I want to immerse myself in the local culture,” says Winland. “I want to do what locals do and I want to do my best to feel like a local. I don't think that there is any other environment in a city that does it better than a local brewery taproom. I mean it is 100% for that city, by people in that city and they are trying to represent that city's culture the best they can."
Despite the economic boost driven by beer tourism, the state is not making it easy for craft brewers to start up a local business. Tennessee has the highest beer tax in the country, in part due to a state-imposed wholesale tax.
"For every barrel of beer that we sell out of our cooler, we have to pay $35.65 in wholesale tax,” explains Winland. “Which puts our overall tax bracket at somewhere around 13 or 14 percent. I think the next closest state to us has a beer tax bracket of 9%."
Not only does that make it difficult for smaller brewers competing with other regional brewers of the same size, but also for big brewers wanting to expand into Tennessee.
"I don't know if you remember a few years ago, Chattanooga could have had Wicked Weed. Chattanooga could have had New Belgium. Chattanooga could have, maybe, had Sierra Nevada and Stone Brewing Company. Our city was on their radar. But one of the things that ultimately cost us was these state-imposed taxes that didn't make any sense to them."
But for now, Joe and the folks at Heaven and Ale have no control over that. What they can control is the quality of the beer and new food menu, and their customer service.
"We have a staff that greets everyone with the same warmth, with the same energy, with the same spirit for craft beer regardless if you've never had a craft beer in your life or you've been to a thousand breweries nationwide,” says Winland. “What is most important to us is that people leave feeling like they were treated like the most important person in the room."
This weekend, Heaven and Ale will host an anniversary party. The brewery invited 15 Tennessee breweries to join them for a special ticketed event in the brewery production area. The brewery taproom will be open regular hours with all three special anniversary releases on draft. For more on ticket prices and times, visit their website.