Beer has spread like kudzu over Asheville, NC. We are drowning in a beer tsunami. In this moment, we can’t ignore the troubling implications of being Beer City U.S.A.
Bloated with beer (and money from it)
A 2017 smartasset study on “best cities for beer drinkers” ranked Asheville as # 1 in the country, in part because we have so many breweries (26 at latest count). In fact, we have more breweries per capita than any city in the U.S.
Also in 2017, the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County released an analysis of the economic impact of the brewery industry in the four-county Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area (Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, and Madison counties). The numbers are huge. The industry’s employment growth was 754% from 2011 to 2016, making it the fastest growing industry in the region. Click that link to see more big statistics. The total overall economic output of breweries was estimated at $934 million.
This wealth generating power gives the breweries influence. To what end?
Beer causes crime
As local beer topped popularity and economic charts, Buncombe County ranked as the most ‘intoxicated and disruptive’ county in North Carolina based on records from the NC Administrative Office of the Courts. In 2017, there were 552 cases of people charged with allegedly being intoxicated and disruptive in Buncombe County, over 200 more than second place Wake County. With the vast quantities of high octane craft beer being poured here, I think it is fair to connect it to many of those incidents. I suspect the numbers of other drinking related crimes like DUIs are high as well.
Equity or lack thereof
I’ve written previously about the white-male-ness of the beer industry. With rare exceptions, white men run the show and make dough on beer. If you care about equity in Asheville, this matters.
Breweries take space
I felt blue when I learned that the space that once was the Asheville Community Resource Center (ACRC) is soon to hold a brewery. As Firestorm shares, the ACRC was opened on Lexington Avenue in 2003 by “activists ‘working together to sustain a space for the promotion of social change.'” I have significant memories of expressive times at the ACRC. Just as I recently traced the colonization/gentrification of my neighborhood, we could tell the story of downtown. Yet another brewery opening in what was once a radical space for arts and activism is just the latest injury.
On a similar vein, Toy Boat Community Art Space recently had to dismantle their awesome project because the new owner of French Broad River Brewery decided to kick them out so he could expand.
The historically African American Southside neighborhood contained the southern end of downtown (see page 10 of Twilight of a Neighborhood). The Asheville Colored Hospital was located in a building near Banks and Buxton Avenues. That building was razed for a parking lot for Green Man Brewing. There is no historical marker. While I need to research the details, this is another part of the city that was taken from blacks during urban renewal. The fact that the white-owned businesses that started investing in that area in the early 2000s re-named it “South Slope,” erases the history of the Southside neighborhood. While those businesses are not all breweries, many call it the “Asheville Brewery District.” The stories of those streets have been washed away with beer.
Breweries are covering the city like kudzu, not to mention the overgrowth of beer-centric happenings and messaging that chokes our community’s culture.
Beer is a bummer
Another thing that brings me down about beer is the vibe. While I understand there is a “craft” to craft beer, I do not find the product or the aesthetic to be uplifting. Same goes for the homogenous demographics of the field. As a depressant, imbibing beer can put folks in a stupor. Or, as indicated above, getting drunk can cause people to act in obnoxious ways. With all of the downsides, the fact that Asheville is advertised as the #1 place to get intoxicated on beer concerns me.
The Asheville Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) uses it’s multi-million dollar budget to advertise a variety of attractions, with beer being a key part of the promotional narrative. Beer is featured in all of the “things to do in Asheville” stories I see. There is a large section of the CVB website dedicated to the “beer scene.” I’m reminded of this 2013 video they created to encourage folks to vote for Asheville for Beer City U.S.A. I have friends in this video, but I still find it problematic for numerous reasons:
I know what drives this ($) and I am expressing my dismay.
When one is downtown, especially in the evening, the influence of beer cannot be denied. As my friend Tiffany Narron posted, “Congratulations Asheville. Coxe Avenue feels like a fraternity house got too full and spilled into the streets. After walking to the place I was headed to the sounds of chanting people and a couple pushing a case of beer in a stroller, I watched a man in daisy dukes and cowboy boots unzip his tiny cutoffs then fall into a hedgerow.”
With drunk people stumbling through our city center, one of the disgusting impacts of beer on Asheville (as my friends who work downtown can attest to) is a heightened prevalence of puke on the sidewalks. I snapped this lovely shot on Haywood Street just the other night specifically for this post, you’re welcome.
Are we content with beer culture dominating our city?
In this community, there are countless excellent alternatives to beer that we can turn our attention and resources to, and we do. I imagine a day when our city is known for brewing something more inspiring than beer. When it is truly a place where culturally diverse music, art, and literature can thrive. When our successful equity efforts outnumber our IPAs. When visitors arrive seeking stirred souls not slurred speech.
With that dream in mind, coming up this month are Asheville Wordfest (April 12 – 15) and a new festival/conference called Connect: Beyond the Page (April 20 -22). As their website explains, “Using music (song), film (screen), and storytelling (page), Connect: Beyond The Page explores how collaboration and adaptation create a narrative that can influence social change… Attendees come to broaden their horizons and their minds. These are people who are looking for a more dynamic experience, who want to engage with others, and want to leave a festival with more than just a hangover.” The CVB is a sponsor (albiet a very small one), so kudos to them on that. Read more about this exciting event here.
I’d also like to shout out to the DJs of “Slay the Mic” on 103.3 Asheville FM, who are doing a great job highlighting musicians and events around the community. Check ’em out!
And stay tuned to JMPRO TV’s community channel for more rich content.
Small town truth
I must name that this post is in opposition to all or part of the careers of many people I know and love. In addition, the biggest fundraiser of one of my favorite nonprofits, Just Economics, is a beer brewing contest (that supports their righteous living wage work). So yes, this post is contra our current beer bonanza. It is also towards a new balance that could still include the beer biz, just not as it is today.
To be continued
Until next time, friends.
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