In 2012, national retail sales for craft beer—produced by small and independent brewers—hit $11.9 billion, up 17 percent from the year before, according to statistics from the Brewers Association. With that kind of impressive growth, hotels across the U.S. are incorporating more and more microbrews into their food and beverage programming, which is why Christian Graves can be found most nights serving up saisons and stouts to his guests at the Hotel Solamar’s craft beer hour.
Graves, the executive chef at Jsix in San Diego’s Solamar, said the decision to start hosting craft beer nights a year and a half ago was a “no-brainer.” Since his city houses more than 60 breweries—among them the highly regarded Stone and Green Flash—the homebrewer wanted to offer visitors local beers they couldn’t find in any other area. “It gives me an opportunity to engage with guests, talk about this beer, and give them recommendations for where to go in town and what to try. It’s the same thing I’d do for a friend,” Graves says.
He’s hardly alone. The Hotel Max in Seattle hosts similar craft beer hours, showcasing several beers from its local partners because “beer brings people together,” says General Manager Kevin Scott. “The hospitality business hinges on relationships, and this is one more way for us to foster relationships with our guests and the community.”
Meanwhile, hotels in particularly craft beer-rich states—like Colorado, California, and Pennsylvania—are finding especially innovative ways to tap into the market while giving patrons a wholly unique experience. The Vail Cascade Resort in Colorado, for example, specializes in handcrafted beer and food pairings, trains employees to become certified beer cicerones, tailors weekend packages around brewery tours, and plays host to festivals like the annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines.
“Outside of revenue objectives, we really wanted to further accentuate what’s most important to us: the experience we provide the guest,” says Rob Henderson, the regional director of sales and marketing at the Vail Cascade. “Beverage sales are definitely up in the last two years,” he says, but more importantly, the hotel’s reputation as a beer-travel destination has grown considerably. “Guests say it’s distinctive. It’s hard to put a value on that.”
Andrew Knedler, bar manager at the Brown Palace in Denver, which partners with nearby Wynkoop Brewery to produce exclusive, original cask beers, agrees. “When you say the only place you can get this is here, guests want to try it. That’s an experience they’re going to remember. Which is what we’re about in hospitality—creating those memorable experiences that make guests want to come back.”
But even beyond promising exclusivity, hotels are simply striving to bump up their beverage offerings from the bare minimum. “The bottom line is, we really used to only see four or five light American lagers with little flavor variation,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association. “Today, we document 142 world beer styles, and the U.S. is the most diverse beer destination on the planet with more than 13,000 beer labels. Craft beer has helped beer reclaim its place at the dinner table.”
The Four Seasons in Philadelphia was one of the first hotels in the country to collaborate with a local microbrewery, Dock Street, to create a beer. “We were looking for new and interesting ways to expand our food and beverage programs,” says Ann Armstrong, director of marketing for the hotel. The partnership had multiple benefits. “We sold out of each collaboration each season; however, the value of bringing new guests in to try the beer, who may not have come otherwise, was the biggest reward.”
One hotel that hopes to emulate that success is the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, where beverage manager Shane Santi is currently enhancing his tap system to serve eight to 12 beers, up from four. Nearly all will be local. It may sound like a small change, “but guests aren’t just looking for your traditional styles of beers anymore,” Santi said. “They want something unique, so if they’re coming from somewhere else, they can actually hit that local market. I think craft beer is the wave of the future.”