How Craft Beer Brewers Hope To Help Towns Hit By Hard Times

Written by Matthew Battles for

A new initiative aims to find ways for craft breweries to be the business that powers dying industrial towns.
The recession isn’t new to the mill towns of the Northeast; they hit the skids long ago. Decades before the most recent economic collapse, proud, river-encircled cities from Maine to Pennsylvania had faded to mere shadows of the engines of productivity they were during the Industrial Revolution. In place of idle smokestacks and shattered windows, Shoe Town to Brew Town–billed as “a friendly forum over food and drink” to be held at New York’s Brooklyn Brewery–imagines another scene: historic manufacturies throbbing with the yeasty vapors of craft beer, and producing not only brew but sustainably raised fish, hydroponic produce, and enough natural gas to meet their own energy demands.

The project began as a notion hatched in the mind of New York restaurateur Jimmy Carbone. Imagining himself elected mayor of his hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts, he had a vision of the city’s moribund shoe factories transformed into breweries. A co-creator of the “Good Beer Seal,” which certifies bars that show a commitment to craft brewing and local stewardship, Carbone was aware of the need for resource-intensive breweries to focus on sustainability. Working together, Carbone realized, beer producers, developers, and community groups could churn out a heady brew of opportunity and sustainability. The event, on July 19, gives brewers a chance to come together with activists, architects, and designers to talk about the catalytic potential of craft brewing.

Many brewers large and small are already focused on making their infamously resource-intensive industry more sustainable. Vermont’s Magic Hat Brew Company recently installed a digester that produces natural gas from the organic waste products of beer production; even giant Anheuser-Busch captures waste heat from brewing and puts it to use. Many local brewers are community-minded; craft beer giant Samuel Adams rents its corporate headquarters at the old Haffenreffer Brewery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, a space they share with light industry, a couple of restaurants, artists’ studios, a fitness club, and a variety of local nonprofits.

“Shoe Town to Brew Town” offers an opportunity not only to celebrate such initiatives, but forge relationships between brewers and experts to leverage the unique qualities of the craft-beer industry. For Jimmy Carbone and his fellow craft-brew enthusiasts, beer pairs well with a menu that includes sustainability, jobs, and vibrant communities.

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