Caring for community through crafted beer

Around the world, small and independent craft brewing companies have flourished in recent years, and craft beer seems to be at every pub and market place. Often, these products are promoted and consumed as part of place, bound up with locality and situated in global-local political and economic dynamics reifying and diffusing systems of meaning. Within the Gastrocert project – a JPI Heritage Plus project examining creativity and creative entrepreneurship in rural tourism – the research team of the partner countries Sweden and Scotland have explored craft brewers’ understandings of local entrepreneurship in rural areas. Our study takes departure from this work, examining how the craft beer industry, even if its market seems to be maxing out, remains an industry with potential for entrepreneurial development.

We focused on the Swedish region of Jämtland and the Scottish Highlands and Islands where breweries thrive on inspiration from both local traditions and from craft beer movements around the world, in particular the U.S. craft beer trend. In fact, the U.S. has over 150 styles of beer and more than 20,000 brands to choose from; this makes the American market the largest in the world (https://www.craftbeer.com/beer/what-is-craft-beer). In Sweden there are around 130 breweries producing craft beer, with 13 located in Jämtland, while in Scotland there are approximately 90-100 breweries, with around 10 located in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Local products – A growing trend

The rise of the craft beer trend can be traced back to the 1990s when the production of traditional goods and services, in order to be competitive, had to add an extra dimension to their products, by many called an experiential dimension. Concern over the disappearance of specific tastes and local material cultures of production (Ritzer 2011) has added force to this process whereby locally-produced food is claimed to be imbued by specificity due to natural resources, farmers’ skills, and culinary traditions and practices. Others suggest the production and consumption of locally grown and refined food products to be seen as a quest for stability and the recovering of meaning and identity in the current time of food disquiet and uncertainty (Leitch 2003), and why local-regional food systems are underway worldwide to transition from large-scale, industrial production systems to local-regional food systems (Connelly et al 2011). Sjölander-Lindqvists and Cinques’ study of the Abruzzo National Park in Italy in a similar vein, shows how the rediscovery of agricultural varieties, and the recording of farmer’s knowledge on how to grow, store and refine such products, were used as a cultural capital that could strengthen community identity and natural resource management. Bowen & De Master (2011) report similarly how the linkage of the production of agricultural goods to particular territories (e.g. the Italian Parma ham district) is used as a tool to counteract homogenization. The designation of local origin and distinguished provenance, a common feature of locally-produced beer, is suggested a necessity in order for many businesses and entrepreneurs to be competitive (Pine & Gilmore, 1998; Florida, 2002; Hesmondhalgh, 2002).

Brewers’ understandings of business

How did the craft brewers in Jämtland and the Highlands conceive their business? Often starting-off as an interest for beer, the majority of the breweries are small scale and mostly run with low profit aspirations. Most of the producers’ don´t put increasing revenues, raising profits, or growing in size, i.e. the traditional economic growth motives for entrepreneurs and businesses, as basic motivation for their activities. Instead, they are often driven by passion, sometimes towards producing high quality beer and also by a wish to contribute to local development. Hence, few of them make huge profits from brewing, and several are so called ‘combinateurs’, i.e. having another job on the side. Of course relating their work to economy but thriving for profit is not their sole motivation; their care for place, community and sustainability is just as important. They see their business as an incentive for tourism but also bringing pride and enhanced identity to their place of residence and company.

Many of the producers experiment with brand names of their beers and stories on them to raise interest and get the attention from consumers.

The experiential dimension of the production and consumption of goods and services, in other words, the economy, is hence to a large extent characterized by high symbolic value, defining a modified (perhaps even new) economic era following the agrarian, industrial and lately, the service economy era. The products of this economy need to engage all of the customers’ five senses and create vivid and memorable experiences (Pine & Gilmore, 1998). Through reproducing, promoting, distributing and commercializing goods, services and activities as of cultural, artistic or heritage-related nature, ‘ordinary’ products are turned into something ‘unique’. This notion can be found in the different beers produced at our case study locations – many of the producers experiment with brand names of their beers and stories on them to raise interest and get the attention from consumers (and friends). Examples of this are company names and beer names, from Jämtlands Bryggeri to the beer name Östersund City Lager of Jemtehed & Brande, to using locally known places and even friends as inspiration, or even literally the names of beers, for example Mighty Mofaza from Jemtehed & Brande or the Oppistuggu-series from the Klövsjö Gårdsbryggeri. The local connection of brand names and stories is a common trade, from Jämtlands Bryggeri using the mythical “Great Lake Monster” on their logos to the above examples. Within Jamtlands many of the producers are born and raised in the region and have a strong wish to contribute to local identity and development. In the Scottish Highlands, by contrast, there is a mix of locals, as well as those moving to the area for its perceived isolation and rurality.

The case of small-scale craft beverage brewing offer possibilities for understanding how entrepreneurs in the gastronomy sector actively are building upon and furthering the relations between heritage, policy, neo-localism and quests for identity and rootedness.

Establishing a business in rural locations has its difficulties, including for example, transport to consumers and consequent lack of access to any larger herds of local consumers. At the same time the brewers are tightly connected and cooperate to overcome some of the difficulties. This is elevated by most of the brewers and can possibly be traced back to the cooperative attitude of the breweries, helping each other with bottling, equipment, transport and often when one of them lack ingredients. They also visit each other (friendly) and even run courses where other brewers participate.

Place and belonging

Even if the market for craft beer seems to be maxing out, it remains an industry with large growth numbers that is building on cultural and experiential economy instead of traditional industrial economy approaches. These products are promoted and consumed as part of place, bound up with locality (as the existential and phenomenological dimension of place) and situated in global-local political and economic dynamics reifying and diffusing systems of meaning. In this sense, local food production sites can be understood as places for speaking about and acting on the world (Low & Lawrence-Zuñiga 2003), advancing place and the activities that unfold within as events through which people enact, shape, negotiate and confirm place and locality (Pink 2003). According to Bender (1993), local events can be understood both as a kind of action and an expression of belonging symbolizing who we are and how we interpret what we do. Hence, place is inherently temporal and created by the interaction taking place visa-vi place, community and the dynamic practices of knowing, being and doing.

Together with concepts such as the cultural and creative industries (or economy), we can see how businesses and policymakers are now steadily working more and more on integrating culture, creativity and experience in their planning and offerings. Such concepts have elevated the operations and actions of businesses and entrepreneurs to be progressive beyond traditional markets through the creation of new ideas, technology, products and services (Florida 2002). This indicates new and different possibilities to attract new residents and competent labor to their parts of the world, as the competitive scheme has changed, hence adding force, we suggest, to a different sense of economy when connecting to natural and cultural heritage in both policy and business. The case of small-scale craft beverage brewing offer possibilities for understanding how entrepreneurs in the gastronomy sector actively are building upon and furthering the relations between heritage, policy, neo-localism and quests for identity and rootedness, rising in relevance in times of political, social, economic and, not least, environmental uncertainty (Murray & Kline 2015). The microbreweries become sites where the ‘cultural-becomes-political’, a term used by Escobar to describe the intersection of locality, community and practices carried out and forming the basis for alternative development (Escobar 2001). Place, locality and sustainability concerns become markers of entrepreneurial existence and value. Entrepreneurship can therefore not be understood only in terms of economy, it is also necessary to explore the social, cultural and emotional dimensions associated with business.

Picture 1: Local brewery in Jämtland. Photo: Wilhelm Skoglund

Picture 2: The Scottish Highlands, view from Arisaig. Photo: Annelie Sjölander Lindqvist

Picture 3: Entrance to the Klövsjö Brewery, Jämtland. Photo: Wilhelm Skoglund

                 

References

Bender, B. Ed. 1993. Landscape: Politics and Perspectives. Providence: Berg.

Bowen, S. & K. De Master. 2011. ‘New rural livelihoods or museums of production? Quality food initiatives in practice’. J Rural Studies 27:73-82.

Escobar, P. 2001. Culture Sits in Places: Reflections on Globalism and Subaltern Strategies of Localization. Political Geography 20 (2): 139-174.

Florida, R. (2002) The rise of the creative class. Basic books. New York.Hesmondhalgh, 2002

Hesmondhalgh, D. (2013) The cultural industries. Sage. London

Low, S. M. & D. Lawrence-Zúñiga. 2003. ‘Locating culture’, The Anthropology of Space and Place: Locating Culture. Eds. S. M. Low & D. Lawrence-Zúñiga. Oxford: Blackwell.

Murray, A. & Kline, C. 2015. Rural tourism and the craft beer experience: factors influencing brand loyalty in rural North Caroline, USA. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 23 (8-9): 1198-1216.

Pine, B.J. & Gilmore, J.H. (1998) Welcome to the experience industry. Harvard Business Review July-August 1998.

Pink, S. 2008. ‘Sense and sustainability: The case of the Slow City Movement’. Local Environment 13(2): 95-106.

Sjölander-Lindqvist, A. & S. Cinque. 2014. ‘Locality management through cultural diversity: The case of the La Majella National Park’, Food, Culture & Society 17: 143-160.

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