The Eastern Shore is a craft beer destination not because most bars here serve rare craft beers, but because they serve local craft beers. When I started covering the Ocean City HMRA show a decade ago there were two beer bars, and they always were packed. I collected bottle caps at the time and was happy to leave with pocketfuls of caps from what counted as rare beer at the time. Over the last four or so years, however, the beer component of the OCHRMA has changed to include a special section for craft beer, because the Eastern Shore now is a craft beer destination.
In a perfect world it would be exclusive to local craft beer, but, to be fair, this show isn’t for separatist beer jerks like me. It is for hotel and restaurant professionals.
What makes it exciting is that craft beer has come to be so expected by travelers that it makes good business sense to make certain your bar or restaurant has a couple craft beers on tap. Hell, even places that don’t move a ton of craft beer at least make sure there are a couple of bottles to by had.
The Strength of Local
The restaurant business in Ocean City always has been a vaguely close group, working together to keep the city diverse and basically local. The greatest compliment I can give is that Ocean City remains more than a little resistant to the chain-restaurant blight that has otherwise consumed the area.
While this is a guess with only scant evidence, it seems as if the combination of craft beer’s growing popularity and this local bent increasingly drives local restaurants to want to serve local beer. Moreover, the list of restaurants that buy exclusive house brands from local breweries seems to grow annually. It is part trend, but also it is part smart business.
As the summer season comes on, look for another uptick in local beer. As the big beer companies continue to acquire craft breweries, the kind of people who travel for independent beer are going to know the difference, and they are going to ask for beer that they really only can get here on the Shore.
A Top Beer Destination
The diversity of independent breweries is one of the things that makes the Shore stand out as a top beer destination. In my experience, exclusivity is what makes our Shore Craft Beer Fests so popular. People are very excited to come try all and only local beers. I’ve said this a bunch of times: “Flying Dog and Heavy Seas make great beer, but they’re not invited.” It’s kind of become my mantra.
Without getting too preachy, our goal at SCB is to help preserve the Shore as a top beer destination, not to get more people to drink craft beer. That’s easy, even Budweiser is doing that. Distinguishing the region rather than the craft beer writ large is what will continue to send the message that the Shore is a great place to get great local beer.