Beersperience TOURISM

It’s no secret that the craft beer industry is growing by leaps and bounds. To put the incredible growth into perspective, in 1983, there were 14 craft breweries in the entire United States. Today, there are more than 4,000 dotting the landscape of the nation in towns large and small.

To bring it even closer to home, Northeast Florida is home to 19 breweries and brewpubs, with at least five more in the planning stages. And that number does not take into account secondary locations like Engine 15’s production brewery and taproom on Myrtle Avenue on the edge of Downtown and Bold City’s Downtown taproom, to open later this year.

The Brewers Association, a craft beer industry advocate group, estimates that in 2014, more than 10 million people toured craft breweries. These beer pilgrims descend on areas replete with breweries, filling local hotels and dining at local restaurants. Millions upon millions of dollars are being pumped into local economies all because of the booming craft beer movement. In 2015, the Brewers Association’s three-day Great American Beer Festival generated the equivalent of 2 percent of Denver’s GDP, accounting for $28.6 million.

This expanding travel trend has the attention of travel industry bigwigs like Travelocity. In a survey of 1,003 people, Travelocity found that more than three-quarters of the people said they’d like to go on a trip and visit craft breweries and sample local beer.

Further, the Brewers Association commissioned a Nielsen Omnibus panel in June that asked how many craft breweries people had visited while traveling in the previous 12 months. The answer: On average, travelers visited 2.1 breweries. That means travelers — likely both for pleasure and business — are contributing to the economies of cities with vibrant craft brewing scenes.

Here in Jacksonville, the local tourism board, Visit Jacksonville, promotes many area breweries through the Jax Ale Trail. Visitors and locals who want to get a well-rounded look at the regional beer scene can pick up a passport at any of the eight participating breweries or the board’s Downtown office. For each brewery visited, guests get a stamp with a beer purchase on their passport. When all eight stamps are collected, the passport can be returned to Visit Jacksonville for a commemorative T-shirt.

The Jax Brew Bus is another fun and popular way to visit local breweries. For a reasonable fee, you board a bus with up to 13 other beer-lovers for a four-and-a-half to five-hour trip visiting three of Jacksonville’s craft breweries. Trips depart Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons and whisk guests to a rotating list of breweries. At each brewery, guests are treated to a sampling of beers and a tour of the facilities.

Toss into the mix a number of outstanding beer festivals like the Jacksonville Craft & Import Beer Festival, Brew at the Zoo and Riverside Craft Beer Fest and you have the makings of a true ‘Beercation’ right here in the River City.

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