The craft brewing and beverage sector in Sonoma County contributed an estimated $123 million to the local economy in 2012 while directly supporting 500 jobs, according to the first-ever study of the industry by the county Economic Development Board.
The study highlights a growing niche forming for a wide swath of businesses, particularly the tourism sector, as demand for artisan beer, ciders and liquors increases across both the country and the North Bay.
Sales of Sonoma County craft beer are growing by a rate of more than double the national average — craft beer sales by volume increased 15 percent nationwide in 2012, while in Sonoma County, sales by volume rose 41 percent, according to the study. The research is part of a broader effort by the EDB to gain economic insight and identify opportunities for growth in the craft beer, cider and spirit industries.
As of February, there were 18 craft breweries in Sonoma County, eight of which opened in the last two years, according to the study.
The county's beer, spirits and cider makers are poised to capitalize significantly on the growing national demand for small, local and artisanal goods, according to the study, which says the region's agricultural history has created a well-established appreciation of local goods.
"Consumers are recognizing the value of quality ingredients and care in the product," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County EDB. "That is what Sonoma County is about, the artisanal culture, and it is no surprise that craft beverages are a growing part of our economy."
The county's biggest brewer, Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing Company, has helped lead the charge of local breweries gaining national recognition. Already the sixth largest craft brewer in the country, Lagunitas saw year-over-year sales grow by 40 percent in 2012, reaching $60 million.
The brewery, which is expanding rapidly to meet demand, produces 73 percent of all craft beer in Sonoma County and has grown its local workforce from 100 employees to 350 over a 12-month period.
Another key piece of the local brewery scene is Santa Rosa's Russian River Brewing Company, who's famed Pliny the Younger, a triple IPA released only once a year, has a cumulative economic impact on Sonoma County tourism to the tune of $2.35 million, according to the study.
For instance, in 2013, the release of Pliny the Younger drew 12,500 attendees over a two-week period. Of that total, 8,140 attendees, or 65 percent, were tourists from outside Sonoma County who traveled specifically to sample the IPA, which drew international interest in 2009 when it was rated "best beer in the world" by the popular website BeerAdvocate.com.
Direct spending related to Pliny the Younger totaled approximately $1.4 million, while indirect and induced impacts are estimated at $421,000 and $495,000, respectively, the study said.
Visitors came from at least 26 different states and five foreign countries for Pliny the Younger, according to the study. The top five states represented were California, Nevada, Illinois, Washington and Texas. The top five foreign countries were Japan, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.
Survey results from the EDB indicated that Pliny the Younger tourists spent a large portion of money at restaurants, other breweries and bars, over an average stay of 1.6 days, with 44 percent saying in local lodging and hotels.