CLEVELAND — Over the past decade, Ohio’s craft beer scene has exploded.
“Brewery tourism is big business," said Justin Hemminger with the Ohio Craft Brewers Association. "People travel within the state and to other states to go visit breweries and get their hands on some craft beers that they've not had an opportunity to try before.”
According to the agency, there are nearly 350 craft breweries operating in the Buckeye State. That includes the 47 breweries which opened their doors in 2020.
But, the pandemic has kept many people out of bars and breweries across the state - putting the craft beer industry in a tough spot.
“It's been it's been very difficult for breweries to survive in 2020," said Hemminger.
But Destination Cleveland, the agency which heads up Cleveland's Brewery Passport, said there were more users in the 2019-2020 program compared to the previous year. Data shows there were about 2,700 users filling out the passport, a 7% increase compared to the 2018-2019 program.
“It's really heartwarming to see that participants were flexible. they went with the changes and they continue to put their money into our brewery scene," said Emily Lauer, senior director of public relations for Destination Cleveland. “While COVID made it more challenging to get to places, and support our brewery industry, Clevelanders and visitors alike showed their love.”
Lauer said she believes the success of the program can be partly attributed to a couple of changes. Due to COVID, and its restrictions, the usual 12-month program was extended to 18 months, giving people more time to complete the passport. Plus, it went digital inside the Destination Cleveland app.
“In many ways, it provides access to a greater number of people. And it also, I think, shows a little bit more ability to have uptake of participation because you don't have to remember to bring your passport book," said Lauer.
Unfortunately, our local success didn’t translate statewide. Hemminger said the state brewery passport — on the Ohio On Tap app — recorded a slight decline. But he did add — compared to other industries — craft brewers have gone above and beyond to get products to their customers.
“You have a lot of curbside pickup options, home delivery, shipping, direct to your door, touchless menus," he said.
Though there was success for the 2019-2020 program, Destination Cleveland has not set a date for the beginning of this year’s program. Lauer said they’re still working through details and want to ensure each brewery is safe and prepared for another uncertain year.
“I would I would say that we will be back supporting this industry just as we have work to do because it's part of preserving the overall Cleveland experience.”