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I am a born and bred New Yorker and a rabid Yankees fan. I curse too much. Behind the wheel, you would know pretty instantly where I learned to drive. With most of my tight knit family in the Northeast, there is really no good reason for me to have moved 400 miles south to Charlottesville, Virginia four years ago.

Not that my parents loved this explanation, but among other reasons, I came for the beer. And the wine, cider, local food movement and the Blue Ridge Mountains, but really the beer was a major contributing factor. When I lived in Brooklyn, I was already a craft beer groupie with a taste for Brooklyn Brewery and Sierra Nevada, but visits to Charlottesville’s Blue Mountain Brewery and craft beer mecca, Beer Run opened my eyes to this new world of endless and delicious choices. If you’ve ever sat outside at Blue Mountain Brewery staring at the surreal mountain range that is actually blue, over a pint of hoppy Full Nelson (60 IBUs), you’d want to move here, too. Yeah, it’s that good.

Apparently, I was unknowingly on-trend. 2009 was the coming of age for a lot of other craft beer fans, as well. According to Bryan Roth of the craft beer-focused blog This is Why I’m Drunk, craft beer went viral in 2009 coinciding with the peaking of social media itself, particularly among the Millennial generation.

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Driven by the craft breweries themselves and the rise of brewery openings, especially in the Northeast, the term “craft beer” really took hold in 2009. As Roth points out, Google Trends showed “the term ‘craft beer’ grew steadily in searches beginning in 2009,” driven by the rise in brewery openings and sales, and an obvious increase of consumer curiosity. But why?

In walks social media and Millennials. Originally enjoyed by diehard trail blazers and adventurous yuppies as an affordable luxury, the craft beer demographic has shown a marked shift towards a younger, hipper audience. Millennials, in particular, have adopted craft beer as their own, perhaps due to the endless choices, opportunity to experiment with new brews, and of course, a certain cool-factor available for less than wine or spirits.

Social media gave this new audience the perfect forum for two-way conversation with friends and their favorite breweries. Roth offers the following stats about the rise of social media in 2009:

  • 11 percent of all time spent online was spent on social networking sites.
  • Time spent on Facebook increased 700 percent.
  • Overall, there was an 82 percent increase in time spent online on social networking sites.
  • Facebook mobile received 112 percent growth in 2009, with Twitter’s mobile presence going up by 337 percent

With such increased usage driven largely by Millennials, craft brewers quickly caught on that social media was a great way to start a dialogue with fans without incurring huge advertising costs associated with big beer. According to Pat Strader of Digital Relativity, “Unlike many of the brewers and brewery founders, those that have recently come of drinking age, have grown up in a world with widely-available craft beer. In addition, this age group expects a deepened level of engagement. Simply sending a general Tweet, Facebook or G+ post is just not enough. You have to reach-out, reply and be available.” He also points out “The power of the one-to-one relationship goes in both directions. It’s not just about brewers telling their stories, it is the interaction between craft brewers and those of us that love to drink their beers.”

It was a perfect storm, and a perfect relationship between a passionate craft beer audience and small business owner/brewers. Roth sums it up well in an earlier conversation with Fullsteam Brewery owner Sean Lilly Wilson. “Many businesses aren’t able to make the leap of using branding as a conversation, but we’ve been very lucky in the timing of our brewery to coincide with the rise of social media,” said Wilson, who runs the @Fullsteam Twitter account. “Early on, I saw people cared, they were interested and they liked giving us ideas online to help shape the vision of the brewery.”

Cheers!

Images courtesy of the Brewers Association and the Charlottesville Wedding Blog.