Crack a bottle, because here we go again.
Following on the success of Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country, the partners behind Central Pennsylvania Wine Marketing LLC have launched a separate beer trail called Hershey Harrisburg Craft Beer Country.
And why not? Those partners also have The Vineyard at Hershey LLC, a holding company that owns the popular winery of the same name in Londonderry Township. Its first year in business last year ended with nearly 3,000 gallons in wine sales — about twice as much as projections.
A beer operation — The Brewery at Hershey — was added earlier this year, along with a summer concert series to further enhance the property's destination appeal.
"It's a year-round marketing co-op that gives the (visitors) bureau another story to tell," Jason Reimer, president of the beer trail and partner in the aforementioned operations, said of the newest public-private partnership to hit the adult leisure scene.
Like the wine version, which launched in the spring of 2012 and has since grown to 15 wineries, the beer trail is starting out with 12 members within a 45-minute drive of the center of Harrisburg or Hershey. And it has received hotel tax funds from Dauphin County — $50,000 — for startup promotion.
The goal of the beer trail: Create sustained exposure outside the seasonal peaks that draw the bulk of visitors to the region, Reimer said.
How is that achieved? Signature events held during shoulder travel seasons — October and March, for example — and year-round social media interaction and promotion are essential.
In-house marketing talent and assistance from the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau has helped check those off the list. The latter has even leveraged funds in the past to promote the area in the Philadelphia market as well as the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas.
What else? Partnerships with hospitality and transportation companies to cross-promote attractions and set up tour packages, which extend stays, have been integral to the wine trail's success.
"The wine tours continue to grow. We're on track to do over 1,000 people this year," said Jonathan Snavely, operations manager for Premiere #1 Limousine Service LLC in Londonderry Township.
Beer tours, or combination tours, have a lot of potential, he added: "I think it will be a huge success just like Wine Country is for us."
Combined with initiatives at each of the breweries to heighten guest experience — whether that's dining collaborations, musical offerings, product launch parties or other festivals — all of it should translate to sales growth for members and bolster regional appeal, organizers said.
"This gives people a reason to invite friends to come here," said Rick Dunlap, a spokesman for the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau.
Like the local vineyards, the breweries on this trail or the nearby Susquehanna Ale Trail are added to the list of regional assets, he said.
And not just on the consumer side. The trails help strengthen the bureau's proposal when it makes a pitch to bring new conventions or other special events to the region, Dunlap said.
"They want to know what else there is do," he said.
In its recent campaigns to outside markets, the bureau highlighted family assets that included Hersheypark and surrounding attractions, the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Adventure Sports in Hershey, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park and Roundtop Mountain Resort.
Its couples spot played up Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country, Tröegs Brewing Co., Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Harrisburg's "Restaurant Row" on Second Street and the Pride of the Susquehanna.
The area also has the state Capitol, minor league sports franchises, golf courses and spas.
"This is another respectable adult offering," Dunlap said of the beer trail.
Many visitors are familiar with Tröegs or Appalachian Brewing Co. — both trail members — but they might not know of the smaller breweries in the area, Snavely said. The trail will help do that.
"I can definitely see it expanding," he said.
Central Pennsylvania already is home to a thriving market when it comes to beer production.
Lancaster County has 15 active brewery licenses, the most in the commonwealth, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
"Beer Country is a recognition of that special place beer has in the hearts of Americans," said Christopher Thorne, a spokesman for the Beer Institute, a national trade group that represents the brewing industry.
The collaboration between breweries "injects a lot of excitement" into the craft and attracts new beer enthusiasts, he said.
Beer also is a major economic driver, Thorne said.
For the region surrounding the new trail, a March 2013 study commissioned by the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association found that beer supported nearly 15,000 jobs. About half of those are directly employed in brewing, distributing and retail.
Wages and benefits paid because of the beer industry total about $580 million, according to the Beer Institute. The total economic impact of beer on this area is about $2 billion.
The study included 108 brewing and wholesaling establishments.
In Pennsylvania, beer supports about 70,650 jobs and contributes about $8.7 billion in economic impact, according to the study.
Hopping with potential
Derrick Michael delivered more than 100 pounds of fresh hops to the Vault Brewing Co. in Bucks County this year.
He'd like to stay in Central Pennsylvania and expand his client base.
"I'd love to get local contacts," he said, adding that he's hopeful the growing number of breweries in the Harrisburg area will drive additional business.
Michael is one of the owners of Central Penn Hops, a hop yard based in northern Dauphin County. He started growing hops last year in tandem with a vineyard in Jackson Township.
The latter — Pariah Vineyard & Winery — is in the process of trying to get the winery side built with plans to sell wine next year.
Last year, Michael planted 150 hop hills. He added another 400 this year to handle additional demand.
"We could expand to do 10 acres if someone really is interested in local hops," he said.
The York County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which runs the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail and Susquehanna Ale Trail, views neighboring trails as complementary and not competition, said Louise Heine, the bureau’s destination marketing director.
The fact that new wineries and breweries are popping up fairly regularly in the midstate helps.
“There is room for growth here,” Heine said.
There is geographic overlap among three of the regional wine trails — Susquehanna Heartland Wine Trail, Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country and Mason-Dixon — and the two local beer trails.
That means potential for a winery or brewery to be on multiple trails, which should bolster year-round appeal.
The key there is not to run conflicting events throughout the year, Heine said.
Between its brochures and visitors guide, as well as crossover between other events — including Made In America — and its group tours business, the bureau has the capability to grow trail activity, Heine said.
The ale trail’s largest spike in traffic is during the annual passport event in April. Full visitor counts were not available for the first two years.