Startup. Ten. Exodus.
So a lot of our fans and our followers already know, and for those that don't, this may come as a little bit of a shock. As of two weeks ago, Blue Tape Brewing relocated to Charleston, South Carolina. This was part calculated strategy and part wanderlust. I was lucky enough to call Bloomington-Normal my home for 11 years, Elizabeth for 6 years. Leaving McLean county was a very challenging thing to do, but it was ultimately the right move to make for the success of this business. It also is providing Lizz and I with fresh perspective on how to approach this thing.
By no means were we stagnating in Bloomington, but at a certain point we stopped moving forward with any sort of meaningful pace. In part, that may be due to the fact that we made the decision to move in early March, we just didn't know when the move would take place. At that point, it seemed a waste of time to focus any more efforts into this brewery for the McLean County Market. I should clarify however that no part of me believes that McLean County is a waste of time. If anything it is the opposite. It is reasonable to assume that in less than 5 years, McLean County could be the most exciting place for beer in Illinois outside of Chicagoland. If my count is correct, we would have been 1 of 5 breweries in the county (2 of which are currently in operation). The surrounding areas in Illinois have their breweries, sure, but the ones currently operating and those in planning are not just breweries for the sake of being a brewery. They are true evangelists for this larger brand we call Craft Beer. A phenomenal population of home brewers, beer enthusiasts and a number of excellent beer bars will ensure that important things are going to happen with craft beer in McLean County. Part of me will always think we should not have left (then again, snow. There, I said it).
There are a lot of strings attached with this move. Our business plan was tailored to a very specific part of Central, Illinois. Charleston sits in a region of South Carolina referred to as "The Lowcountry". As I type this, I am sitting about 10 feet above sea level. Pretty low. South Carolina, and therefore The Lowcountry, is not an awesome place to start a brewery. Illinois has its problems, but over all, not a terrible place to start a brewery. South Carolina by my estimation is about 20 years behind in brewery culture. Full strength beer became legal only 11 years ago. Limited tap room sales became legal shortly after that. Self-distribution does not exist. The excise tax on a barrel of beer is almost punitive. This is where we CHOSE to relocate our brewery. Now the good news. The culture of Food and Beverage in this town is outstanding. Besides the occasional Subway or Starbucks, you just don't see that many restaurant chains here. Local food is done well and it is done everywhere around here. I see the same happening for beer, but it will be an uphill battle.
There are about a dozen breweries and brewpubs operating in the Lowcountry. There are about three-quarter million people in the immediate metro area. More breweries are going to open and I'm excited that we are going to be one of them. But what is most exciting is that we will be part of a movement to bring this larger brand that is Craft Beer to prominence in the Lowcountry. On the macro level, this will involve beer evangelism to affect a cultural shift, lobbying for more accommodating legislation, and making a lot of good beer. On a micro level, we are going to have to analyze where we will fit in this market. The business plan will have to be largely re-written, a new niche will need to be identified, and we will have to make a lot of good beer. Realistically we have been set back at least a year, but I am more excited about this project than ever.
We will never forget everything our former community taught us. Both of us graduated from ISU, both of developed a love of craft beer while working at Medici, both of us were completely supported by our many friends and colleagues in Bloomington-Normal. When this thing finally gets off the ground and we are comfortable with our local distribution, McLean County will be the next market that we penetrate. Without what we gained there, we would be nothing.
This is not "Goodbye;" this is "See you next time."