My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.
Last week was part one of my interview with Bill DeBaun, who helped research and present a study about how to make the county more attractive to young professionals.
This week, we talk about beer options, the county’s control model for distributing alcohol and what Montgomery can do to attract 20-somethings to live here:
Q: For fun, you and a few others run the a DC beer website. I think it is fair to label you a “beer guru.” What did your research uncover about beer options in Montgomery County? And what can Montgomery County do to improve on the beer landscape (options, selections for consumers)?
A: The reality is that there do appear to be obstacles to getting some products in Montgomery County. There are roughly 4,400 SKUs (unique product identifiers) for beers available through the Department of Liquor Control. Of these, roughly 1,400 are kept in stock. Our analysis of the SKUs shows that less than half, approximately 650, of these stock SKUs are “craft” beers that are increasingly popular in bars and restaurants across the country and in the area. In contrast, ChurchKey, a well-known bar and restaurant in D.C. constantly stocks at least 555 different SKUs of beer, a number that rivals all of Montgomery County’s craft offerings. Although Montgomery County has a lot of craft beer options that can be special ordered in, if it takes a long time for the product to get to the account, the account may just not even bother with the hassle.
Well, if I was going to rock the boat and be radical I would say do away with the county being the sole distributor and open up the “middle tier” of distribution to private enterprise. Assuming that’s not going to happen, there is likely room for a process analysis to see what the strengths and weaknesses of the process are and improve upon them.
There are a lot of different factors to building a beer community, but one of those important factors (at least in D.C. and Virginia) is the relationship between representatives of distributors and breweries and the beer directors at venues that are the last stop for beer. This is where beer programs get pitched on new product. It’s where a lot of great events and collaborations between brewery and bar/restaurant are born. Not having distributors and competition in the county hamstrings the opportunity to have those relationships. I really think that is why there aren’t a lot of craft beer events in Montgomery County, to be honest, and those events are what often bring people out and turn beer bars into destinations for many people, including millennials (e.g., Meridian Pint, ChurchKey, Pizzeria Paradiso, The Big Hunt).
All of this doesn’t even get into how the control district model may affect price, which is something I’m hoping to do some research on in the future, but which isn’t something we looked at very closely.
Q: What’s on tap right now that’s different and a great beer?
DC Beer Week happened in August. There were all kinds of events: tap takeovers, sessions on how to blend sour ales, beer dinners, even a craft beer night at Nationals Park.
Outside of DCBW, some good options for craft in Montgomery County that I know about include Mussel Bar and Freddy’s Lobster and Clams in Bethesda and Scion Restaurant and Quarry House in Silver Spring. (Full disclosure, I work for the Dupont branch of Scion, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Silver Spring branch has one of the best beer menus I’ve seen in Montgomery County).
Q: Did your research look at how Montgomery County can attract 20-somethings as residents? If yes, tell us a little about that research?
A: We took a look at what millennials overall tend to look for and then did a survey of George Washington graduate and professional school students. The survey, admittedly, has some significant limitations. But based on our review of the literature and analysis of the survey and interview data we had, we made some recommendations on how to attract young professionals. These recommendations included:
- Eliminating all minimum parking requirements within walkable distances of Metro rail stations and either allow the free market to determine the appropriate supply of parking or institute programs such as the Parking Lot Districts in Bethesda and Silver Spring.
- Promoting transit-oriented development, such as is currently being implemented around the White Flint Metrorail station.
- Marketing the county’s strengths, which include:
- The County’s Moderately-Priced Dwelling Unit program makes high-quality housing attainable for young professionals making 65-70% of the Area Median Income.
- The County’s ample green space for public enjoyment. With 35.7 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, Montgomery County offers significantly more park space than its neighboring communities;
- Support for green development through tax incentives for LEED-certified buildings, which fosters a healthier and more sustainable community for years to come.
Finally, more research is needed into the business environment in Montgomery County. Millennials want to live near where they work, so any policy that affects businesses is going to affect the job variety and availability which is going to affect the interest millennials have in an area.
Are there regulatory hurdles that impede or an environment that could promote more businesses that are attractive to so-called “knowledge workers” and the millennial generation? Our research didn’t get into that topic, but someone’s should, and soon.
Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.