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Researching Craft Beer

Magazine article Online Searcher

Researching Craft Beer

Article excerpt

At the Business Reference Services Discussion Group meeting during the 2016 ALA annual conference in Orlando, attendees from a multitude of academic libraries agreed that students love the idea of starting craft beer companies. As courses in entrepreneurship become more popular and students in those classes are asked to select a company to start as their class project, craft beer is a frequent choice. In response, several libraries created LibGuides on the topic. In fact, when I checked after returning home, at least five were either written or revised shortly after ALA.

Unrelated to ALA, or at least I assume it's unrelated to ALA, a job posting from the National Museum of American History surfaced just after the conference ended. The Smithsonian wants a professional historian/scholar for its newly established "initiative on American brewing history." By the time you read this, the museum will probably have filled the job.

What makes craft beer special? In the research sense, nothing. It's part of the larger beverage industry, but that industry is well-documented. What makes craft beer special? From the non-research perspective, it's popular, it's trendy, it's fun-and it tastes good.

I can understand why students, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, choose craft beer for their entrepreneurial studies, but I don't know if their professors count the drinking of craft beers as germane to their research projects. Do students take their librarians with them on these primary research adventures? Do they bring the beers into the library to share? I'm guessing the answer to both those questions is a resounding, "No."

Researching craft beer as an academic exercise isn't the only application calling out for the attention of the information professional. In the business world, the questions could revolve around due diligence pursuant to a private investment or a bank loan. It could be about someone looking for a job. It could be for selling services peripheral to craft beer, such as graphic design for labels, attorneys to help navigate the rules and regulations, or advertising and marketing of a craft beer brand. The making of beer, at least at the industrial level, is essentially an agricultural pursuit, while the canning and bottling operations are manufacturing operations. Don't neglect science; brewing beer involves some chemistry, a topic with which business librarians may unfamiliar.

Before imbibing this sudsy research, take a minute to look at this stunning gallery of eight pictures representing the history of breweries. In her introduction, Sarra Sedghi notes the beer brewing has been around for almost 5,000 years and today exists as both experience and industry ( breweries.html?t=head). She also credits the craft beer boom with affecting the travel market.


Researching craft beer, from the librarian perspective, starts where industry research usually starts, with industry codes. As always, the codes vary depending on whether you're looking at wholesale, retail, or manufacturing. At the wholesale level, NAICS code 4248 covers Beer, Wine, and Distilled Alcoholic Merchant Wholesalers, with 42481 designated for Beer and Ale Merchant Wholesalers. For retail stores, the code is 44531, Beer, Wine, and Liquor Stores. Beer manufacturing sounds odd, and the U.S. government agrees. Although the code 312 is for Beverage and Tobacco Product Manufacturing, drilling down to 31212 gets you to the much more logical Breweries.

The annual revision to the NAICS code, announced on Aug. 8, 2016, made no changes that affect the beverage industry. The notice in the Federal Register ( www/naics/federal_register_notices/notices/fr08au16.pdf) reads, "For the 2017 revision, Canada, Mexico, and the United States focused on new and emerging industries as well as updating the structure of the oil and gas industries. …

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