When is a glass of beer not just a glass of beer?


When it’s produced by a local brewery that attracts tourists and boosts the economy of small Kansas towns, that’s when. A recent story in the Hutchinson News on the subject caught our eye and shows what can be accomplished with grit, creativity and a discerning palette.


Small breweries have popped up in numerous municipalities, including Garden City, Fort Scott and El Dorado. And where small breweries appear, beer tourists follow.


"It’s not just visiting Sonoma anymore," said Bart Watson, Brewers Association chief economist in the story by reporter Alice Mannette. "People are willing to travel to visit a brewery. Brew tours of micro-breweries are big now."


It doesn’t stop with the brewing of the beer, either.


These small businesses also look to Kansas farmers to provide hops for their brews. Fruits, herbs and other flavorings can also be sourced from locals, providing a distinct taste of the Sunflower State.


For those who might not drink beer often, if at all, this might seem like a foreign language, or a visit to another country. But beer enthusiasts are passionate about their beverage of choice, and they’re willing to put their money where their mouths are.


"Last year, 53 percent of craft beer drinkers indicated they had visited a brewery while traveling," said Watson, the brewery economist. "That is about 55 million aged 21-plus adults. The total impact to the economy is huge."


There’s little doubt that many of these businesses have faced challenges in the economic wreckage caused by the new coronavirus. If the breweries had restaurants or pubs attached, they likely had to close for a time. But as many of us have learned over the past few months, beer and other intoxicating beverages can be easily consumed at home.


So if you have a taste for craft beers, and if you want to support your local economy, track down the microbrewery in your neck of the woods. There’s almost certainly one nearby producing tasty twists on your basic brewskis. You’ll quench your thirst and invigorate your local economy at the same time.


Sure, Kansas might not be known nationally for its beer. Not yet. Given the dedication and creativity shown by brewers across the state, it’s only a matter of time.