How local are you? Do you know your local butcher, or just the guy slicing bologna at the supermarket? When you want a book, do you head to a local independent, or log on to Amazon? When you go out to eat, is it at a chain restaurant in the plaza, or at the Italian place two blocks over that’s been there for years? And here’s the pay-off: are you hot to get the latest beer from a thousand miles away…or do you know your local brewers?
It’s not that the non-local alternatives are no good. The local butcher’s got the plastic-wrapped meat factory stuff beat hollow, I gotta say, but the book is the same from Amazon or your bookseller, and the meal at the chain restaurant probably tastes fine. That beer from five states away is great, maybe even as good as the geek-site hype says it is. But when you buy local you get a different experience, and there are benefits.
Think about local beer. It’s really how things started, and getting away from it --– shipping beer by rail all over the country from huge breweries – was what put us in the position we were in back in 1970. The big brewers hadn’t just hammered the local guys out of existence; they’d hammered beer choice flat. Those of us who were ‘early adapters’ of craft beer made as much of the idea of local as we did of variety, or ales vs. lagers, or hops. We used to exhort people to “drink fresh, drink local!”
Since microbrewers didn’t have very wide distribution, that was about the only way you could drink it! But as the word spread, and wholesalers started to pick up the small brewers, “Drink fresh, drink local” kind of got shuffled to the side (except at brewpubs) as we rushed to check out the walls of new beers from all across the nation, all around the world. Look at this cool stuff from Michigan! Gotta trade a growler with someone for that amazing beer from South Carolina! We’re getting Stone! Vote in the “what brewery should come to our state” poll!
We drinkers – we writers and bloggers, and the websites too – stoked the demand with the “instant holler” power of the Internet. See a new beer someone 800 miles away says is better than sex, and you want it...and 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have even heard about the stuff for another three years! A lot has been written about the instant gratification society the Internet has built; you can see it, read reviews about it, and get it without leaving your browser. Why wait?
Things got a bit nuts. Bars specialized in getting the beers no one else could get (sometimes setting off some nasty wholesaler/retailer pissing matches). Brewers did more small releases of exotic beers, and people traveled hundreds of miles for a chance to buy some. Drinkers swapped and obsessed and traded (and got some great beers, of course).
Actually, that’s still very much going on. But what goes around comes around: drinking local is becoming popular again, for a variety of reasons. The “local and sustainable” movement is more accessible than organic; organic might be good for the future, but you can go visit your local brewers today and see what’s going on. Local beer’s more likely to be fresh, and the new releases get out in the home market first; sometimes they’re exclusive to the home market.
Your local brewers are also your best source for fresh pale ales, witbiers, pilsners, porters, ambers — the 4.5% to 6% stuff that are the staple drinks, especially in the warmer months. The local beers are fresh, they’re turning over, and the local brewer’s keeping tabs on them right through the system. We’re right back to “drink fresh, drink local!”
That’s a great place to be. Local is a big part of what craft brewing has been about from the start.
Look, I’m not saying you should stop buying beers ‘from away,’ of course not. I’m not giving up Belgians or Bell’s myself, believe me. But maybe we could geek out about our local beers a bit more. It seems to work out west; that’s why Portland and Seattle and San Diego have such thriving local brewery scenes. Give it up for your local brewer, and take along some friends when you do.