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Globalization versus local versus variety

local beer drinkersThe mantra of the American craft beer movement for going on 30 years has been, “Think globally, drink locally.”

And that means what?

Globalization can be a dirty word whether you are talking about beer or wine. In the case of beer that’s primarily because of pale, bland lagers the United States gets blamed for. In wine the issue has been the emergence alcoholic, one-dimensional fruit bombs – that a lot of people in fact enjoy – with the U.S. again getting much of the blame.

Guess what. The “wine effect” had spread into beer. New Wave beers first associated with the United States are popping up in other countries. The top-rated Imperial Stout at Rate Beer, Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter, is from Sweden, made with heather honey and aged on oak-barrels for 2½ months. Does that have extreme written all over it or what?

And, as I mentioned earlier this week Britain has its first Double IPA. Stonch’s review provoked an interesting discussion that I started to jump into. But, as you might have already figured out, I had a bit too much to say. So I’m typing here.

The key comments:

First Kieran Haslett-Moore said …

American beers lose subtlety and class in favour of extremeness, why would you want to go there? There are already crass US beers, would crass UK beers make things better?

“Where are the Belgian Strong Ales; the Flemish Sours; the proper hoppy Pilseners; the dunkels? They are just non-existent.”
They are in Belgium, and Germany and quite right to.

“Its brewers have no more connection to any one European brewing tradition that they do any others.”
Absolutely, that lack of connection leaves many such breweries with a slightly soulless range where every beer is totally different and equally out of context.

Then Ron Pattinson said…

Kieran, I couldn’t have put it better.

I like the fact that Britain, Germany and Belgium have their own individual beer cultures. How dull would it be if everything was brewed everywhere and regional differences disappeared?

I don’t want to drink a Kölsch brewed in the UK or USA. That completely misses the point about the beer. You’re right – it’s all about context.

Before I decided to move my words here I had typed:

Ron, I love the idea that it’s not only countries that have different beer cultures but that regions within a country may differ. Compare beer in Northern Germany to Bavaria. Get out your rubber boots if you want to argue about West Coast American beers versus East Coast, because you’ll be hip deep in excrement.

I wouldn’t want to see those lost. But consider that I live in New Mexico. A local brewer used to make (it is no longer brewed) a beer classified Kölsch for competition purposes (once won gold at the Great American Beer Festival). It wasn’t, but then the brewer didn’t call it that. One thing I liked is that it had a rough hop edge because our water is relatively high in carbonates. In other words, the beer was local.

So should I not drink this beer because it was inspired by a Kölsch? Once a region has claimed a “style” does that mean nobody can brew a beer like that elsewhere?

That’s when I realized I was getting windy. I’ll aim for brevity from here on so you may have to connect a few dots.

Local is good first simply because it is local. When you move to a new place you know the best way to “inoculate” yourself against local allergies? Consume the local honey. Those bees acclimate you to everything in the region. When I drink local beer I’m not only tasting local water but taking a good deep breath of local air.

Local is good because jobs stay here. Local is good because local is green – shipping water (the predominant ingredient in beer) is expensive and glass (the next largest part of the weight package) also ain’t cheap to pack off to distant locations.

The context of local brewing has changed. Breweries here in New Mexico don’t have locally grown barley and hops or whatever made brewing regions unique when styles were being established, but we still have beers with local character.

And if you read Pattinson’s blog you’ll appreciate that beer styles (I almost hesitate to use the word) evolve. They are not frozen in time.

Our local brewers shouldn’t be either. Gone are the days that we believed a brewer could master only two or three different recipes (a half dozen at the most).

I don’t want to see regional differences disappear. In other words, Globalization=Bad.

And I’m not suggesting that everybody follow the “American model.” However, if a local brewer finds inspiration in Cologne and brews a good “Kölsch” I think we are ahead.

That’s how “Think globally, drink locally” has helped define the American beer cultural.

And it sure as heck isn’t dull.

17 Responses to Globalization versus local versus variety

  1. Up Nort September 28, 2007 at 8:42 am #

    I read Stonch and Pattinson, but have started to notice that they have a chip on their shoulders when it comes to anything from the US. I think with all their talk of context they miss the point of the American context: we do not have deep roots or traditions, they were boiled out of us in the melting pot. All we have are regional connections, and they change frequently. Demographic patterns in the US are writ in water in comparison to Europe. We do not live in the same villages our grandparents live in(dangling prep. big midwesternism). We are a moving target, and so is our beer.

  2. Stonch September 28, 2007 at 9:28 am #

    Up Nort:

    I didn’t make any comments about the US scene in my article, or in my subsequent comments in the discussion that followed. Please remember, I’m a *British* beer writer. I write predominantly about British and European beer.

    I appreciate your point about the US being a cultural melting pot – and I agree with it. That’s why the US craft beer scene brings together the various strands of European brewing culture. For different reasons, the growing Italian craft scene is similar – there being no strong identification with beer in that country, the brewers are starting from scratch and taking ideas from wherever they like.

    However, the situation in the old brewing nations like Britain, Belgium and Germany is different. We have very different, well established brewing cultures and our beer reflects that. That isn’t to say that beer shouldn’t evolve – it should, and it does. Personally, I find expectations that British brewers should, *en masse*, start brewing distinctively Belgian and German varieties of beer bizarre. If they want to have a bash, I find that interesting – but I don’t expect, or indeed want, a total revolution.

    I don’t intend to elaborate on this, because ultimately I think you’ll either get it or you don’t. Perhaps this is a question of personal philosophy, which perhaps applies to things other than beer. It has nothing to do with chips on shoulders – that’s a massively unfair comment.

  3. Stan Hieronymus September 28, 2007 at 9:53 am #

    Let’s not haul out the swords.

    As Stonch was writing about the UK I was writing about the US.

    I think brewers should be free to experiment – whereever they are. So that a Belgian brewery, like Rulles, uses American hops in what is a pretty traditional tripel, is great. You can draw on global assets without reinventing the beer.

    When brewers start making beers that marketers tell them are “hot” then we end up with ones none of us are likely to want to drink.

  4. Up Nort September 28, 2007 at 10:01 am #

    I never suggested that Britain should drop her traditions. All I stated was that beer in the US was in a far different context than that of Europe. It was rash of me to write that Stonch has a chip on your shoulder. His most recent writings obviously prove the case that he does not.

  5. brewer a September 28, 2007 at 3:14 pm #

    Two of the best Kölschs available near me aren’t from Cologne they are brewed right here in the Chicagoland area, at Mickey Finn’s in Libertyville and at Piece in Chicago. It would be a shame if people weren’t interested in drinking them, but it would be even more of a shame if American brewers weren’t keeping certain styles alive that are difficult to find in their “home territories” or are very different from what they used to be. Plus, when you drink them locally, they are fresh and bright, unlike a bottle shipped across the ocean that has sat in a port for weeks waiting to get cleared by customs etc. I think a lot of Oktoberfests that are made in the US are better than some of the big Munich breweries. Many of the Munich versions are getting lighter in color, less maltier, and lighter in alcohol every year. For my money you can get a more traditional Oktoberfest at your local brewpub than you can at a german restaurant serving draught German beers.

  6. Jeff Alworth September 28, 2007 at 6:23 pm #

    Another element to throw into the mix is time. Thanks to prohibition and the subsequent consolidation of the beer industry, the US essentially quit being a brewing nation. We only rediscovered beer 30 years ago. To compare the evolution of US brewing to England, Belgium, Czech Republic, or Germany puts us at a disadvantage. You have mash tuns that are decades older than the American revival.

    Where I hitch up when I hear non-Americans describe the US beer scene that I become suspicious. Has Kieran, whom you quoted above, sat in a Portland pub and tasted our soul-less beer here? I wrote a post just yesterday about a dry-hopped ale that can’t be appreciated in its bottled form–you have to taste it at the brewery. I don’t doubt that beers suffer for their journey across the ocean.

    Even more to the point, since beer is a beverage steeped deeply in the culture of the region, can you properly reflect on it from such a remove? In the city where I live, it’s not possible to go into any bar, or any place where beer is sold on draught, and not find a local product. Literally not possible. Fifty percent of the beer sold on draught in Portland is brewed in Oregon–and 38% across the state, including vast stretches of what you might guess was Bud country. When you walk into a pub in Portland, everyone, from the little old ladies to the hipster kids, are drinking good beer. They know the difference between styles, and they know well-made beer from crap.

    As Stan says, locality is critical to our beer. Most of the beers brewed here are made with hops and barley grown here. Oregon brewers regularly include local ingredients–and have, since they started brewing 27 years ago. We may not have gotten to established styles, but give us time–it took some years before Arthur Guinness had invented what we now recognize as Irish stout, so give us time.

    Last month I happened to write about the evolution of styles in the NW–far different from the evolution of culture, which by necessity must precede it. I’ll allow that people may complain about the type of beer brewed in the US–there’s no accounting for taste. But soul? Man, we got soul to burn.

  7. Stonch September 29, 2007 at 1:06 am #


    “Where I hitch up when I hear non-Americans describe the US beer scene that I become suspicious.”

    I think that’s a key point. I will hold my hands up and say I’ve never visited North America, let alone a US brewpub. Therefore I reserve judgement on American beer culture.

  8. Stan Hieronymus September 29, 2007 at 3:51 am #

    You’ve got quite a challenge ahead, Stonch. Portland, Maine – featured yesterday in the NY Times – and Portland, Oregon, are 3,200 miles apart.

    Both lively beer cultures, but quite different.

  9. Jeff Alworth September 29, 2007 at 9:32 am #

    Before I completely misrepresent the US, it should be noted that there are vast stretches where the only beer you can buy–on tap or in the Quickie Mart–is produced at 10-million-barrel breweries. The US brewing culture is one of pockets. But within those pockets, it is quite rich.

  10. Ron Pattinson October 1, 2007 at 4:27 am #

    Up Nort, I see you retracted your chip-on-the-shoulder comment about Stonch. Does that mean you still think it applies to me?

    There are so many chips there already that I didn’t think that I had room for a new one.

    Jeff Alworth, Arthur Guinness never did invent Irish Stout as we know it today. He was dead long before it was created. It only dates back to about 1950.

  11. Up Nort October 1, 2007 at 7:35 am #

    Ron, I heard you were a well balanced person — had a chip on each shoulder. I would not want to change that, so yes I retract that statement. I chose my words poorly, chip on the shoulder is too beligerant a phrase, I should have written something like ‘have a slight bias against X, or slight preference for Y over X.’ The problem with internet communication is that it can make us sound more foreceful than we mean to be. Ooh boy that ‘soulless’ statement, which neither of you made, really got my ire up, and probably shut down some critical thinking facilities at the same time. I did not intend to offend.

  12. Loren October 1, 2007 at 9:14 am #

    Phil Markowski said it best in an interview from ~1999.

    “I think America is the most exciting place to be a brewer,” Markowski says. “We are not held back by centuries of tradition. We can pick the best aspects of the classic brewing nations and do something that is uniquely our own without feeling guilty about it. We Americans also tend toward irreverence, and irreverence feeds creativity.””

    I think a little of America’s irreverence is just spreading to other parts of the globe and more and more brewers are feeling free to explore their own creativity. What is wrong with that, so long as they maintain roots to brewing good beer. Not “trendy” beer. Big difference.

  13. Stan Hieronymus October 1, 2007 at 9:42 am #

    Loren, Phil also recently said:

    “I’d like to see us taking more of a European approach – more about balance, subtlety, subtle complexity, instead of the beer-as-hot-sauce approach. It’s not about machismo: it’s about flavor and enjoyment, and not being whacked over the head.”

    Of course I wish he showed a better understanding of hot sauce.

  14. SteveH October 1, 2007 at 9:58 am #

    “It’s about flavor and enjoyment, and not being whacked over the head.”

    Wotta concept.

  15. Loren October 1, 2007 at 11:04 am #

    See. He’s a freaking genius.

    BTW…did he say when his Double IPA is coming out?


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