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Monday musing, local, & links

Start with this premise: “It seems that in today’s uncertain and flagging America, one sign of community prosperity and revitalization is a microbrewery or brewpub in town.”

The Ecocentric blog examines in some detail the role of small breweries in towns where they operate. The history gets a little iffy now and then, but ultimately Kai Olson-Sawyer makes a point that “just like with food, conscientious consumers are willing to pay a little more for better quality and for the local connection.”

The leap of faith here is that local equals better quality. It’s one thing for a brewer to say, “I can order the best quality malt in the world, the best hops, source yeast that provides whatever flavor you want and replicate water from any brewing region of the world.” Another to say, “Fresh hops from the farmer up the road are just as good as from the Czech Republic or the Yakima Valley.”

To my way of thinking the first beer qualifies as local. But not everybody would agree.

This is tricky territory. I loved my grandfather’s farm. I’m all for the idea of urban farming, for finding fresh produce (in season) within the city limits. I wish all the luck in the world to those farmers from Vermont to Southern California who are giving hops a whirl. I’ve had beers I’d buy again that were dry hopped with stuff from homebrewers yards (and donated to a brewery). But I know full well how hard it is to properly grow, pick and process quality hops. Which means most of the breweries around the world are going to buy most of their hops from some place not so close.

In all fairness, the point at Ecocentric blog was not to make localness exclusive, but there are those who would. And that’s not any better for local beer than trying to come up with arbitrary definitions for “craft” beer.

More stuff to read:

Boak and Bailey offer The six degrees of beer appreciation. “There’s a fine line between enthusing about better beer and being a snob.”

1 Wine Dude (Joe Roberts) calls “this the single most important piece of wine news in years” and the implications for beer should be obvious. Australian Wine Research Institute researchers have sequenced the Brettanomyces genome.

– The New York Cork Report gives us “Your Ultimate Guide to Pairing Beer and Cheese.” Hard to argue with pairing a fresh Catapano goat cheese and Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs.

9 Responses to Monday musing, local, & links

  1. brewer a December 5, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    I think I made a similar comment about a brewery you mentioned on the east coast (south east?) that going to brew with local malt. What ever came of that?

  2. Alan December 6, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    “…a fine line between enthusing about better beer and being a snob…”

    You know one way to stay on the right side? Buy the good stuff and give it away. You are far less a bore about a ten buck bottle of Saison Dupont if you pour the stuff for your pals as you mention its goodness. I just did my Christmas beer run to NY state to stock in good stuff for friends and realized its one of my favorite things I get to do with good beer. Like the Xmas photo contest… but with beer and hanging out, too.

  3. Velky Al December 6, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    “To my way of thinking the first beer qualifies as local. But not everybody would agree.”

    I am never entirely sure how I feel about the whole ‘local” thing. Sure, the beer you describe is locally made, but is it genuinely local? To borrow a term from the world of wine, does it have “terroir”?

    In particular it is the use of water which, for me at least, defines a “local beer”, I know several breweries that use local water with all the minerals stripped out, adding back in that which they need to make certain styles. I see a difference between using local resources and working with local resources, and it is the latter which defines a local beer for me.

    One of the great crying shames of American brewing is that a town like Greenville, South Carolina has water on par with Plzen from a mineral perspective and yet no-one there is making a world class pilsner.

  4. 1WineDude December 6, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Thanks for the mention!

    I should note (because I am getting flak for it elsewhere! 🙂 that I do NOT see the Australian work as the end-game when it comes to Brett. But it is the single most important first step in controlling Brett, a step without which we could change very little about Brett and probably never hope to ever control it. So I still think it’s *big* news for the beverage world generally, but of course no one is going to have total Brett control anytime too soon (it may take several years – even decades – to reach that point). Cheers!

  5. Stan Hieronymus December 6, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    So let’s consider Greenville. I’d love to see a brewery make a pilsner with Czech malt and hops, and in a way that lets the “terroir” of where they are grown come through. And then sell the beer only on draft and only within x miles of the brewery. Shipping beer (which is mostly shipping glass and water) is much less environmentally friendly that putting ingredients on a boat on water.

  6. olllllo December 6, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    Locally brewed beer is local.

    If for no other reason than to combat the pervasiveness of restaurants that tout locally grown greens and local seasonally available produce and yet they serve beer shipped in from St. Louis (or a blend at a regional Bud plant that is indistinguishable from it).

    With apologies to Neil Young,

    Beer is a Local Ingredient. Bumper stickers should be issued.

  7. Kai Olson-Sawyer December 6, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Thanks for the mention, Stan. You’re right that I’m not promoting exclusiveness in “local” craft brewing nor am I interested in defining it because there could be many approaches (ingredients, beer styles, shipping/sales distances, etc.). Rather I’m interested in showing the many local aspects of brewing that often go unstated or barely alluded to, although some are intentionally touting the localness of their brewery or beers.

    I think the reference to “terroir” by Velky Al is a useful one for this discussion because it encompasses characteristic of the beer’s “place,” not just physically but philosophically. I also like that you mention the importance of water in brewing because as a water research specialist based in NYC, where the high-quality water supply’s 200-mile journey from the Catskills is famous (is that local?), I was eager to include the water quote from Sixpoint’s Cathy Erway. Stan’s point about combining quality ingredients with local innovations/ingredients demonstrates how exciting – and creative – the possibilities can be. No limitations necessary.

    In the end, I don’t have the answers yet I’m all for greater diversity of better beer which I think is advanced by “local,” however you figure it, and more discussion on the subject. Thanks for humoring me.

  8. Kai Olson-Sawyer December 6, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    olllllo, just saw your comment. I agree, if the food movement is going to cash in on value-added local food marketing, craft beer might as well do the same. As noted in the post, Triumph Brewing, for instance, specializes in (their) local beer as well as locally sourced food.

  9. Steve December 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    “…one sign of community prosperity and revitalization is a microbrewery or brewpub in town.”

    I’m feeling rather unprosperous and non-vital after that statement.

    I’ve lived in 2 different, neighboring towns over the past 18 years and always thought either were ripe for a brewpub. Nothing has surfaced in that time — in fact, only recently have there been new brewpubs to open within a 20 mile radius (well, one has yet to launch). Heck, we barely have 2 good beer bars within that radius (at least within the same state — and only a couple beyond the border).

    I have the feeling that different regions see breweries differently, and our little corner of the state (let alone the corner of the bordering state) just doesn’t seem to be jumping on the bandwagon.

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