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The importance of being the local beer

MONDAY BEER LINKS, LIMITIED MUSING 04.06.15

Loving Local Beer.
Brewers Association economist Bart Watson writes: “Typically, I cite studies that suggest the flavor/variety dimension as the primary driver, with local taking an important, albeit secondary role. But there is increasing evidence that local may be rivaling flavor as a motivating factor for craft beer buyers.” And he cites figures from a Nielsen survey that indicate that local is more important for beer drinkers than wine drinkers, and that this is more pronounced for younger drinkers (that makes it an important Trend with a capital T).

Before reflecting on the sea change this represents, Watson suggests the beer/wine part shouldn’t be surprising, given that two thirds of the wineries in the United States are located in three West Coast states. But that’s two thirds of more than 8,000 wineries; there are more than 100 wineries in each of ten states beyond California, Washington and Oregon. There might be another reason that beer does better on the “buy local” front. Either there some stronger connections local brewers are making with consumers or they have done a better job convincing drinkers what they are serving is as good as the drink from elsewhere (the cachet of French and California grapes cannot be discounted). Or both. Probably both. [Via Brewers Association}

Local and variety work well together. [Via Twitter]

Why People are Still Mad at 10 Barrel, Why That’s OK, and Why It’s Also OK to Still Drink Their Beer.
The headline pretty much summarizes what the post is about. But consider this thought that I’ve seen written many times before: “Craft beer culture is not like tech start-up culture or fashion culture, or any of the other businesses where start-ups are expected to work to build something worth being acquired by a larger corporate entity. There are a lot of reasons for that—enough to fill a book—but I think the biggest ones are that American craft beer culture has always defined itself as a group of outsiders.” I’m not sure how that works when these beers constitute 20 percent of the market. [Via Willamette Weekly]

Good things in small packages?
Back in 2007 when The Session began part of the idea was that posts would include, but not be limited to, conversation about specific beers, what some would calling drinking notes or tasting notes. Friday was the 98th gathering of The Session — pretty amazing, but you’ll also notice a host is needed for May — and you’ll not find many drinking notes these days. But you can always count on The Beer Nut for notes done well. [Via The Beer Nut]

The Impending Death of the Beer Festival (as we know it).
Ryan Hannigan worries about the “massive influx of corporate-style beer fests” in Colorado. And that, “Essentially, it’s the suburbanization of beer festivals. Every one looks and feels the same.” [Via Focus on the Beer]

The Wit and Wisdom of Shaun Hill.
Shaun Hill is not simply a brewing savant; lots of interesting stuff in these outtakes gathered reporting another story. But this bothers me:

“The thing is now—with this modern light-speed dissemination of information with the Internet—is that nobody wants to just learn something for themselves. They want you to tell them. ‘What’s going to happen if I do this, this, and this?’ My response is always, ‘I don’t know. Let me know.’ The only time I really discuss that stuff is with friends like Chad Yakobson from Crooked Stave, Gabe Fletcher at Anchorage, or John Kimmich. Friends. We’re working off each other. It’s a give and take. It’s not just a take. If you have something to give me, yeah, I’ll share with you.”

There’s much truth there. The best way to find out what might result when you add x ingredient or try y process is to actually do it. That’s called learning. And part of being smart about brewing is understanding that not everything happens exactly the same way in every brewery. But whatever it is you are particularly liking in the beers you are drinking today — aromas that result from dry hopping, flavors the result from understanding the critters inside barrels, even the subtle cracker-like texture of a spot-on pale lager — there’s every chance that the brewer who made that beer learned a few things directly from another brewer. Or to put it another way, the second brewed shared something with the first without considering the quid pro quo. [Via Boston Magazine]

CAMRA – Heading for a High Wall?
A view from the inside. ([Via Tandleman’s Beer Blog]

17 Responses to The importance of being the local beer

  1. Mrmambo April 6, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    In terms of local loyalty, two big differences between wine and beer jump out: camaraderie and freshness. Beer tends to appeal to more of a mass audience, in particular a young one, who enjoys gathering at local breweries for “tours” on the days leading up to the weekends, supports their local breweries at festivals and bars, and enjoys sporting branded clothing and decals. In addition, beer usually demands freshness, especially at lower abv; local equals less distance travelled and more focus from nearby breweries, hence freshness and better quality.

  2. Alan April 6, 2015 at 7:30 am #

    “…without considering the quid pro quo….”?

    I don’t follow you. The entire basis of the “high tides raises all boats” “no competition in craft” Brewers Association uni goal is based (publicly at least) on what goes around comes around, that no man is an island, etc. Everyone entirely focused on the quid pro quo of market expansion.

    • Stan Hieronymus April 6, 2015 at 7:43 am #

      I don’t see this having anything to do with the Brewers Association. Nor have I argued that there is no competition in craft.

      • Alan April 6, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

        I was unclear on what you were saying, not what you weren’t saying.

        • Stan Hieronymus April 6, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

          I was saying that sharing has been an important part of passing along brewing knowledge. HIll mentions Chad Yakobson (misspelled in the original story, BTW) as a member of his sharing circle. But Yakobson posted all the research for his masters thesis, on Brettanomyces, online as it was happening. I’m not saying that brewers shouldn’t keep some secrets to themselves, but I am bothered by a statement that begins “If you have something to give me.”

          • Alan April 6, 2015 at 4:58 pm #

            But doesn’t that require imposing a pecking order that he does not necessarily acknowledge? It’s not like US micro invented brewing. What if he believes he relied mainly on his own wit and time? Ought he feel indebted if he feels he does not need to be?

  3. Alan April 6, 2015 at 7:32 am #

    PS: was there ever any doubt the “Brewers Association economist” would find otherwise?

    • Stan Hieronymus April 7, 2015 at 4:40 am #

      Do you share because you feel indebted?

  4. The Professor April 6, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    I really enjoyed the Shaun Hill link and upon reading it, was gratified to learn that (more and more these days, it seems) I am not alone in thinking along the same lines as many of the points Shaun made in this article. Interesting though, that whenever I’ve expressed these things in informal discussions, and (very) occasionally in writing, some supposed beer lovers have looked rather askance at me, or have acted as though I were some sort of heretic. LOL.
    In any case, I found most of what he opined to be absolutely ‘spot-on’. Of particular amusement was his calling out of the homebrewers who have (often ill advisedly) taken the plunge into commercial brewing when they really should have kept their efforts confined to their own garages and basements. Good beer truly is pretty easy to make…but just because someone loves something doesn’t guarantee they they will be skilled at it.
    Bravo Shaun, for telling it like it is.

  5. Bill April 6, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    “…there’s every chance that the brewer who made that beer learned a few things directly from another brewer. Or to put it another way, the second brewe[r] shared something with the first without considering the quid pro quo.” Well, except in many of these cases, brewer #1 was actually doing hands-on work with brewer #2, right? And honestly, in many other cases, sometimes you do something nice and hope that it comes back to you down the road. But neither of these scenarios involve being continually peppered with questions online, and while I’m sure that 90% of the folks who do that don’t realize they might be a little presumptuous, if I’m the person receiving all the questions, I might conclude that folks are looking for shortcuts. I might be wrong in many cases… but I’d still rather help the person who’s helping me scrub down the tanks, lug the sacks of malt, etc.

    I mean, I feel a bit guilty writing this, in that I presumptuously pepper you and others with questions online, but I suppose once in a while I can offer something useful about wine economics or coffee roasts or local beer/distributorship news, and I’m not going to be a direct competitor!

    • Stan Hieronymus April 6, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

      As somebody who gets similar questions all the time, more technical ones that you might ask, I understand how frustrating it can be to provide answers when often the best one is “you need to try this in your brewery” and people don’t get that. But Hill listed a circle of three. That’s what I noticed.

  6. Mark Grostick April 7, 2015 at 6:57 pm #

    I’m still confused about what bothers you about the Shaun Hill interview. Is it the sharing of knowledge between 3 people and not more?

    • Stan Hieronymus April 8, 2015 at 3:42 am #

      To be clear, I suggested reading the whole interview because he has interesting things to say. And not to take him out of context, but it is if sentence (again): “If you have something to give me, yeah, I’ll share with you.”.

  7. Joe Stange April 7, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

    I think we’re familiar with the sense of entitlement that comes with being able to get (or learn) virtually whatever you want from the Internet. People act as if they believe they have a right to it, whether a rare bottle of beer or a brewing “secret.”

    I suspect few people are in as good a place to appreciate that phenomenon as Shaun Hill, who makes excellent beers that can’t match the hype, because no beer can without a big fat dose of cognitive dissonance (e.g., I paid this much for a highly rated bottle, this must be what greatness tastes like.)

    So I understand his annoyance at people asking questions. But for selfish reasons I wish that he and ever other brewer would help every curious amateur that comes along. I am tired of tasting commercially available beers that should have stayed in the garage.

    • Stan Hieronymus April 9, 2015 at 4:54 am #

      Joe – To be fair to Shaun Hill there are only so many hours in a day. He can’t solve all our “Why the heck do you think this should be sold commercially” problems.

      And (to Mark, Alan, etc.), I don’t think it is a big deal if he chooses to keep whatever secret. I would be unhappy all brewers decided to quit communicating with each other or based those decisions on “if you have something to give me.”

  8. Alan April 13, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    Days later. You know I come from Scots parents. What you may not know is one cousin of my mother in the 1940s married a wonderful man named David Wardlaw. He was a whisky broker with the firm of MacLeod and MacLeod of Skye. His whole career out of his Glasgow office was based on knowledge of the notes of rare whiskies, some of which were bootlegged highland moonshine. Nothing, I have been told, was committed to paper. He ran his brokerage out of a pub he kept in Glasgow after his war service. His pub had a large amount of “Mabel, Black Label” advertising as that was my mother’s cousin’s name.” He spent WW2 stationed in West Africa from where he mailed coconuts to his relatives by affixing a label to them then sending them home via the Royal Navy. He never heard a gun fired apparently. My uncle told me in January that the office consisted of hundreds of numbered bottles which, when a blender ran out of a supply of a particular aspect of the blend, was recreated through Davey reimagining the note from a bit of #127 plus a drop of #311 after it was left in the shadow of #87. He was a dapper, discrete and kind man who kept a gardener for a backyard of no more than 50 x 100 feet in my mother’s small town. I spent the summer of my 14th year in his attic bedroom, heard that Elvis died on a BBC radio show. I made him pancakes one morning as he smoked at he breakfast table reading the horse racing pages. He taught me how to drink a pot of tea. He owned a lease allowing one week every year on a stretch of a river on an estate for salmon fishing. He served his catch the rest of the year smoked to guests. He served unbonded illegal single malt moonshine at my Dad’s three day 1956 bachelor party. He quietly fixed my great-aunts bathroom himself so she would be more comfortable in her old age. She had been a nurse at the front in the Africa campaign. I think he kept secrets. I assume the good stuff is always based on well placed secrets.

  9. Gary Gillman April 15, 2015 at 7:40 am #

    On the quid pro quo aspect: I believe the sharing of knowledge and information you see in the brewing industry, the communal aspect, is a vestige of the time when brewers would supply yeast to other brewers, or other ingredients, when they ran short for some reason. In a simpler time, this mutual support helped everyone and it is characteristic to a degree of any small community. People help each other in small communities even in business. The Internet though can multiply the number of these requests and they can probably become unmanageable for busy people, I take Hill’s point fully. He’s not contesting the idea of community and support but just its extent, fully understandable.

    Gary

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