It’s the beginning of the month, which means it’s time for The Session: where I, and a group of other beer bloggers, all write about a central topic. This month is hosted at Ding’s Beer Blog, with the topic of ‘What the hell has America done to beer?‘, AKA, ‘USA versus Old World Beer Culture‘:
Anyone with any inkling of my online, in-person and blogging presence in the American beer world since 2000, will know that the whole of my beer experience in that time has been colored by, sits against the backdrop of, and forms the awkward juxtaposition to, my English beer heritage and what has been happening the USA in the last few years. Everyone knows that I have been very vocal about this for a very long time, so when it came to thinking about what would be a great ‘Session’ topic, outside of session beer, it seemed like that there could be only one topic; ‘What the hell has America done to beer?‘, AKA, ‘USA versus Old World Beer Culture‘.
This probably won’t be pretty, and you’re probably not gonna like it much, but hey, what’s new?
What have we done?
Made… beer? I’m going to have to give a few disclaimers here. For one, if we’re talking about the influence of US brewers, good or bad, then you need to understand I’m approaching from the perspective of a US brewer. I generally try to come at these editorial posts as “a guy who likes beer” and not “a guy who owns a brewery,” but I’m not going to pretend I don’t have unconscious biases.
Then: I’ve fallen out of the beer blogging world in recent years and so I don’t know much about Ding. From this short post I gather he has been somewhat cranky about US breweries and beer trends. I’m fine with that: we’re not perfect. But it puts me in a position to either be second-wave-beer-lover and say “Yeah, we aren’t that great!” or to dig in and don a stars-and-bars cape while I fight for the rights of every man.
I don’t want to do either of those. So: I looked at some of his recently commented upon posts and found the ‘Top 10′ myths that the US craft beer fad has perpetuated amongst the newbs. We agree on some things (it’s still hard to find beer under 4%), disagree on others (obviously we’re proponents for more breweries, though I think it would be naive to assume 100% of them who open nationally will succeed: Buffalo, however, did and does have a market waiting to be filled) and I think some of the points are strawmen (more taps always being better, etc).
But: there was one that stuck out to me, that I could write about, and so let’s head down that path, shall we?
“All local beer is good”
No, it’s not.
Well, let’s back up. I don’t think that local beer (or local anything) is inherently good. It’s simply local.
I think that in and of itself is beneficial. I admit that I’m a neo-yuppie in that I bike to work and try to not eat much meat and think finding a deal on squash at the farmer’s market is a great time.
However, the geographical proximity of the producer of an item is only one thing I consider when I’m making a purchasing decision. There are many factors that are weighted differently depending on the situation and my current whims:
- The quality
- The price
- Whether the company is, yes, locally owned
- The convenience
- The political or social positions publicly espoused by the company or its owners
I think that a good number of people drink CBW because it’s local, and for that we thank you. However, I would also guess that they aren’t just drinking it because it’s from Buffalo. Nobody is at Cole’s joylessly downing pints of Frank just because they grew up on Lafayette. If we charged $30 for a growler I don’t think we’d have many takers. If you had to be personally referred by a previous customer in order to get access to a secret monthly, hour-long midnight retail session, ditto.
(As for the last one, it’s personal and doesn’t matter until it does, but if a company or its owners make a point of supporting causes or organizations I find reprehensible, well, there are other places I can get a chicken sandwich.)
So: drink local. Buy local. Unless it’s not good, or you don’t want to. I’m not your dad. (Unless I am, in which case: kid, you’re three, how did you get here?) Be thinking about it, but don’t necessarily plan your entire life around it.
Hmm. Interesting points. They compel me to share what I perceive as the periodic failure of “local”.
I have some friends who started a winery. This winery was launched far away from me, and they proudly (and admirably) marched into their business flying the “local” banner. I admired their initiative and efforts from afar, and wondered how I could possibly support them since I just wasn’t all that “local”. But they had a fundraiser or two which I happily contributed to, and when I happened to visit I swept floors and tidied up around the winery so they could back to stomping grapes or whatever it was they needed to do. It wasn’t much of anything, but it was what I could offer to let them get on with what it.
Sometime later when the winery started to catch on, I noticed a Facebook pic of an impossibly bad tent sign that they had propped up outside their winery. It was a lovely plastic tent sign, but unfortunately the winery-specific part was a crummy 8.5×11 b/w printout of their logo and some text. I looked at that sign and thought “well, I know they know better, but I’ll assume that they just don’t have the funds yet to dress that sign up a bit. hey! I have some extra materials, a decent eye for design and some extra time, and what a great opportunity to help my friends! I’ll offer them some bigger, more colorful signs to tide them over until they have the funds to get someone in their community to make them the signs they really need.”
I made my offer, delighted that I had found what I thought was a novel way to offer my support from afar. I mean, its not like I could even mail-order their wine. That would get them in trouble. OK, as support goes it was a reach, but it was a genuine heartfelt offer to do what I could for them.
The response? “Well, we talked about it, and we appreciate it and all, but you’re just not… local.”
My response? Don’t ask. They sure didn’t.