Showing posts with label local beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label local beer. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Question of Locality

Everyone and his mate, it seems, loves to bang on about "local beer", even though as I have written before the whole concept of "local" beer is fraught with problems:
"so often the ingredients being used by "local breweries" are anything but local. Malts come from Canada, the UK, Belgium and sometimes Germany, hops likewise come from a raft of countries, including the latest craze for Antipodean hops. Yeast is sourced from multinational companies with libraries of strains again spanning the globe. Want to brew a witbier? No problem, order a Belgian yeast specifically for use in witbiers, use the Weihenstephan strain for making a German hefeweizen, Nottingham for an English ale, or even Prague's Staropramen for making that Bohemian pilsner you've been dreaming about.

That pretty much leaves the water as the only genuinely local element of a beer, but how many breweries strip their water of all the minerals and salts which make regional water a driving force in the history of developing beer styles and then add back the required minerals for a particular style? Imagine London and Dublin had soft water instead of hard, porter and it's offspring, stout, would likely be very different beers."
That may sound like a strange comment to make given that I am someone that drinks far more beer from the area in which I live than stuff brought in from the wider world. It just so happens that I live in a part of Virginia with plenty of good breweries. If my choices were a third rate local craft brewery and buying Sam Adams in the store, I'd be on the Sam Adams all day long. Drinking local only really works when the drinking is a pleasurable experience rather than an industry induced guilt trip. In all the industry's posturing and waffle about supporting and drinking local (and no doubt some people will say that you should drink local shit so the brewery has funds to improve, as if shiny toys make better beer for a brewer with no sense of taste), it feels as though the locals themselves get forgotten about.

Can a brewery for example truly call itself "local" if it relies on daytrippers and tourists for a large bulk of its revenue, or if the price of a pint excludes its nearest neighbours from being able to drink there? There was a story I read recently about a brewery owner looking for a new location because the expected gentrification of the neighbourhood in which he pitched his tent didn't happen and his target audience didn't feel safe enough to visit his brewery. Now, call me a miserable git, but if you expect your audience to take their lives in their own hands and come to a rough neighbourhood for a bevvy while you wait for potential gentrification then you deserve to go under. If you want "nice" people to come and drop $6+ for a 16oz pint of whatever you are selling then work that into your business plan and go to areas they frequent.

How exactly the presence of a new brewery in a rough neighbourhood benefits that neighbourhood often escapes me. Job creation is often lauded as being a benefit, but then the people that fill the jobs being created are often likewise bussed in from outisde the neighbourhood. Indirect benefits to other local businesses gets touted too, but as daytripping tourists come in their cars, drink their flight, then leave in their cars, I wonder what other neighbourhood businesses benefit? Unless there is a petrol station to hand.

For millennia beer has been the everyman drink and the pub a social leveller, but there are times when it seems as though craft beer is for white, college educated, middle class folks, and the craft beer bar/brewpub/taproom little more than a ghetto in which white, college educated, middle class folks can feel safe from the marauding hoard that is the working class of their imagination. It's almost as though there is an unspoken code that only acceptable people are worthy of craft beer, as the industry and its attendant hangers on sneer at the great unwashed and decree "let them drink Bud".

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Localising the Revolution

For some reason that escapes me, I have been thinking about the so-called 'craft beer revolution' an awful lot so far this month. Maybe it's the absence of alcohol in the bloodstream? Anyway, I was thinking about the origins of this 'revolution', (though I prefer the term renaissance) and in looking at early pioneers there seemed to be a common theme. Essentially it boiled down to taking established beer styles from the UK, Germany, Belgium, chucking in a shit ton of Cascade, Centennial, or Columbus hops and labelling the beer an 'American 'Insert Beer Style'. Imitation being the highest form of flattery, lots of aspiring brewers jumped onboard and thus the American Pale Ale was born, an offshot of the English Pale Ale, the American IPA was born, an offshot of the early English IPAs, and so on and so forth (this may be an oversimplified view of history, but I think it holds water as a general scheme of things).

The best thing about this renaissance was not being cowed by a given beer style, for want of a better word, and using ingredients that were more readily at hand to create something both identifiably within a tradition but also unique, and the drinking world would be all the poorer without Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, perhaps the archetype of my theme here.

Skip forward some thirty years to the modern day and you have a situation where the 'craft beer revolution' has spread beyond its American heartland to the wider world. Breweries in the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, and Belgium, for example, are taking American styles and brewing them for their own markets. Personally I think this is a pity in many ways.

Mrs V and I are planning to head back across the ocean again this year, though this time back to what we consider in oh so many ways our spiritual home, Prague. We are both looking forward again to long walks by the Vltava, the Christmas markets, and sitting with our friends drinking excellent beer in watering holes like Pivovarsky klub. I am already looking forward to my first p?llitr of a well made desítka. I doubt I will be drinking much in the way of pale ales hopped with Cascade, Amarillo, or Citra. What would interest me though would be a Czech brewery doing Czech interpretations of the 'new' styles that are sweeping the beer world (there's an interesting circularity in that but I won't unpack it here). Imagine a Czech IPA, hopped with Kazbek, Saaz, or Premiant.

Maybe brewers in other countries could do likewise? A German stout using Tettnang and fermented with an altbier yeast strain, a Belgian IPA where all the ingredients are actually Belgian rather than just the yeast, more British 'craft' breweries having faith in both traditional and new British hop varieties

I guess my fear here is that the wave of innovation, creativity and excitement around beer could be diluted if 'craft beer' becomes defined in the minds of many as being 'pale beer made with New World hops', much like the multinational brewing industry became defined as being 'pale lager of indeterminate flavour'. The seemingly inexorable rise of American hopped IPA (and variants) is, in my as ever unhumble opinion, in danger of becoming as dull and uninspiring as the mass produced pale lager.

Friday, June 13, 2014

In Praise of the Brewery Tap

I went to the pub the other day, shock horror, and something has been on my mind ever since.

The pub in question had a good selection, including a decent range of local beers and those from further afield, such as:
  • Champion Killer Kolsch
  • Three Notch'd Hydraulion
  • 21st Amendment Bitter American
  • Bell's Oberon
Something that piqued my interest was the pricing. The 2 local beers in that list, Champion and Three Notch'd, were priced at $5 and $6 for a pint respectively, and the beers from further away were both $5.

Said pub is about equidistant between the two local breweries, so what would be the reason for the extra $1 in price? Sure it could be the extra 0.3% abv that Hydraulion has over Killer Kolsch, though the extra 0.3% abv, but given that Blue Mountain's very nice Full Nelson was likewise priced at $5 on the menu and is 0.6% abv more than Hydraulion, I assume not.


This little vignette shows the one big annoyance of mine with retailers of 'craft' beer, their sheer inconsistency when it comes to pricing similar products, oh and don't get me started about places claiming to have hundreds of 'craft' beers and then including Estrella, Guinness, and Leffe in their lists.


I guess this is one of the reasons why I find myself drinking more and more locally produced beer ('local' beer is a total misnomer given that ingredients are shipped in from around the world) in the places where they were brewed. I prefer my money to be going directly to the producers of the beer rather than through the mitts of various middle men. One of the best things to happen to Virginia beer is the passing into law of SB604, which allowed breweries to sell pints through their tasting rooms.

The brewery tap is fast becoming the best place to drink, and support, local producers of beer. Long may it continue.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vive La Difference?

There was a recently a story in a local newspaper that Stone Brewing are looking at building their second brewing facility (sounds so much more 'craft' than 'factory' don't you think?) in the Charlottesville area, specifically near Crozet. Of course this caused much excitement, and likely no little disappointment should they choose to go elsewhere. It also got me thinking.

Let's imagine that the powers that be bend over backwards to bring Stone to this part of Central Virginia, tempting them with all manner of sweeteners, tax-breaks, and sundried incentives, and behold in a couple of years Stone II is open for business. Central Virginia is already becoming something a must visit area for beer tourism, just look at all the award winning breweries we have here, and Devils Backbone picked up more bling at this year's World Beer Cup. Naturally people will want to visit Stone, and I am sure they would in their droves.

There is a question though that nags away in the back of my head, would it not be utterly disingenuous to consider Stone a 'local' brewery, or their beer as 'local'? Sure it would be 'locally brewed', and having access to fresh Pale Ale would most assuredly be a 'good thing', but would it have the same sense of place as Full Nelson from Blue Mountain, Starr Hill's Grateful, or Three Notch'd 40 Mile? I realise that the very concept of 'local' beer is a massive misnomer given ingredients pour into breweries from around the world, and even the water has its localness stripped out quite often. However, there is something romantic about drinking beer made by breweries born and raised in your local area.

The same goes for all the big breweries in the process of setting up secondary plants on the East Coast, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium in North Carolina, and Green Flash in Virginia Beach. Sure it'll be great to have fresher beer, but I don't think I will ever be able to think of it as local, it'll just be another national brand made in multiple factories, likely by the very latest in technological brewing plants. In fact it will be no more local, in my mind, than Blue Moon being made just up the road in Elkton, or Budweiser down in Williamsburg.

If someone could just explain to me, in words of one syllable or less, how exactly the likes of Sierra Nevada, Stone, and New Belgium doing pretty much exactly what Anheuser-Busch did about 70 years ago is different? Enjoying the growth of the post-war economy, producing more than 3 million barrels a year, Anheuser-Busch opened secondary plants to bring fresh beer to their consumers. Oh, and by 'explanation' that doesn't include kraft-aid giveaway phrases like 'crafty', misleading consumers' 'tricking' or anything else that attempts to set up the straw man that Sierra Nevada, Stone, and New Belgium are anything other than big brewing concerns. Just because 'craft' is trendy doesn't make their doing exactly the same as AB all those years ago any different, or better, or worse.

It's just business.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Local? Really?


One of my infrequent jaunts into the world of The Session today, the theme for which is "local beer" and is hosted by Matt over at Hoosier Beer Geek.

I like to support my local breweries, especially people such as Devils Backbone, Starr Hill and Blue Mountain Brewery. I am not a fan of South Street Brewery in the centre of Charlottesville, and I am yet to get out to Wild Wolf. However, is there a distinction between local breweries and local beer?

My problem with the term "local beer" is that so often the ingredients being used by "local breweries" are anything but local. Malts come from Canada, the UK, Belgium and sometimes Germany, hops likewise come from a raft of countries, including the latest craze for Antipodean hops. Yeast is sourced from multinational companies with libraries of strains again spanning the globe. Want to brew a witbier? No problem, order a Belgian yeast specifically for use in witbiers, use the Weihenstephan strain for making a German hefeweizen, Nottingham for an English ale, or even Prague's Staropramen for making that Bohemian pilsner you've been dreaming about.

That pretty much leaves the water as the only genuinely local element of a beer, but how many breweries strip their water of all the minerals and salts which make regional water a driving force in the history of developing beer styles and then add back the required minerals for a particular style? Imagine London and Dublin had soft water instead of hard, porter and it's offspring, stout, would likely be very different beers. For decades after Josef Groll developed the Pilsner style of pale lager, the brewers of Munich struggled to create a pale beer using the Munich water, until Spaten cracked it in the 1890s.

So when a brewery adds foreign malts and foreign hops to a stripped out water source, modified to mimic the water from Burton, Dublin or Plzeň, and ferments the resultant wort with a foreign yeast strain, can you in all honesty call that beer "local"? Sure it might be "craft", whatever that pointless term means, but let's not get misty eyed and romantic and think of it as local beer.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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