Showing posts with label localisation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label localisation. 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".

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Session #99 - Roundup

Well, that was the Session that was, and this is the round up that is. The theme for Session #99 was on localising mild, and we got an interesting array of responses.

Over in Ireland, The Beer Nut got 'historically pedantic' and pointed out that most modern beer would be considered 'mild' due to the focus on freshness. Staying in Ireland, The Drunken Destrier suggests than making an 'Irish' mild would largely be an exercise in dropping the booze on an Irish Red Ale while asking the question 'do we want or need a 3-4% ABV red/brown ale with little hop character and low gravity?' Meanwhile, my good friend Reuben of The Tale of the Ale, aka 'johnny come lately' on account of his post being a week late, suggested the possibility of going native with an Irish mild by using 'bog fauna like heather and bog myrtle', an idea I have to admit I like, being a fan of Williams Brothers and their collection of historical ales.

Coming back to this side of the Pond, Sean Inman of Beer Search Party wondered how to create a mild that would appeal to a 'Brit living in L.A.' as an homage to both the homeland and the locale. Fellow VA blogger, American Mild Month co-conspirator, and all round good top bloke, Tom Cizauskas took to Yours For Good Fermentables to discuss 'The Audacity of Mild'. Jon at The Brew Site suggested a pumpkin mild for the US or a manioc mild in Brazil, before telling us about a beer called Murican Mild. Stan Hieronymous points out that beer can also be localised when it is 'part of the local fabric'.

Up in Canada, Alan, of A Good Beer Blog, took the opportunity to compare the situation for mild drinkers today with that of the last time mild featured as a topic for the Session. In the southern reaches of the Americas, Bolivian homebrewer The Brewolero engaged in an 'imagination exercise' for localising mild to the ingredients available in East Asia, in particular Cambodia and Vietnam.

Heading over to mainland Europe, Joan Villar-i-Martí of Birraire tells us that mild is not a popular style among his fellow Catalans. Skipping up to Berlin, Joe Stange wants to 'abstract the mild' so that it can fit in his sitz im leben, wherever his leben is sitzing at that time.

And there we have it. Thanks to everyone that took part! If I missed your post in the roundup, let me know and I'll rectify that as soon as possible. Cheers people!!

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.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Drink Local?

I like to support local business. I like local beer, local wine, local cheeses, local cider, locally made bread, local meat. Supporting local food producers is a good thing in my book. Living in Central Virginia means there are lots of local food producers to support.

Friday was the 6th anniversary since that fateful night at Pivovarsky klub when I met Mrs V for the very first time, and so we decided to go out for a nice meal. The meal was nice, if a touch on the skimpy side portion wise, you don't get to be velky by eating maly portions. The wine was pricey, the beer was not unduly. I left the restaurant with mixed feelings, basically if the portions had been about 35% bigger it would have been better, as would a warning about the presence of nuts in a starter. My overwhelming sense though was one of wondering what beer has to do to be taken seriously in the restaurant world?

The restaurant in question, trumpets its support for local farmers on its menu, has a couple of local wines on their list, and precisely zero local beer. Apparently the Octoberfest lager being made and sold by Blue Mountain isn't good enough for this place, but the Erdinger Oktoberfest is. While the Erdinger was decent enough, I'd happily paid the same amount of money for a bottle of something that hadn't come all the way from Germany. One of the reasons I was quite happy to go to this particular restaurant was that they had listed a couple of Blue Mountain beers on their website menu, including the 151 K?lsch which I very much enjoy, but the real menu didn't have anything local.

While I like my beers from around the world, I would like to see more support for our local beers in Charlottesville restaurants. Sure, places like Outback and Applebee's have stuff from Starr Hill, but you have ask what local brews they have. Thankfully, unlike a certain place in Florida, their staff also happen to know that Miller Lite is not a local beer. I can think of places here that have an, admittedly delicious, IPA from Eastern Virginia on tap, but nothing local other than in bottles.

It seems as though every year I have lived in Charlottesville multiple bits of bling have made their way from the Great American Beer Festival to this area. Yet getting a pint of draft local beer in many of the pubs here is a serious pain in the arse, unless of course you go to one of the brewpubs themselves. Perhaps too many places are trying to be sexy and trendy rather than supporting their excellent local brewers?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Is Your Beer Local?

Buy Fresh, Buy Local. A nice slogan for an idea which I have a lot of sympathy for. I like to support local brewers, Mrs Velkyal and I enjoy days out fruit picking in the counties surrounding Charlottesville, and then making jams, chutneys and booze with the produce, we sometimes wander up to the farmers markets in the area and see if there is anything of interest (cynical aside, I really didn't know that bead jewellery grew on a farm!). So yes, in a perfect world, I would be happy to buy most of the stuff I eat and drink from local suppliers.

I have said many times that one of the things that Mrs V and I both love about this part of Virginia is that it is so booze friendly, wineries aplenty, a slew of good breweries, cider makers and even distillers. Yes, it is good to be a drinker in central Virginia. Even so, my overactive brain has been getting the better of me of late with regards to buying fresh and local, and wondering if there isn't an element of hypocrisy within the beer world in promoting such an idea?

I find it a little disingenuous for brewers to support the "buy local" concept when it comes to consumers going to the pub or supermarket and making their choice for the evening, but then not supporting local suppliers when it comes to buying their own ingredients. I think this is particularly pertinent here in Virginia, where during the Colonial Era, the Commonwealth was essentially the Kent of the Colonies. By the middle of the 19th century, Virginia alone was producing nearly 700 imperial tons of hops a year (that's 750 US tons or 680 metric tons). Hops were once an integral part of Virginia agriculture, just like tobacco. Unfortunately I couldn't find any figures on commercial hop farms, but I do know that Blue Mountain Brewery has a small hop farm, as do Devils Backbone, and both support a local hop farmer.

This kind of thinking is something that should be encouraged. If brewers are going to jump on the buy local bandwagon as a way of inducing people to buy their beer, then they should likewise make a commitment to buying locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Obviously brewers need to source their ingredients from wherever they can in the absence of local providers, but encouraging small businesses by buying up their crops is one way that could encourage greater localisation of the beer that we buy. It might also serve as an antidote to the increasing blandness of many a brewery's lineup of beer, which, let's face it, is becoming as boringly dominated by IPA and other assorted hop bombs as the macro brewing industry is dominated by pale lager.

Who knows, if brewers were to source their ingredients locally, we might end up with the situation were a Virginia IPA becomes as distinct from a West Coast IPA as it would be from an English IPA. The alternative would be admitting that none of the ingredients are locally sourced and the carbon footprint of the beer in your hand is far higher than you would like to think about.

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...