When was the last time you heard someone say, “Support your local brewer”? Seems like it’s been a while.
Of course, your “local brewer” has changed over the years. Growing up in Bowling Green, OH in the 70’s, my dad drank Rolling Rock because it was from the local brewery, a mere 300 miles away in Latrobe, PA. By the 90’s when I was a graduate student at Ohio State, the city of Columbus finally had its own brewery, but you couldn’t find their beer at campus bars, so going out with friends and having a few “Rocks” was still drinking local. Rolling Rock just had that unique flavor you couldn’t find with other beers, which I suppose was why we preferred it. Never mind that unique flavor in each bottle of Rolling Rock was from massive amounts of dimethyl sulfide, widely considered a brewing defect.
With so many new breweries popping up today blanketing the landscape, it’s hard to say which ones are actually local. This was apparent the day I attended a beer dinner in Los Gatos a couple years ago featuring a San Francisco Bay area brewery located about 40 miles away. The brewery’s representative exhorted the crowd to drink his beer because it was from their local brewer. He was seemingly unaware that he was standing about a block away from Los Gatos Brewing Company, which would probably beg to differ as to who the local brewer in Los Gatos was. In fact, I counted at least six breweries closer to where he was standing, proclaiming himself as our local brewer, than where his brewery was actually located. And yet, despite this apparent contradiction in brewing geography, his claim to be our local brewer somehow seemed genuine. Maybe that’s because his beer was better than most of the beers from the technically more local” breweries.
One by-product of the commercial success of craft beer is that through inevitable industry consolidation and increased distribution, craft beer is becoming more national and less regional. We’re losing something in that.
My local brewer happens to be Devil’s Canyon in my home town of Belmont, CA. I’ve had so many pints of Silicon Blonde, Deadicated Amber, and Full Boar Scotch Ale there’s a warm familiarity each time I have one. The beers from my local brewer have a unique character, nuance, and flavor profile which make them unmistakably local. I’ve had beers from far away lands like Kenya and Thailand which have a unique character, nuance, and flavor profile which make them unmistakably foreign. Drinking a pint of Deadicated Amber is like being out with an old friend. Drinking a pint of beer from a distant brewery is like meeting a new friend.
But that’s just my opinion. Psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists have struggled to figure out why local seems better for years. Maybe that’s because geographers and economists are still debating what “local” means.