Opening my refrigerator and looking around inside, I have no idea where most of the food come from. A gallon of milk most likely comes for California dairy farms from thousands of square miles from California’s Central Valley. On the door rack are condiments, pickles, salad dressings and sauces from anonymous factories scattered all over the globe. The lunch meat could be from, well anywhere. The orange juice from someplace in Southern California or Mexico but it might have come all the way from Florida. Even the fresh, locally grown organic strawberries come from a wide swatch of land covering thousands of acres. But the Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout or the Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale? I know where these beers came from to almost the exact foot.
So when Brian and Maria at the Roaming Pint ask why we are drawn to visit breweries for this month’s Session, I’d have to say a big part of this attraction is because beer is one of the few things we ingest where we know almost exactly where it comes from. Beer is rare, coming from somewhere rather being from “out there”. So given beer’s unique attribute, it’s not surprising we take advantage to connect with beer by visiting the exact location where it’s from. At the brewery, you can often see the beer being made right there, transforming you from a passive drinker to an actual participant in the entire brewing process. At least that’s the way I feel whenever I’m at a brewery, even though I’m not actually shoveling hops into the brew kettle.
|I know where the stuff on the right comes from,
but not the stuff on the left
Are there other reasons we visit breweries? I think so. For the past forty years, beer has been the focus of a cultural war between deeply entrenched, corporate near-monopolies producing high volume mass market product and smaller, regional entrepreneurs forging their own unique brewing identities. While this war has been fought in the shelves of liquor and grocery stores, and in bars and restaurants, it’s the breweries which has become the virtual battlefields of this struggle.
A trip to Sierra Nevada or Anchor Brewing has become a pilgrimage to a craft beer mecca, a place where key events occurred to launch the craft brewing revolution in the United States. Never mind that the current locations of both these breweries aren’t the actual places where Fritz Maytag and Ken Grossman first transformed beer. These new brewery locations still somehow hold onto those symbolic distinctions from the past.
At least that’s the way I see it. Do we really know why we’re drawn to breweries? I suppose we can make some good guesses, but sooner or later we find ourselves again at a brewery, whether or not we understand why.