The Session #61: What makes local beer better?

The SessionIt’s the first Friday of the month, and that means it’s time for another round of The Session: collaborative beer blogging in which a given “host” for the month suggests a topic and everyone else (whether “beer” or “regular” blogger) writes something about that topic. Our host will then compile the links from all the participants, pulling together all the unique perspectives everyone brings to the table.

The month is also a special one for The Session: it was exactly five years ago, on March 2, 2007, that the very first Session took place: that month we wrote about stouts (“Not Your Father’s Irish Stout” was the topic suggested by founder Stan Hieronymus), and, interestingly, my own review of my local Deschutes Brewery‘s Obsidian Stout somewhat ties in with this month’s topic, five years later: What makes local beer better?

Matt of the Hoosier Beer Geek blog brings us this topic, and says:

The topic I’ve been thinking about is local beer. The term is being used by just about every craft brewer in the country. What does it really mean though?  Is it more of a marketing term or is there substance behind the moniker? This month I want to think about what makes local beer better?  I’m not just talking about the beer itself, although it’s the focal point, but what makes local beer better?  My connection to local beer is far from thinking that my beer is actually “local.” Maybe you don’t agree with me, and you can write about that. Bonus points for writing about your favorite local beer and the settings around it being local to you.

I don’t believe touting “local beer” is strictly marketing—but it’s not strictly accurate either. Consider: the beer itself might be brewed locally, but where did the malt and hops come from? For the vast majority of breweries, that answer is probably “not locally”: the malt may have come from Briess in Wisconsin, or farther; the hops are probably from the Pacific Northwest—or New York, or even England or Germany.

On the other hand, local beer is still brewed locally, regardless of where the ingredients come from, and when it comes down to it, I believe there are two reasons why local beer—even when the ingredients come from afar—is better:

  • Freshness. With few exceptions, beer is meant to be consumed fresh, and you will never find fresher beer than the bière du jour that your local brewpub put on tap that very day.
  • The Brewer(s).  Quite simply, they are members of your community and they have a passion for beer—and a vested interest in making sure they’re sharing that passion with you, the consumer. Sure, their beer might be popular in out-of-state markets—but their bread and butter comes from their local market, their community.

Fresh beer made by someone who’s connected and (hopefully) cares about the community—to my way of thinking that’s exactly why local beer is better.

(Of course here in Oregon we are spoiled by “local”—we are one of the major hop growing regions in the world so local hops is a no-brainer and we even have some breweries that are growing their own barley. And Wyeast is located in Hood River. So yes, my view of “local” might be clouded—but it’s clouded in a good way!)