The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.
When I began to think about this month's topic I wasn't exactly sure where I was going with my thought pattern. The rise of the term "local" beer bothered me in the beginning. I'm much more for education than I am for marketing buzz words. I never really considered beer made down the street as "local" for a very long time. Malt comes from around the world, hops come mainly from the Pacific Northwest, Germany, and a big rise in hops from New Zealand. Many yeast strains originate from the around the world as well. The only really local thing was water, but then brewers would treat the water and add chemicals to it to make it taste like water from somewhere else. I often wondered if I started a restaurant and brought in all my ingredients from all over the world and called myself "local" what kind of reaction that would make? It also bothered me that places that were telling me to support local and support their brand, but were selling their beer several states away. What were you telling those people in those markets that were several states away?
That is what I use to think. I now consider many beers and breweries local to me. I'm not going to spell out what "local" means to me in terms of geography because I don't think it is a matter of geography, but a matter of community. Local to me means bringing about a sense of community and a sense of belonging. An overall sense of something that I am part of, and something that makes the community I live in a better place. The craft beer non-sense around ultra limited one-offs, wait lists 300 deep for a new beer, tap takeovers, Ebay sales, and just other general ass-hattery is killing that sense of local-ism for me. That is part of the craft beer landscape now, but you can stay away from that and still enjoy what our great brewers have to offer.
When the importance of "who" you are drinking is more important than "what" you are drinking it is a dangerous tipping point for the craft beer community. That needs to change, and our beer community is how that will change. How did I come to make this switch in my feelings about the term local though? Many important things I've been apart of in my life involved beer. I've been at several brewpubs for rehearsal dinners, gatherings with my friends at bars and breweries, weekends away at beer festivals, good times and bad times happened to me with a beer in my hand. I've said goodbye to friends that were moving, met new friends that are now in my circle, and I said goodbye to someone for the last time before they left this earth over a pint of beer. I don't remember what I was drinking when those moments happened, but I damn sure remember the moment and the association with beer. Places like the Broad Ripple Brew Pub, Brugge, Sun King tap room, Oaken Barrel, MacNiven's, Chatam Tap, and the Flat 12 tap room hold special meaning for me. Not so much for the beer they have (even though I went there first because of it) but because they are part of my community. I know the people that own them, and in some cases I've met their wives and children, and I'm happy to patron those places and support people I know. Great beer is great beer, but I'm trying my best to never lose sight of what beer really is and that is a reason to be with friends and family and talk and experience life as it happens. You can find "local" beer anywhere in the country. It can be found in places like the Schlafly Taproom, Founders Taproom, The Horsebrass Pub, Toronado, The Publican, The Old Fashioned in Madison Wisconsin, and any place where people come together for great beer and hang out with good people. That is what local beer is all about to me, and I hope I get to keep enjoying that sense of local and community for a very long time to come no matter where I happen to be in the world at the time.
Why does local beer matter? It matters because of what it means and represents for an entire community of beer lovers, brewers, and the people that patron them. Is local beer better? I certainly think so.