The shadows are getting longer on this late afternoon in early autumn as I pull in from a long bike ride. I need a beer. Like most of us in North America these days, I’ll probably head down the road to the local brewery to quench my thirst or stop by a taproom that stocks a selection of beers brewed in the region.
Many of us have heard or even uttered variations of the following: Drinking beer brewed locally connects us with the place where we live. Drinking locally is a deliberate act that signals a rejection of mass-produced wares. Beer brewed by the sweat of the brow of the folks down the road is more authentic than the fizzy liquid that flows forth from large factories across the land. Beer brewed locally tastes better. And beer brewed locally might just taste of the place in which it was brewed.
But what does it actually mean when we say we “drink local”? This is a question I have entertained since the earliest days of A Tempest in a Tankard. I started thinking about it again after reading a recent article entitled “The Next Big Thing in Beer is Being a Small Taproom.” Of course, being a small taproom means selling most, if not all, of what you brew to patrons who live within a stein’s toss of the brewery. Local is in like it hasn’t been since the days before Prohibition.
As I begin to re-formulate my thoughts on locality, place, terroir, aura, and authenticity for a few new projects, I thought it might be worthwhile to isolate questions I have couched within longer Tempest articles and pose them here in relatively open-ended form. Chime in with your thoughts!
1. Do we feel more connected to locally-brewed beer than we do to beers brewed elsewhere?
2. What do we mean when we say “authentically local”? Who and what do we exclude in this place-marking gesture?
3. What does it mean to be “local”? Is it the brewery itself, rooted in its particular place, or is it the ingredients? Does the brewery down the street brew with “locally-sourced” ingredients, or does it brew with malt from Germany, the United Kingdom, or Belgium?
4. Does the use of internationally-sourced ingredients at the brewery on the corner render its beer less “local”?
5. What are the spatial constraints of the term local? Does it refer to ingredients produced within a hundred kilometers of the brewery, or –– if the brewery is, say, Belgian –– can the term also refer to hops produced in Bavaria’s Hallertau region but used in Brussels?
6. What if your “local” beer is brewed under contract in a different region or state? Who decides, in the end, what constitutes a locally-brewed beer?
7. What about the brewer who simply can’t brew a beer with “local” ingredients? Is the beer produced at a brewery amid the warehouses of a light industrial district any less “authentically local” than the beer that contains maple syrup tapped from trees on the brewer’s land?
8. In recent years some commentators have suggested that brewers and their innovations are a more decisive component of “terroir” than the soil in which the hops or grain are grown. Does this sentiment stretch the notion of terroir to its breaking point? Or is there something to it?
9. Beer was once stamped with a sense of place due to a number of factors beyond the control of local brewers. Nowadays, brewers in Austin can create helles Bier that tastes like those brewed in München. What happens to the uniqueness of terroir when skilled brewers separated by an ocean can make beer that tastes virtually identical?
10. Beers may be a reflection of place, but can we “taste place” in beer?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please take a moment to address any of these questions in the comments. Cheers!
If you’re interested in how I have approached these questions, check out the following articles:
Images by F.D. Hofer.
© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.