Tag Archives: buy local

What does it mean to “drink locally”?

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.

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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?

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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:

A Reflection of Place, But Dimly

Pinning Down Place

Romancing the Local

Returning for Another Sip of Terroir

Images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Tempest Turns Nine Months Young: An Index of Writing to Date

Cue up all the old clichés about time’s swift passage, for it has been three-quarters of a year now since I posted my first article on A Tempest in a Tankard. Thanks for all the support over these past several months! I’ve learned plenty from all of your insightful comments.IMG_9931 I’ve also learned much just by traveling around to do the interviews and research for Tempest’s articles, to say nothing of the people I’ve met who have led some fascinating lives. No two brewers took the same journey to their brew kettles and fermenters.

On the occasion of Tempest’s nine-month birthday, I’m putting together an index of articles that I’ve written to date. I’ve decided to do this for a few reasons. First and foremost, I’d like to introduce newer readers of Tempest to some of the previous articles buried deep in the virtual archives of the blog.

Second, I don’t really write pieces that are “of the moment.” I’d like to think that much of what I write––brewery profiles, travelogues, recipes, reflections on craft beer and culture, beer evaluations––has utility beyond the few days after I post it. Blogs are sequential by nature, making navigation difficult even with the aid of the categories listed across the top of Tempest’s home page.IMG_0153 Pieces written months ago tend to get lost under the weight of a temporality that favours the most recent post.

Finally, I don’t usually write my serial posts sequentially, so an index will give me the opportunity to group series pieces together––and will give you the opportunity to read them as a series, if you so choose. With a few weeks left of summer travel, the regional spotlights and brewery profiles are particularly timely.

I’ll post this index in two installments. First on deck is a list of my articles on beer and culture, together with my regional spotlights. Next up: a list of my brewery profiles and beer reviews, along with recipes I’ve posted to date for those interested in cooking and food/beverage pairings.

If you haven’t already signed up to have A Tempest in a Tankard’s articles delivered via e-mail, please consider subscribing so you can read the articles as they’re posted. Cheers!

Reflections on Beer and Culture

Never the Twain Shall Meet?

My very first article for A Tempest in a Tankard, one that I posted when I had all of three regular visitors to the site. The article answers a provocation unleashed by another beer blogger on the occasion of a monthly beer writers’ forum called The Session. The question: “What the hell has America done to beer?, AKA, USA versus Old World Beer Culture.”

Celebration Time? Women in the Craft Beer World

Times, they are a changing, but the gender gap is still quite wide in the craft beer world, especially on the marketing end. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time someone told me that women prefer fruity beers.

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

A few thoughts on how our taste is shaped by trends and tastemakers. I don’t mind hops, and Imperial Stouts are up there among my favourite beer styles. But by indulging our drive toward ever more intense and novel flavours, we have, perhaps, devalued more subtle beer styles in the process.

Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine

Guest writer Kevin Goldberg’s insightful piece debunking the notion of terroir, which generated so much interesting discussion that I wasn’t able to confine my own response to the comments section of the article.

The following three articles approach the notion of place and locality from different angles. A fourth piece will appear at some point that redeems some elements of the notion of beer and place.

Of Isinglass and Other Fine Additives

This response to the “Food Babe’s” article on the “shocking” ingredients in beer is my most widely-read piece to date, likely because the issue of fish bladder in beer flares up at regular intervals on the interwebs.

Celebrating Craft Lager Day

As much as it is an article on a particular beer (Kapsreiter Landbier), it also represents a challenge to prevailing sentiments that sometimes confuse IBU levels with quality.

The Curiosity Cabinet

Donuts? Bacon? Ancient recipes? Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée features here, but expect other articles on beers in my curiosity cabinet in the coming months.

City and Regional Spotlights

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beer Enthusiast:

This is a comprehensive series that you can take with you as you visit Austin. Break it down into parts, or read the series as a whole.

  • Part I––Brewpubs
  • Part II––Breweries. Saké, too.
  • Part III––Taprooms and Bottle Shops. Craft Pride and Sunrise Mini-Mart. ’Nuf said.
  • Part IV––Tempest’s Tankard Ratings and the Best Brews in Austin. The tankard system unveiled. You’ll see more of this in the future, much as I dislike ranking beers.

The Epic Stillwater to Vancouver Road Trip, Spring 2014:

  • Tempest Hits the Open Road: Dispatches from the Beerways of North America. Not much about beer, but the piece––one of my personal favourites––lays the groundwork for the rest of my Stillwater-Vancouver road trip this past April and May.
  • Wyoming––A Snapshot from a Moving Vehicle. Cheyenne kicks things off, followed by Coal Creek in Laramie.
  • Idaho and Montana––Of Roadtrips and Aleways. I’ve always been fascinated by the routes we travel. The “discovery” of this trip is Trickster’s Brewing in Coeur d’Alene. Missoula has plenty to offer, too, including Kettle House’s Cold Smoke Scotch Ale.

Gorges and Good Beer in Ithaca and Environs:

  • Part I: A brief history of the Ithaca area, followed by a visit to Ithaca’s oldest craft brewery.
  • Part II: Includes features of the newer faces on Ithaca’s craft beer scene: Bandwagon Brewpub, Hopshire, and Rogues’ Harbor.
  • Part III: A guide to some of the best craft beer watering holes and bottle shops in Ithaca.

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Images:

Capital Brewery (near Madison, WI): F.D. Hofer

Malted grain at FarmHouse Malt (Newark Valley, NY): F.D. Hofer

Hop bines and grape vines at Abandon Brewing Co. (Penn Yann, NY): F.D. Hofer

 

Romancing the Local (Part III of “A Reflection of Place, But Dimly”)

  • Oxford American Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” for 2007: locavore.
  • A locavore attempts to consume food that is locally produced – within a one hundred-mile radius, if possible.
  • As of June 2013, the number of breweries in the United States had reached 2538, with more than 1500 in development. According to the Brewers Association, the majority of Americans live within ten miles of a brewery. (Alas, for the time being, Canadian residents living in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are not so lucky: the majority of Canadian breweries are concentrated in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.)

Brewery Count (BrewersAssocs)

Many are the perceived benefits of consuming locally. Our decision to “buy local” stimulates local economies and reduces carbon footprints. The goods we buy are at their peak freshness, and we know where they came from. When we go to our local brewery to sample a flight of beer, we can talk to the brewer or server and learn the story behind the beer in our glasses. As one proponent of the local food movement states, “Getting to know your local producers gives you a stronger sense of place.” But does it? Do we really feel more connected to locally-brewed beer than we do to beers brewed elsewhere?

An issue I raised in “Pinning Down Place” bears reformulation as a question here: What are some of the pitfalls of projecting our desire to drink locally onto the notion that beer exudes a sense of place?

One obvious problem lies in the amorphous nature of what it means to be “local.” Is it the brewery itself, rooted in its particular place, or is it the ingredients?IMG_0030 Does the brewery down the street brew with “locally-sourced” ingredients, or does it brew with malt from Germany, the United Kingdom, or Belgium? Does the use of internationally-sourced ingredients at the brewery down the road render its beer less “local”? What are the spatial constraints of the term local? Does it refer to ingredients produced within a hundred miles of the brewery, or – if the brewery is American – can the term also refer to hops produced in the Yakima Valley but used in Florida? So much for the ingredients. What of Budweiser’s claim to be “America’s largest local brewery”? What if your “local” beer is brewed under contract in a different region or state? Who designates – and what constitutes – the local?

What concerns me about a fixation on place coupled with the drive to consume locally is this: craft brewers who produce excellent beers with ingredients that aren’t sourced in their backyards could potentially be deemed less “authentic” than those who, by luck of location, are able to produce beers bearing the agricultural imprint of their locale. What about the brewer who can’t (or is not interested in) brewing a beer with “local” ingredients?Maple Syrup (Wiki) Is the beer produced at a brewery nestled amid the warehouses of a light industrial district any less “authentically local” than the beer that uses maple syrup tapped from trees on the brewer’s land?

Attaching too much importance to the connection between beer and place and its corollary, “buy local,” bears with it the potential establishment of hierarchies within the craft beer community. (Before we dismiss the notion of craft beer hierarchies, it’s worth pointing out that the antipathy toward contract brewing evinces a dubious understanding of authenticity often echoed in the promotion of local consumption.) The statement, “This beer is made with one hundred-percent locally grown ingredients” is, prima facie, an innocuous statement. But it conceals a normative claim: if you don’t buy locally, you are lending support to an entity that is not of this locale, not one of us. We don’t have to reach far for examples of this logic in action. The automobile industry’s “Buy American” campaign of the 1980s intersected with a particularly virulent form of Japan-bashing.

One might object that this is an extreme example. But similar mechanisms of moral suasion are at work in many a call to support the local economy: nationalism writ small, as it were. The “buy local movement” – sometimes coded as socially and politically “progressive” – is not immune to these unexamined parochial sentiments. BuyLocal (blockbyblock-us)For some, the attractiveness of consuming locally lies in knowing where our food comes from; for others, the choice represents a rejection of corporate America. But on an affective level, the appeal to consume locally plays on our attachments to place. Beer produced locally is often sold as being more “wholesome” and “natural” – of this place, of this land. Historically, though, ideologies that promote ties to the land and to locality have given rise to insularity, chauvinism, and xenophobia. It may make us feel good to consume locally. But the sentiment risks fostering an “us versus them” mentality that views goods and services arriving from elsewhere as in some way suspect.

This is not to undermine the efforts of breweries that make beer with locally-sourced ingredients whenever it is possible to do so. I wholeheartedly support those brewers who take this ethos even further in their attempts to stimulate ancillary industries such as hop production and malting. But this should not stop us from examining the assumptions underpinning our desire to consume locally. The farm that supplies the hops and barley may well be “local,” and the brewery may well be right around the corner; but just as the Reinheitsgebot does not, in itself, guarantee good beer, proximity is no guarantor of excellence.

An uncritical embrace of “the local” also opens the door to investors trading in the popularity of “locally-produced craft beer.” Unfortunately, some folks sell a sense of place at the expense of quality. I’ve visited and read about more than a handful of “local breweries” attracted to profit more than to the prospect of producing top-notch beer. It wouldn’t be the first time that a local artisan has wrapped inferior goods in the romantic appeal of local essence.

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Sources:

In formulating my thoughts for this series, I have benefited immensely from the insightful comments to Kevin Goldberg’s “Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine,” and from exchanges with those who have commented on earlier pieces in this series on craft beer and place. In particular, Daegan M., Kevin G., and Bryan R. may well recognize some of their own points and arguments woven into these pieces.

Part I of this series, “A Reflection of Place, But Dimly,” is here; Part II, “Pinning Down Place,” is here. What was originally slated as Part III, but which is now Part IV, considers how, in light of the critiques advanced in Parts II and III, the notion of place might still play a meaningful role in the craft beer discussion. Part IV is but a jumble of notes at the moment, so I look forward to engaging with more of your comments and critical interventions as I work the jumble into a relatively coherent post.

Images:

Brewery Count: Brewers Association

Twenty-Six Paces from Tempest’s Computer (aka very local brewery): Franz D. Hofer

Maple Syrup: Wikipedia

Buy Local Collage: www.blockbyblock.us