Friday, March 2, 2012

Session #61: Is Local Beer Better?

What makes local beer better? Hmm, interesting question.

The question implies four statements—The first one contends that locally sourced beer, or beer that is made by ingredients that are found within a short distance from where the beer is produced, is "better" than beer sourced from across the globe. The closet brewery—to me—locally sourcing is Brown's Brewing Company of Troy, NY. Brown's brews at its Hudson River waterfront brewpub in Troy; they grow their own hops on a farm in Hoosick Falls, NY; and they brew with water from Rensselaer County, NY's Tomahannock Reservoir. Brown's even goes as far as to donate a portion of the sales from their Tomahannock Pilsner to the Rensselaer Land Trust, a non-for-profit dedicated to conserving, preserving and protecting water sheds and wild lands throughout Rensselaer County.

The second statement implies that my local beer is "better" than your local beer, or vice versa. The purchasing of a beer local to me, like Davidson Brothers Brown Ale, supposedly, helps my regional community and our local economy, while my purchasing of beer from, say the UK or Belgium—or even California or Iowa—either has no impact, or in fact, hurts my community and our economy, or vise versa.

The third statement to be inferred is that local beer tastes "better" than alien beer. Theoretically, Outrage IPA, brewed at Crossroads Brewing Company, 30 miles south of Albany, in Athens, NY will be fresher, to me, and therefore taste better than a pint of Fullers's London Pride, brewed 3,000 miles east of Albany in London.

But does all of that make local beer "better"? Maybe maybe not, it depends on where you're standing. Personally I think it's the last statement that makes the question truly interesting.

The final statement presented in the question is not quantifiable. The phrase "local beer" itself implies something totally different. It's not about being good or bad or helping or hurting. It's bigger than that. It implies that beer is of a place. A place of local traditions, and tastes. It says that beer isn't simply the water and the fermented sugar of malted barley seasoned with hops—grown locally or otherwise. It implies that beer is governed by the place it's from. Tomahannock Pilsner isn't local, solely, because its profits go to a good cause or because it's made from locally sourced ingredients; and Fuller's London Pride isn't not local because I bought it in a beer store in Albany. The reason these beers are local is because they are products of their locality. They are unique products of their environments. Every sip of either of these brews is the sum total of where it came from—London is a part Fuller's London Pride and Brown's Tomahannock Pilsner is a part of Troy, NY. Both beers are indelibly intertwined with their place of birth.

So, is local beer better? I don't know, because as I see it, all beer is local to somewhere.


  1. yeah local is relative.
    Was this a response to Ding's "Top 10 Craft beer myths" post?

    Here in Albany we have some great local beer: Brown's, Albany Pump Station and Ommegang (sort of). We also have crap like Mendocino, Cooper's Cave and Cooperstown Brewing (sort of).

    local doesn't equal better if the brewery makes crap beer. It's just FRESHER crap beer.

  2. Nope, this was my contribution to this month's The Session.

  3. Good Session. Upstate NY is a great beer area. I will go somewhat out of my way to support good local brew. I believe in buying and drinking locally. Its the same reason I would drive by countless Mobil stations to gas up at a Stewart's. I know good ol' Stewie's is a mainly NY/VT product and that they offer decent profit sharing with their employees. I like my buck spent in NY to stay in NY. I also agree with Chad's assertion that local doesn't necessarily mean better- but if I can get a comparable product locally I know my dollar goes further keeping the small local guy in business- And now with a baby girl in the picture I do think about the carbon footprint that bottle of Fuller's makes to get to my fridge...