When It Comes to Craft Beer, Can We Get Over the "Local" Bullshit?

People, can we get over the “local” beer crap?  Please. What follows is an out-and-out, in-your-face rant. You’re welcome to ignore. I won’t be offended. (And if you’re not connected to or interested in the craft beer business or community, none of it will make sense. So you should ignore it. Please. Go have a good beer!) 

As my beer readers likely know, Sam Adams (Boston Beer Company) is launching New Albion Ale, a re-creation of the first microbeer in the US from the first microbrewer, Jack McAuliffe. BBC/SA is using Jack’s recipe and Jack supervised the creation of the beer. Sam Adams/BBC won’t make any profit on this project; all of that goes to Jack.

Today, someone at Facebook posted a link to a video from Boston Beer Company about the New Albion launch. And someone posted a comment saying, in effect, too bad the project wasn’t being carried out by a “local” brewer.

To which my initial reaction was: What the fuck?

My second reaction: What the hell is LOCAL? New Albion closed its doors 30 years ago. What, precisely, is “local” for a defunct brewery?

My third reaction: What the HELL difference does “local” make? If you’re gonna get bent out of shape about “local,” then you need to stop drinking Sierra Nevada, Stone, New Belgium, Left Hand, and about fifty zillion (okay, I exaggerate) other craft beers.

Because many craft brewers distribute their beers regionally, nationally, and, yes, even internationally. If that means their beers are no longer politically, craft-ily correct enough for you, well --- you've got a problem I'm glad I don't have.

My fourth reaction was: For fuck’s sake, how do you think a “local” brewery could pay for the project undertaken by Boston Beer Company? Where would a tiny local brewery find the money to make the beer, let alone advertise this project?

My fifth reaction was: Get the fuck over this “local” shit and the idea that the only “real” craft beers are based on an equation based on a combination of location and size, a combination that apparently ignores the significant factor of quality.Now that I’ve finished ranting (although no, I’ve not exhausted my extensive vocabulary of profanities), let me run a few facts past you:

Fact one: Many years ago, Jim Koch, the founder and president of BBC, and a craft brewing pioneer (albeit a controversial one) noticed that the trademark for New Albion was about to expire. So he grabbed it. Why? Because he didn’t want some bozo to start making “New Albion” beer as if it had some actual connection with the original New Albion craft brewery. (*1)  Jim cares about history.

Jim’s held the trademark all these years. He likely wouldn’t have done anything other than protect it, had it not been for my book. That’s not arrogance; it’s a fact. For all intents and purposes, until my book came out, no one in the craft beer biz knew where he was or why he mattered. Now they do, and he’s been honored by the craft beer community since then.

Fast forward to 2012: Jim Koch decided one way to honor Jack's contribution to craft beer was by releasing Jack’s original beer. The official announcement came at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in October. The beer launches in January.

Here’s another fact: No one in craft brewing has done more to turn ordinary beer drinkers --- and whether you like it or not, that’s the biggest group of beer drinkers in the U. S. --- on to good beer than Jim Koch. No one. His beers function as “gateway” beers, just as Starbucks functions as “gateway” coffee that eventually draws people to the little indie coffeeshop down the street.And when he’s not busy dishing out gateway beers, Jim makes imaginative, high quality beers for the geeks.

Here’s another fact: Several years ago, there was a serious hops shortage in the U. S. Jim had enough hops on hand for his own needs, so he offered up what he had left to those who needed some. Did he do this because he truly cared about his industry. Yes, I believe he did. Was this good PR? Of course! He’s in the business of making money, just like every other craft beer, including your sweet little local guy down the street.

But being a good businessman is not incompatible with having a heart and soul.Is Jim Koch a “big” brewer? Depends. As he says, compared to, say, Anheuser-Busch, he’s a pygmy. Compared to your “local” beermaker down the street, however, Jim’s “big.”

Why does that matter?

What’s the connection between size and “local” and those intangible traits of “quality” or “heart” or “soul”?If you care about good beer, or “independent” businesses, or businesses with heart and soul, then “local” is irrelevant.

As it happens, my ire coincides with an unrelated recent spate of news articles about “craft” versus “crafty.” If you’ve missed this kerfuffle, you can learn about it by googling (or Binging or DuckDucking or whatever search engine you use). (*2) As far as I’m concerned, it’s all marketing smoke and mirrors (as my friend Jim Koch once put it). (*3)

This business of “my beer is holier than yours” is counter-productive and irrational.You want to drink good beer in the United States? No problem. There’s LOTS of it around. Even in the small town in central Iowa where I live, thanks to the good beer makers who’ve decided to make their beers available regionally and nationally.

Do I care if it’s “local”? No. What I care is that these several thousand small, family-owned businesses are making good products in a sustainable business model that aims to do good, not evil.

If you don’t like it, well, alrighty. Don’t drink any New Albion Ale when it comes out. Stick to your “local” beers. Me? I’ll enjoy all kinds of wonderful beers. Because I can and because so many men and women in the craft beer community (emphasis on “community”) understand that the virtues of quality need not be constrained by location. __________

*1: Think Schlitz, PBR, etc. as beer brands now owned by holding companies and beers that having nothing to do with anything other than marketing.

*2: The most painful commentary about it came from Schell in New Ulm, Minnesota. They’re no longer “pure” enough to be with the craft beer gang. Go read the piece for yourself. I  got weepy. I’ve met the people at Schell. They’ve been here making beer longer than I’ve been alive; much longer.

*3: Indeed, it’s literally marketing. The Brewers Association has hired a “real” public relations firm which, as near as I can tell, is quite good at its job. This “controversy” about craft versus crafty is a) manufactured; and b) doing a great job of drawing attention to craft beer.