Monday, March 5, 2012

The Session #61: What Makes Local Beer Better?

I'm back from my sabbatical from blogging...for now anyway. I didn't mean to take a month off! I've been going through a bit of a dry spell, but only in terms of writing -- I've been sampling new brews, so I've got some notes for future blog posts. But for this post, I'd like to take the opportunity to respond (a couple days late) to a question posed by beer blogger, Matt, from the Hoosier Beer Geek. Actually, the question is part of an ongoing monthly series of questions called "The Session".

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. This month's topic is local beer. Here's the question for The Session #61:
Local Beer - "The term is being used by just about every craft brewer in the country. What does it really mean though? Is it more of a marketing term or is there substance behind the moniker? This month I want to think about what makes local beer better? I'm not just talking about the beer itself, although it's the focal point, but what makes local beer better? My connection to local beer is far from thinking that my beer is actually 'local.' Maybe you don't agree with me, and you can write about that. Bonus points for writing about your favorite local beer and the settings around it being local to you."

I'm not really sure what is so unclear about the term "local beer". It seems pretty straightforward to me: local beer is simply beer that is brewed locally. Am I missing something here? Take Liquid Hero Brewery, for example. There's no marketing gimmick here. It's simply three guys brewing beer in York, PA. That's local beer (for me, anyway).

Of course, not all the ingredients are grown locally. But who would expect that to be the case? After all, beer pretty much has its roots in Germany, and many hops and malts used to brew beer still come from Germany. Consider Lancaster, PA's own Lancaster Brewing Company. According to their website, the Lancaster Lager "showcases a balance of malt, along with German and European hops", including 2 Row Pale and Caramel malts as well as Hallertau and Saaz hops. Doesn't matter. The "outsourced" ingredients are "imported" and then brewed by local people. Sounds like a local beer to me.

So back to the question: what makes local beer better? I have to say that the quality of local beer is not automatically better simply because it is local. Let's face it -- some breweries just know how to make better beer than others, and it has nothing to do with proximity to where you live! However, the fact that it is local may make the whole experience better. For instance, take one of my favorite (and local!) breweries: Tröegs Brewing Company. (To be clear, I think the quality of their beers is superb.) I love the experience associated with visiting their brewery, which we affectionately call "T2". They have created a whole world for craft beer enthusiasts (you can read about my recent experience here). In their tasting room, I appreciate the opportunity to sample their brews, especially something from their Scratch Beer Series, and before leaving, I am always sure to have my growler filled with one of their finest. I enjoy walking through their self-guided tour, and to show my local brewery pride, I usually hit up the gift shop for some new paraphernalia too. The whole experience of gathering together with other craft beer lovers at this local venue is not something that would easily be duplicated for non-local beer. And even if it could be duplicated, I wouldn't feel the same pride I feel when I know I'm enjoying local beer.

Hope that answers the question to your satisfaction. What do you all think? What makes local beer better? Leave a comment below or send me a Tweet (@BrewReviewMann). I'd love to hear from you!

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