Welcome to American Craft Beer Week.
Originally begun as a month-long celebration of all American beer, the event had the insalubrious effect of honoring the light (lite?) industrial lagers of the brewing behemoths.
Now that none of those mega-breweries are independently American-owned, it is indeed American craft brewers who hold the mantle of the true makers of American beer.
From the sponsoring organization Association of Brewers' website:
America's small and independent craft brewers (see Craft Brewing Statistics) are making special plans for the annual American Craft Beer Week (May 11-17), a national celebration highlighting the culture and contributions of craft beer. These brewers want the week to inspire beer enthusiasts to declare their independence by supporting breweries that produce fewer than 2 million barrels of beer a year and are independently owned. In the works are special brewery tours, beer and food pairing events, special release craft beers and festivals all across the U.S. The Declaration of Beer Independence is available on the program web site and the American Craft Beer Week fan page on Facebook, which has more than 2,000 fans thus far.
Changed to a weeklong event in 2006, the inaugural American Craft Beer Week was recognized by the U.S. Congress with House Resolution 753 (PDF file). The week has continued to grow with interest and support from beer enthusiasts and the media. In 2007, more than 150 brewers registered their community celebrations.
It's a noteworthy cause, but this Declaration of Beer Independence holds at least one significant flaw. It seemingly has moved far in the opposite direction. It punishes success. That's not the American way.
Why would two-million barrels of beer be any less meritorious than one-million nine hundred thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine barrels? If craft implies hand-crafted, then what machinery is allowed under that definition? What level automation? And the question of foreign ownership notwithstanding, what are the parameters of "independently owned"? This is a slippery slope and a demarcation of dubious merit. (Andy Crouch has a good look at the 2 million barrel limit and the question of independence at his blog Beer Scribe.)
I won't be signing the Declaration because of this stipulation. But I support the document's worthwhile core. In fact, rather than signing, I lay down this challenge to all my readers, and to all American beer drinkers: drink only local beers this week.
If you reside in Asheville, North Carolina, recently co-crowned Beer City USA —along with Portland Oregon— that might be easy. Elsewhere, maybe not so.
The craft beer movement began in 1979 as a return to locally produced, thus fresh, beer. Since then, the industry and its adherents have moved beyond purely local. And that's fine. It is a celebration of flavor, after all.
But regard the current movement toward a low-carbon footprint in our food and products: fresh food, fresh cheese, fresh produce.
That movement is not simply about freshness, but also local economy. A loyalty first to local beer —and to local brewers— is the essential economic glue of our craft beer industry.
So, at least for this week, drink 'as local' as you can. And, ironically, if 'local' happens to be a factory in your neighborhood, manned by American workers, producing light lagers, well, so be it.
... even though you shouldn't have to look too hard to find a 'fuller-flavored' local beer.