Monday, May 11, 2009

Support American LOCAL beer

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.

American Craft Beer Week 2009
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.)

Declaration of American Beer Independence
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.


  1. I agree with everything you've said. I think the BA also runs a site with the goal of supporting your local brewery.

    One of my locals in Chicago, is Goose Island. But because they have a distribution deal with Widmer (AB) and because Widmer owns a portion of Goose Island, they are no longer brewing craft beer according to the Brewers Association. We won't even get into the fact that Goose Island is brewing more adventurous beers since the deal with Widmer.

    So am I supposed to support my local brewer? Or drink craft beer?

  2. I also take issue with the self-serving, protectionist rhetoric in this document:

    "... beer made by American craft brewers helps to reduce dependence on imported products and therefore contributes to balanced trade ..."

  3. I echo the sentiments of the author and the above comments.

    I'll also declare my independence from facebook.

  4. From that "declaration":
    "I want to know why so many of my local beer brands are not available in many of my favorite
    restaurants, bars and beer stores"

    Pretty damned simple answer, if you happen to live in, say, Mississippi, West Virginia, South Carolina, or the like........... there just ain't that much local beer to offer. And frankly, much as I support the cause of local beers if they're good and worthwhile, I'm not going to hold it against the likes of Harviestoun, Hitachino, Moylan's, Goose Island, New Glarus, Unibroue, or the like just for not happening to be located in my backyard!

  5. Great post, and I agree wholeheartedly on the focus on local beers.


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