Saturday, November 8, 2008

Support Your Local Brewery

It is a mantra that resonates throughout the craft beer community. It is part sage advice, part current trend, part modern marketing. It originates from both components of formal microeconomics theory and home-grown wisdom. It is the counsel you receive from commercial brewers, home brewers and just about all beer-centric websites: Support your local brewery.

Fresh beer is better beer. Beer is a perishable product. It shares a lot of characteristics with farm vegetables or bakery bread, especially in the fact that (generally) age does not work to its benefit. Aside from a few exceptions of styles that may benefit from judicious aging, most beer simply gets old after it has fermented to completion. Protected from infectious agents, oxygen in the lines and the storage systems will continue to react with the beer, developing stale or papery flavors in the overall profile as chemical components simply degrade.

That said, the easiest way to avoid problems due to age is to buy beer from local brewers. Especially with brands that cross state lines, beers can sit in distributors’ warehouses for weeks if not months awaiting sales approval, tax certification or simply retail orders to arrive. Local beers avoid most of these problems as they arrive after dozens of miles from the brewery instead of thousands.

The local economy is important. Contrary to what is projected on the evening news, most of the United States’ economy consists of local businesses, not national corporations. Most businesses in this country are classified as "small businesses;" the vast majority (97.5%) have fewer than 20 employees. Local employers contribute to the local economy through property and corporate taxes, through employing of local personnel or subcontractors and through local charity events, recycling and gifting programs.

Every local community in this nation is a heartbeat. That heartbeat is a reflection of the health of the local economy, and the sum total of those local economies is the health of the national economy at large. But for the vast majority of us, those who own a home or employ others or have children in public or private schools, the well-being of the local economy is paramount.

What better way to encourage the health of the local economy than to purchase local products? The money and profits are returned to local businesses, not shipped to faceless, out-of-state bank accounts. Local sales benefit yourself and your neighbors with continued employment, consistent variety and quality of products, and a perception of strength on the national economic stage.

The green argument. Shipping foodstuffs, especially liquids, is terribly inefficient from a fuel/weight perspective. National breweries have cut their distribution networks down by constructing matching breweries in multiple states but craft breweries rarely (if ever) have that option. Distributors earn their living by transporting by truck cans, bottles and kegs of local beer to the far reaches of the continental United States, or further.

Trucks generate pollution, not to mention wear-and-tear on roadways and other transit systems. The longer they must travel, the more pollution they create. If you at all are concerned about your carbon footprint, or in any way interested in reducing personal waste and consumption, purchase local beer. Beer that travels tens of miles from local suppliers instead of across the country or across an ocean is—by default—the greener choice.

If you don’t like it, tell them. This is by no means a blind love-fest and forgiving endorsement for all local craft brewers. You should not drink local beer simply because it is local. The marketplace is competitive, and a brewery’s product should satisfy your personal preferences and tastes. However, do not be hesitant to provide feedback to a local brewer—especially negative, if delivered constructively. All brewers are interested in correcting what is wrong, and small local craft brewers can be much more personally responsive than a distant national corporation.

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