Friday, January 16, 2009

Localize it, pt. 1 - Towards a reconnection with beer as a staple

Like bread, milk, eggs... There's no describing the burden of shame and embarrassment that would follow me if I ever bothered to purchase one of those items from a source further afield than I could comfortably drive in a leisurely afternoon outing. But if there's a weakness to be exploited in my professed admiration for all things brewed, it's my relative lack of engagement with the local scene (a weakness I tried valiantly to resolve this past weekend with a glass of Marin Brewing's White Knuckle double IPA, as seen above). Of the breweries represented in the SF Brewers' Guild, I can only genuinely throw my weight behind maybe half of them, for example. But to the extent that my cynical, sarcastic, pessimist attitude allows, I have to concede that some of the core tenets that push the modern foodview (local, sustainable, affordable) are going to be major factors in the beer scene in the coming year. What was beginning to gnaw at me, a flux of super-high cost beers, the elevation of beer to the wine-drinker's table alongside the wine-drinker's price tag, may likely be less of a concern as locals begin to take closer care with their expenses and indulgences. In an area as obsessed with food and dining as San Francisco, though, where neighborhood farmer's markets are the norm, it would seem logical that locally-produced, handcrafted, affordable, fresh beer would edge out the $50 bottles of Brazilian méthode champenoise offerings on the menu. Currently, though, despite how much they may actually sell, and despite their quality, public perception hasn't shifted to acknowledge them as the obvious, socially, politically, environmentally, and health concious choices on the beer menu.

Thankfully, it will soon be SF Beer Week, an opportunity to redeem myself somewhat, and an opportunity for local brewers to perhaps reclaim the crown of percieved quality from their brethren from further afield. Amidst the plethora of happenings, too, there are some that hosted by folks I like to consider friends, some smaller events that will arguably pack in more passion about beer, food and the social, communal, convivial attitiude that belongs alongside them than some of the larger events. And all with a local bent, a local point of view. Expect a post about those gatherings in the next day or so.

Here's to reconnecting. Go out and grab something local to enjoy this weekend. And if you can't find anything local that you can enjoy, ask yourself why not? Why hasn't anyone bothered to fill that void, the simple pleasure of a simple beverage brewed well, freshly, for locals? With all the talk of "carbon footprints", fears over tainted food, the push of the organic movement, the current economic crisis, and the emboldened palate of the modern consumer, why wouldn't everyone have access to reasonable, quality, local beer?

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Blogger Adam said...

Amen! With Victory, Sly Fox and Iron Hill so close its not hard for me to buy some good local brew. Cans, bottles, growlers, sixtels and pints at the bar. I've done them all.

When in Western PA farmlands, well that's a different story. Used to be two or more breweries would feed a town and then came refrigeration and prohibition. We still haven't recovered as a nation. And with all the crazy laws governing beer its not like somebody can just start selling it without jumping through some hoops. Course PA might be a bit more restrictive than others, but, you get the point.

I too will try to drink more locally. When I'm not drinking homebrew. Just had a pint of local brew at McKenzie's today as a matter of fact. Tasty too.

Again Amen.

6:06 PM  
Blogger quetzpalin said...

Interesting. Although I agree that I'm only really excited about maybe half of the SF breweries, that is still quite a lot of beer. And if one were to use the arbitrary, yet seemingly ubiquitous 100 mile rule, then it's a stupendous amount of beer. 100 miles reaches up to southern Mendocino Co. and hits right about Carmel to the south. And to the east, it hits the foothills just east of Sacramento.

On a practical level, that means that it at least includes Moonlight, Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Russian River, and Lagunitas to the north, with Drakes, Triple Rock, and Black Diamond to the immediate East, and El Toro to the south.

Simply adding Russian River makes it seem like an embarrassment of riches for me, personally, and puts the area on fairly solid footing to be placed amongst the top places in the country to be if there was an imposed 100 mi rule.

Given that, an argument can be made that for those of us here in SF, the more interesting issue may be the sourcing of ingredients by the breweries. Brian from Moonlight famously grows some of his hops, but aside from that, how much of the total ingredients of the locally produced beer comes from within that 100 mile radius. Not much, I assume, even if we were to extend the area to include anything within 100 miles of the breweries themselves.

Dave from Magnilia wrote an interesting piece on the subject in their what now appears to be pretty much defunct blog (yet still up at back in July talking about sourcing from England for what sound like good reasons. But what does that mean in terms of whether or not the beer is “local”?

A local restaurant would never say that a dish prepared here in SF using ingredients from England is local, right? From that perspective, then it would seem that there may be no such thing as local beer in California. They grow hops in Oregon and Washington, but what about the grains? Maybe there is no such thing as a local American beer. In any case, a very interesting issue. It may be that the idea of local as applied to beer has more to do with attitude or gestalt than sourcing of ingredients. The Bay Area style, San Diego, Protland, etc.

I know that when I am in those areas, I consciously seek out “local” beer, but that may have more to do with availability that any notion of locality, now that I think about it, although I probably carried some unconscious undercurrent of the whole local, sustainable mantra that is so prevalent in these parts that would have provided a tiny dose of righteous pride at seeking out the local.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

I never thought about that. I really don't know where the local breweries get their ingredients, but, I'll be most of it isn't local.

Even in my homebrew, the only local ingredients in my homebrew are the sometimes available homegrown hops and water. The malt, yeast and pellet hops are produced other places.

Would it even be possible for everybody to brew with 100% local ingredients? Hmmm....

5:19 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Well said, Rob. It's sometimes difficult to stay true to local guys when there's so much great beer from all over the country (and world) popping up.

However, in recent months I've made a conscious effort to support local beer when my palate intersects with purchasing opportunities. Beer has strong roots to locality. And I like to think that in a small way, by supporting local beer, I'm helping to build the world I want to live in.

10:36 AM  

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