How Far Did You Travel for Beer This Holiday Season?
I wrote previously about the holiday tradition that I planned to start this year with my brothers in lieu of exchanging gifts. Our presents to each other would be the simple act of sitting down, free of distractions and life’s worries, and sharing a beer that each of us brought to the proverbial (and real) table. I could not have wished for a better experience as we unveiled our beers, recounted the stories of how we obtained the bottles and watched the delightful expressions on each other’s faces after taking our first sips. Only after the weekend ended did I realize that the experience revealed something else—something about the current state of the beer community.
With over thousand beers available across the world from which we could choose, we each brought beers brewed within thirty miles of where our respective houses stood. This was entirely unplanned.
Not only were the beers made close-by, but some of their ingredients came from just down the road from the mash tuns and bright tanks. One of the beers had local honey added to it before it was aged in bourbon barrels, and another one was brewed with wild fruit harvested from an adjacent county.
Let’s compare this experience to the ability to find “local” beer just a few decades ago.
In the 1960s and 70s, because Coors still limited its distribution, “a common rite of passage for college men in the Midwest and even the East was a road trip to one of the 11 western states in which Coors was distributed to pick up cases of the beer.” Similarly, President Gerald Ford grabbed cases of Coors in 1975 to bring back to Washington on Air Force One.
In 1980, there were 48 brewing companies in the United States. The road trips were not as long anymore, and the definition of “local” beer shifted to mean that it was brewed along your particular coast or maybe within a three-state radius of where you resided.
By 2001, the beer industry had ballooned, and there were over 1,400 operating breweries in the country. Drinking “local” for most people meant that the particular brew was crafted within the borders of your own state.
As of last month, 1,927 breweries existed within the United States, and another 855 were in the planning stages. The Brewers Association reports that “[m]ore than 50 breweries in over 20 states have opened in the past two months.”
Having a “local” beer now means taking a short trip in your car during your lunch break or riding your bike down the street on a Saturday afternoon to enjoy an IPA brewed by your neighbor.
And instead of importing hops, malts and other ingredients from another part of the country or abroad, your neighbor may be using ingredients harvested or cultured within your state. Last month, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head introduced the brewery’s Delaware Native Ale, or “DNA,” that features, in addition to Delaware hops, peach and pear juices, a wild yeast strain that Dogfish employees discovered in the state. An 18th-century mill in Delaware even “came alive for the first time in 50 years to mill 400 pounds of barley for the limited-edition beer.”
Similarly, Mother Earth Brewing Co. in North Carolina is currently brewing a one-barrel batch of its “All-NC” beer. The pale ale uses Cascade hops from Echoview Farm and malt from Riverbend Malt House, both located within the state.
“Super local” has become the new “local,” and as much fun as beer trips can be, I’m glad that I didn’t have to travel across the country to bring back a good beer to share with my brothers.
How far did you travel this holiday season to bring back beers that you wanted to share with your family and friends?