Buy & Drink Local Beers

Drinking locally starts for me, with drinking home brew, both mine and my fellow homebrewers. I support my four local brewpubs. When I am out of town I visit breweries and brewpubs in those cities. I support taprooms that carry the better craft beers for the particular state's brewing industry, but I tend to prefer the smaller breweries over even the nationwide craft breweries.

When I first joined a brew club I encountered prolific brewers that seldom purchased commercial beer. I thought about this for a while- even though I was a home brewer, why did I buy beer? Well, I like beer a lot and I didn't have enough of my own beer on hand. And in the time just prior to joining a club, I’d only produced three batches of beer: two IPAs and an Irish Red Ale. The first was totally undrinkable due to an extremely unpleasant chemical taste and smell. I dumped it down the drain. In the brew log book I found a major mistake in the mashing process, and the "almost Iodine" smell and flavor was similar to that of my sanitizing solution (I do not use that sanitizer any more). The second IPA was just barely drinkable but it may have acquired some wild yeast. The third batch of Irish Red was actually good-not great but, myself, friends and family consumed all of it rather quickly. So, I bought beer both at the stores and at my local brew pubs.  

Next, for research purposes I brewed a successful batch of Very Dry Mead. Then I brewed a batch of Russian Imperial Stout of which I was very proud. It was so good that after about two weeks, 4 out of 5 gallons were gone. I had to stop drinking it because I committed to entering it into a head to head competition with another brew club member.

It also occurred to me that club members that did not buy very much beer, besides brewing often, also brewed larger batches than me. I increased the next batch to 10 gallons of IPA (it was also very good). I can brew as much as 13 gallons so I will do that and not buy as much beer. I will also brew more often and keep 6 kegs cold at one time after buying an 18 cu. ft. chest freezer.

As of this writing Heineken has bought a 50% share in Lagunitas, Belgian brewer Duvel bought a 50% share of Firestone Walker. Lagunitas has big breweries in Northern California and Chicago. Rumor is that the Lagunitas buyout will build another brewery in Azusa, California. Firestone Walker will now have distribution on the east coast and in Europe. Now today I learn that the corporation that owns Budweiser is in talks to acquire Miller-Coors. Yikes!

Supporting local beer is becoming even more important. Local brewing with local consumers will also become more important in the future, as the consumer will determine their favorite styles. Also the practice of mega breweries interfering or interrupting craft brewing supplies such as hops and grain will continue to be a factor. The Brewing Association forecasts that hops production will need to expand from 70 million pounds in 2014 to 504 million pounds by 2020 assuming a linear increase. Obtaining the correct hops will become a challenge. Breweries will need to encourage more local production of grains and hops to keep up with national demand for these raw ingredients. I hope there is a trend similar to members of my brew club to grow their own hops. A new local farm has also started to produce hops and created a trade with one our local breweries. The beer brewing industries will need many more new farms growing hops to meet the growing demand.

There are a lot of ways to drink locally. Support your local brewpubs and taprooms, and when you buy beer from the store, try to keep it local. Or, get involved in a local brew club, try what your fellow homebrewers are making, and make your own.

Jim St. Germain

Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast. When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat.