A hallmark of the craft brewing movement is being local, drinking local, identifying with your community and your local brewery. This trend is getting stronger as more brewpubs, micro’s, nano’s and other smaller craft beer outlets proliferate all over the country. Your local brewhouse is partly your house, which in most cases is a good thing.
Focusing on being local for a smaller brewery makes sense – establishing your roots and linking yourselves to local charities, civic activities and sponsorships helps you build a brand in your back yard. But in my view that should not be what matters most. What matters most is the quality and consistency of the product – it’s simply that the beer that matters the most. While this seems obvious, there are many examples of how some lower quality craft beer establishments effectively “hold hostage” their local beer drinking community.
As those that have read my articles know, I make it a policy not to grade breweries and their beers, and certainly not to criticize their product. That said, the massive growth in the smaller craft brewery market has created a strange byproduct in the craft beer universe – average or even bad beer supported by the local community. This situation is not good for craft brewing or the beer appreciating public. While many craft beer enthusiasts make a ruckus in social media over good craft breweries being bought out by large brewing conglomerates, why would they at the same time give a pass to inferior beer just ‘cause it’s local craft?
How many of you have been on the road looking for a place to taste a new craft brew or out on a weekend searching for a new craft brewery to try out, and been disappointed to find a place that pours unremarkable or even bad beer, that’s neither tasty or interesting? And I am not talking about the once in a while clunker batch, the one off beer that is clearly not what the brewer intended. I am referring to a venue that is consistently sub par throughout it’s beer portfolio, yet somehow it sustains itself through local patronage.
In some ways this reminds me of the dark ages of beer when people drank the local light tasting lager with some sort of perverse pride – for example workhorse regional beers like Iron City in Pittsburgh or Christian Moerlein in Cincinnati from the 1980’s.- The locals would say “No one outside of (insert “our town” here) likes this beer – you have to grow up with it”. This is old beer thinking, and should not be part of the craft beer experience in 2018.
But I have experienced some newer craft beer places recently, supported by the local community, that are serving inconsistent, generally unpleasant beer. A friend told me recently, “Remember that growler I gave you that didn’t taste at all like the style it was supposed to be? Well I went back there and the beer was flat and tasteless right out to the tap. But they are really crowded because this is the only place anywhere around the town, and people in the area all want to go there to support them.”
I realize that it’s a slippery slope to condemn local small breweries and brewers trying to live their dream and be part of the craft beer tribe. But does “local-ness” really trump (pardon the expression) quality? I don’t think it should. So what should a local beer enthusiast do if their close by craft beer establishment puts out a product that is average at best? I’d say that if you care – you need to communicate with your brewery.
There is no need to be cruel to anyone, but lets face it, if a brewery wants to be part of their town, a center of their community, they have some responsibility to deliver a good product to that community. And they should listen to their community, and take constructive criticism as something positive – or at least instructive.
All you craft beer appreciators out there – drinking local, but drinking beer that’s not really good- time to stand up take some responsibility and tell your brewery about it. It will only help them in the long run, and benefit both you the consumer and their long term viability to help them achieve their dream. It is true – “life is too short to drink bad beer” – so lets help to extinguish bad beer even with local roots, and improve the craft experience for everyone. Yes, stay local – but most importantly support good craft beer, that is what we are all deserve – the entire community.