“…Uncompromised Beer That Is Marketed Locally…”

I post this by way of adjunct to a comment that I made in my post the last edition of The Session. In that post I stated that all beer is, as a result, properly understood as local and personal and that the ecology is small and getting smaller with the return to more naturally scaled micro and happy tap rooms. The comment even received Stan approval status… so there.

Happy, then, was I when came upon this passage quoted below in the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, 1989: Staplefoods : Proceedings, edited by Harlan Walker. It is actually footnote 30 to Appendix A to the chapter “Staple Foods of the American West Coast (A Semi-Historical Perspective; or, Cultural Change in Action)” by John Doerper.

Perhaps the best definition of “microbrewery” comes from Vince Cottone, Good Beer Guide, Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: Homestead Book Company, 1986, p.9. Cottone who prefers the term “Craft Brewery” describes this as

a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally.

Curiously, despite the supposed local distribution of these brews, supermarkets in the Northwest commonly stock many Californian “microbrews” while California carry virtually no Northwestern beers.

My first observation was that we are back to that spot here 28 years later, back to beer “that is marketed locally‘ if we think of the current resurrection of the taproom. But then I looked at the other elements: small, handcrafted, etc. Other than the word “traditional” in the era of every twig and leaf being shoved in a brew pot, it seems to fit. Sweet to note, however, that how in 1989 interstate distribution was already creating inequality and bending the meaning of local.

So, is “that is marketed locally” an idea that could be returned to now that big craft and macro are merging, mating or in a battle to the death? It would be a bit hard for many to track given that the forces that peddle national craft and throw about the junkets are hardly going to speak in favour of it. But as consumers, is this a standard we should return to – one to insist upon?

Once we’ve done that, perhaps we can clarify what local means, too. The 100 mile diet sort of local? As far as a truck can drive in 48 hours local? Here in Ontario, getting to a definition with some semblance of reality is a problem. By common parlance and perhaps trade association politics, the entire 1.076 million km² is local unto itself. I suspect in a place like Portland, Oregon local might not even include the whole city.

2 thoughts on ““…Uncompromised Beer That Is Marketed Locally…””

  1. On “local” – in the UK the Sustainable Communities Act defines local as up to 30 miles from the point of sale, and CAMRA at a national level interprets that as 30 miles by the shortest road route, as opposed to as the crow flies, for its LocAle scheme. However local branches are allowed to vary that – it wouldn’t work in the remote parts of Scotland for instance. And obviously not in large parts of Canada.

    So you need to translate it a bit. In much of middle England, a 30 mile radius corresponds to about a million people and maybe 30-40 breweries. A few of those will be brewpubs that don’t sell to the wider trade, but most of them are wholesale operators. Whilst local is good, you also want to ensure a decent choice for drinkers (30 means a different brewery every week for six months if you wanted it), and that number of 30 seems to accord with your intuition for Portland. So I guess you’d want to come up with something that encapsulates the spirit of those numbers – for the likes of MB/SK/Northern Ontario a “province” kind of definition would work (but kinda sucks for establishments on the borders), but Southern Ontario is just so different to the rest of Canada that something like the British definition is needed.

    I don’t know the Canadian brewing scene at all, but how about “local is within 30 miles, or the distance that encompasses 30 wholesale breweries, whichever is the greater”?

  2. It’s probably worth noting that there was a lot of California to Washington migration in the 1980s and probably less in the reverse direction. I can easily see transplants wanting beer from “home”. There were also significant early craft brewers in Ca., like Anchor Steam or Sierra Nevada, that would have been in a better position to support out of state distribution.

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