American “craft” beer is a locally brewed adult beverage. It is not to be confused with mass-produced, conceptually derivative swill from multinational manufacturing corporations like AB InBev or MillerCoors… —The New Albanian, 2010
Craft beer started as a local, hand-crafted movement to create great beer distinctive from that of the diluted lagers of Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors. In the 1980s, when the “movement” started gaining momentum, brewers started homebrewing beer styles that they actually enjoyed drinking.
Today, American craft breweries are officially “small, independent, and traditional,” according to the Brewers Association.
As “craft beer” started making its way into liquor stores and the homes of more Americans, Anheuser Busch InBev and MillerCoors awakened to the profit potential of these new styles. Thus, they started buying distribution networks.
AB InBev distributes Goose Island around the country. MillerCoors started brewing Blue Moon in 1995. Many other examples abound.
The New Albanian, who blogs at The Potable Curmudgeon, wants to see another concept added to the definition of craft beer: locality. As the first homebrewers become larger, craft beer is losing its communal status. To combat this, beer drinkers need to drink more beers from their home regions.
According to the blogger, there are 10 commandments for why “buying local first” is beneficial to local economies, communities, and microbrewers. Buying local means “a return to local and the emergence of sustainable economies.” The New Albanian’s mantra is to “think globally, drink locally.”
I agree with the mantra, but I think we must add “buy small internationally. ”
First, a definition of terms. Essentially, localism means that when we consume, we should avoid chains as much as possible. Local bars, local hardware stores, local pharmacies, local farms, and local breweries should be our first choice most of the time.
I happen to agree with the concept, and I don’t think that low prices should be our sole focus when shopping. While WalMart can provide the cheapest options, we lose a part of our communality when we spend time in such mega-marts.
I’ve realized this firsthand. As a city boy, I have to make an effort to participate in a community. While everything is within a mile of my front door, I also do not have a personal relationship with my neighbors. The concept of “buying local first” is foreign to me.
In contrast, for some small towns, the community exists already, and the citizens rely on each other for provisions and livelihoods.
New Albany, Indiana is one of those places. It’s unsaturated as it the town is a growing region, and new entrepreneurs do not have to worry about cutthroat competition unless it comes from bigger chains.
But what about larger metropolitan areas that are already saturated? What about Portland, Oregon and Leuven, Belgium for brewers? What if a sustainable farmer wants to produce a new type of lambic, but can’t market it in a local township that already has hundreds of brands?
Enter Andre Janssens of Hof ten Dormaal in the Dijle valley of Belgium.
Stan Hieronymus posted about the local brewer on Appellation Beer this week. The New Albanian’s entreaty for localism and the story of Hof ten Dormaal both relate to “drinking locally.” However, what happens if a sustainable farmer can’t enter his own local market, but can import to a relatively unsaturated foreign country?
American beer drinkers can help these small brewers by buying from importers. “Buy small internationally.”
Mr. Janssens grows barley and bittering hops on his family-owned farm in Leuven. He stores the beers he makes in barrels on the property. The entrepreneur even created an innovative form of lambic, a sour Belgian beer style that naturally ages in open tanks.
The microbrewer discovered that one could brew the style outside of the Zenne valley, which is home to many native wild yeasts and bacterias.
Mr. Janssens, unfortunately, does not excel at marketing and selling his products. He failed to sell to local bars, as the market itself is already full of traditional lambics.
Fortunately, a US importer somehow discovered his brewery, which now composes 90% of Hof ten Dormaal’s market.
I understand the importance of buying local. But doesn’t “thinking globally” include helping such small brewers as Janssens’? We should “buy small” internationally as well.
Globalism benefits such brewers as Andre Janssens, who fits the definition of “small, traditional, and independent” almost perfectly. He is, however, not local to the United States.
If he can’t make it in his local market yet, we as “global thinkers” can help him do that. Marketing is easier in an interconnected world.
While globalism has killed some small businesses in the U.S., beer drinkers should feel comfortable with striking a balance between buying local and buying small internationally. We can buy from smaller microbrewers from around the world, as long as we still “shop local first.”
Indeed, I want to add an addendum to “think global, drink local.” Let us also “buy small internationally.” This may mean refraining from buying beer from the top 10 biggest craft breweries in the United States; primarily, it means that we should consume products from small artisans everywhere.
Websites such as Etsy enable these exchanges. The U.S. importer buying from Hof ten Dormaal is also doing its own part.
The 21st century economy does not have to oppose localism; it can enhance it if we think globally, drink locally, and buy small everywhere.