In my latest Beer 101 column (which actually has been up for a couple of weeks), I take an honest look at the ever raging debate between those who advocate drinking local and those who extol the virtues of sampling the best the world has to offer. You can read the whole article here, but I want to highlight a couple of thoughts from the column.
I have been struck at how often the issue of local vs. import pops up in the beer world. Comments on this website often reveal the divide between the two groups. Many loyal readers are avid advocates of the small breweries in our prairie cities, regularly urging others to support them with their consumer dollars. Others, I find, take a different tack, arguing the local breweries are too timid in their approach to styles and point to imports from the U.S., Britain and elsewhere as more desirable options.
This is not Two Solitudes. The groups have mutual respect for each other, and both are more than happy to acknowledge the merits of the other’s position. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t two positions in the discussion.
In the column I break down the relative advantages of each position: local means getting fresher, community-based, more environmentally sound craft beer at a lower cost; imports mean sampling some of the best the world has to offer and reveling in the full diversity the beer world has to offer. In a way it boils down to “I want the best!” vs. “I am part of a community!”. That is why the debate never goes away; it is anchored in fundamentally different premises.
We don’t resolve the issue by simply saying that once our cities have more breweries offering a wider range of beer and more “world-class” beer, we won’t need import beer. Even if I lived in San Diego, Portland, London, Brussels or Munich there would be styles of beer under-represented and “better” examples of styles brewed elsewhere.
Similarly, paying no attention to local product and emphasizing imports can be a self-destructive cycle. Without local brewers building interest in craft beer, there will be less market for the more expensive imports. It wasn’t that long ago when “import” meant Heineken, Guinness and Stella Artois. Building interest in craft beer means growing support at all levels.
It will come as a surprise to no one that I come down firmly straddling both sides of the fence (ouch!). In a way my take – which can be summed up as “we need both” – is so obvious as to be banal. But if it is so obvious, how come I keep seeing the two positions cropping into beer talk? I freely admit that I consume both my share of local beer and of imports (does that mean I am drinking two shares??). As do most of you, I suspect. So this isn’t a debate about action, it is about attitude. How we frame “good beer” and what it is may not shape our personal behaviour, but it does have consequence. Every beer aficionado is, in their own way, a community leader on the topic. When we engage in local-bashing or import-trashing, there are people listening to us and their opinion is being shaped by what we say.
So, I guess, I am making an argument for paying attention to how we frame the debate. It is not “import vs. local”. It is “import and local”. I know we drink that way, so let’s admit that we do so.