In 2007, total beer production for all US breweries was 183 million barrels. Realizing that Anheuser-Busch is responsible for more than 125 million of those is a sobering fact for most people. At some fundamental level, Americans don’t tend to side with any company that gets too big or too powerful. An economist and quality control expert can applaud the consistency of the Budweiser brew over 150 years and a shareholder can celebrate the fact that 1 in every 3 beers sold in America is a Bud Light. Read that statistic again if it didn’t sink in that one single product – not just a company but a single beer – dominates the US market. The fact that Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser are words my word processor knows how to spell is another indication of how ingrained their light lagers are in our culture.
If you have an Anheuser-Busch plant in your city, then the message is the same – support your local brewers. The website beerservesamerica.org showcases the economic impact and community involvement of brewers by state. Each time we drink a beer, we pay a tax and in turn the people responsible for getting that beer to us pay taxes as well. From a tax perspective, it only matters where you buy the beer and not where the beer is from though, right? Correct. So, what is so important about drinking local beer? Control.
Simply put, by limiting the sale and distribution of a beer to a regional market, brewers are better able to control the things that can destroy any perishable product – time and temperature. Local brewers can work with one distributor to ensure that kegs are shipped and stored cold from the time of packaging to delivery and storage at the bar. In addition to a decrease in the time it takes to get a beer to market, craft brewers are small and limited in how much beer they can produce at once which increases the likelihood that the beer you are drinking was not only properly handled but is also fresh.
Think of it like buying meat in the grocery store. Would you rather buy from a market that buys whole meat products (granted there is transit involved in this process too) and butchers on site or one that ships ground beef from a source hundreds or thousands of miles away? Does it make sense that the time between slaughter and sale effects the taste of the meat? Think of a fish market that kills and processes the fish on-site and right before your eyes. Sushi chefs rely on the freshest fish to create their dishes, and as a consumer, doesn’t it feel fresher (and safer) to know that the meat didn’t have far to travel from the process and packaging to the point of distribution? In Houston, our local brewers advertise beer being picked up by the distributor and delivered the same day to local bars and liquor stores.
We can’t freeze beer the way we can freeze other perishable foods, so refrigeration is key when distributing beer. Why? Because most US keg beers are not pasteurized. That means that you are buying food with no preservatives. How long would you want something free of preservatives sitting in the brewery waiting to be picked up by the distributor who then stores inventory in their warehouse before a customer purchases it and then stores it in their stockroom until there is room to put it on tap and then finally sits in the keg until you buy a glass? Would you buy ground beef if you knew the cow had been slaughtered months ago? Buying something in the refrigerated section of our grocery store carries with it an assumption that the freshness date is correct and that the temperature of those items has been properly controlled. Should we expect nothing less when we buy beer?
The further away you get from the source and the more people required to get that beer to market, the greater the risk that the beer has been improperly handled or was stored in the heat at some point during its journey. That’s why Budweiser has so many bottling plants and they also control their distribution channel which means it is safe to assume that your Bud Light is fresh. Kegs shipped from overseas must be pasteurized to ensure safe passage and some would argue that’s why an imported beer tastes different in the US than it does when we experience the same beer drawn from a keg in an overseas pub.
At best, maybe I’ve discouraged your consumption of imported keg beers but with modern transportation, you may still not be able to convince a devout Bud Light fan to order a craft brew. At a certain point, you end up a craft beer lover because you like the taste better. That may not have as much to do with freshness as it does the variety of beers available to you as a craft beer lover. Trying new beers and looking forward to seasonal brews is what unites us as a craft beer culture. We are fans who visit the breweries, know the names of the founders and the brewmasters, follow them to events they sponsor around town, and say hi to them when we travel around the country to attend beer festivals. As a member of our communities, many of us simply feel like supporting our local beer culture is the right thing to do. Why do people go to Farmer’s Markets or stop at roadside stands to buy local honey or vegetables and fruits?
Whatever your reasons, a call to drink locally is a call to expand your beer horizons and craft breweries are tools you can use to do that. The scale of influence that Bud Light has on the American pallet inspired home brewers in America to revolt. That spirit of independence and freedom of expression birthed and continues to fuel the craft beer movement in America.