What is Local?

In the beer community you often hear the mantra “Support your local breweries, drink local beer”. Well, what exactly does “local” mean? It has different meanings depending on who you ask, but that doesn’t mean that only one answer is correct. So… what is local?

Here in Rhode Island, we get beer from all over the country world. Most of it comes from the US. We get a lot from Europe, and even some from as far away as Japan. I’m not talking about beer that’s actually brewed in the US under license from foreign breweries. I’m talking about actually importing the final product from these other countries. It travels pretty far. Most beer geeks (I prefer the term geek) will seek out the best beer regardless of how far it traveled. Many prefer to support their local breweries. That’s where this question of “what is local?” comes into play.

Rhode Island is a small state. In fact, it’s the smallest state. We have four brewpubs and one production brewery. The beer to come out of these places is local beer for us. But being as small as we are, we are very close to many other breweries. Local has many meanings. It can mean in the town, in the county, or in the state. Well, New England states tend to be small. Maine is our only exception, though it’s nothing compared to some of the states west of the Mississippi River. New England has a very strong regional feel to it. When it comes to beer, at least in Rhode Island, local does not mean in the same state. We have to branch out to reach more beer than the five beer producers in this state. Once you add in Massachusetts, you add several more breweries and a whole bunch of brewpubs. Tossing in Connecticut adds in even more. These are all within about a 3 hour drive from most of Rhode Island. I’m not going to stop there, though. Local to me is anything produced in the six New England states. This adds in a ton of breweries from Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, all of which have several breweries. The reason all of these breweries are local is because they are all within a relatively short drive, a drive that would keep you within many of the larger states out west.

The larger western states might have a different definition of local. They might make it a radius from their location. They might consider it anything within the same county or state. I tend not to think of local in terms of a radius. The biggest reason for that is because of the ocean. While Southampton might be pretty close to RI as the bird flies, it’s not quite as easy to get to as some places farther away in northern New England. This differs from the western states because there’s no ocean between you and the next state. A radius makes more sense. My definition most likely differs from that of people from a place like Vermont where they have an abundance of breweries all over the state. It probably differs from someone from Boston or Portland, ME where there are multiple breweries right in town. Ultimately, local has a different meaning for each person, but it need not mean only beer fromĀ  your state/county/town.

Let’s consider something else – the purpose of local. Local is used in terms of environmentalism and economics. With environmentalism, it’s used as a way to reduce pollution of trucking goods all over the place. Your “carbon footprint” is lowered by consuming local goods. With economics, it’s stimulating the economy of your location, whether that be town, state, or region. The reason I bring this up is that with beer, it tends to be considered in terms of economics. Drinking local beer supports the local economy and breweries in your local area. It raises an interesting question when it comes to contract brewed beers, such as Narragansett. The company is located in Providence. The money comes into Providence. The beer is brewed in Rochester, NY. Is it local? In terms of economics, yes. In terms of environmentalism, no. Would I consider it local as far as beer is concerned? Most definitely.

No matter how you define “local” when it comes to beer, support your local breweries. They may not be the best breweries or make the most amazing beer, but they are still your local breweries. Show pride in your locale, whatever that may be, and drink local beer. For me, that means drinking a Harpoon, a Smuttynose, or a Long Trail. It means drinking a Newport Storm, an Allagash, or a Berkshire. It means that I support New England beer. It means that when I travel, I try to drink the local beers for that area by visiting a brewpub or ordering the local beer. And if I don’t know what the local beer is, I ask. When asked what I’d like to drink, I’ll ask “what’s local and good?” The waiter or bartender usually knows.

I’ll be in Seattle and Bellingham, WA in June, and I’ll definitely be drinking. So… What’s local and good?

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