Local Breweries Shouldn’t Buy into “Buy Local”

Schlafly

As much as it pains me to post this, I have to be frank you with: I am really annoyed by local brewers encouraging people to “buy locally.”

When it comes to beer, what does “buy local” mean?

For the record, I love microbreweries. I am a big fan of Great Lakes in Cleveland, Schlafly in St. Louis, and Port City and D.C. Brau in the D.C. metro area. However, I can buy all of those brews here in Washington, D.C. and in northern Virginia — less than a mile from my house.

When microbreweries become successful, does “buy local” mean anything anymore? In a slanted documentary, the founder of Dogfishead — a great brewery — really goes hard on the “buy local” concept and against mass brewers. That bothered me because I think it is disingenuous.

What spurred this post tonight was a facebook post from a brewery where a friend of mine is the brewer. He, like me, has libertarian leanings. I’m not sure about the owner.

As it turns out, a local business entity in their town — a non-profit local business development group — holds happy hours in this big metropolis. And an alternative weekly pointed out that the beers at said event aren’t from local breweries. Rather, they’re from a local distributor (gasp!) that isn’t offering locally brewed beers. THE HORROR!

Regular readers of this blog know I am skeptical of the “buy local” fad du jour. (Especially those dipshits in Maryland.) When people move, I argue, the cult of buying local presents a challenge.

If I, a Cleveland native, moved to Saint Louis — should I only drink St. Louis beer? If so, I’d have more choices than most people, seeing that there is a large multi-national brewer in town, not to mention the numerous local breweries. If not, I’m not “buying local” — especially if my hometown brewery starts selling beer there.

Should I buy Great Lakes or Schlafly? Which is more applicable to the “buy local” cult? I don’t know. Despite the fact that I think these people are loons, I have never had to solve that riddle because Great Lakes wasn’t available in St. Louis when I lived there and, more importantly, I don’t believe in “buy local.”

Fast forward to 2012 when I live in Washington, D.C. — a liquor store two blocks south of my office sells both Schlafly and Great Lakes. It also sells a few local brews. Except, for some reason, Great Lakes is $2 more expensive per 6-pack. What’s a guy to do?

Should I only buy beer brewed in Virginia and D.C. now that I live here? That is what advocates of “buy local” would tell me. But what about my brethren in my former home towns?

Anyways, so in this non-story the local alternative publishes, the comments are depressing:

Here’s one:

“I’m very confused about the ‘sponsoring’ that is going on here. If they are charging for the beer & they are a non-profit, why would they need sponsors with deep pockets. What else is going into these ‘events’ that they need money for?”

One commenter on the brewery’s facebook page (it shared the story) said this, and he got it:

“Just keep making good beer and we will keep drinking it. Their loss in my opinion.”

The first commenter is woefully ignorant of how non-profits operate. Non-profits aren’t structured in a way that they don’t generate revenue: that’s the whole point. Similarly, this person might be surprised to learn that local beer distributors of national brands employ locals.

The second comment that I posted was somewhat refreshing. In today’s politicized culture, people love saying they’ll boycott events or groups because of things they do/don’t do. Rational people will judge the event by its goals and decide to attend based on their incentives and desires.

I have no doubt that my friend’s brewery makes some of the best beer in his town. Why? I’ve tasted his beer and he is a genius. But, is not attending an event that is intended to promote local commerce — and has alcohol supplied by a local alcohol distributor — because they aren’t offering local beer hypocritical? I say yes.

Don’t like non-craft beers? Good for you. However, local distributors are local businesses and employ locals. Is that hard to understand?

People should buy beer they like because they like it and it’s offered at a price they are willing to pay. They shouldn’t buy into other arbitrary criteria like where it is brewed.

This is the main argument I have against “buying local” for locals’ sake. At the end of the day, people will have jobs delivering and selling the beer people prefer most. If it is locally brewed that’s swell. Buying locally for intrinsic reasons just doesn’t make economic sense.

And in today’s economy, it’s bound to leave a lot of people pretty darn conflicted. So I’ll use rational criteria like taste and price. 

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