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Friday, July 31, 2009

Of Beer near and far

It's been a topic that's been on my mind of late as well. That is, the ability to find what might be seemingly obscure brands of beer from one Coast to the other to the Great Lakes to the Deep South. I travel a fair amount and when I do, I often like to search out indigenous "things." Whether those things are the local baseball team, a local running group/trail, local music, local food and beverage products, or a gift to bring home with me, these options seem to be disappearing in recent years gone by. Some might call it the Wal-martization of our country. Or the excessive commodization of goods and services. Whether it's ceviche in Denver or St. Somewhere beer in San Francisco, it's becoming more difficult to find unique things when I travel, particularly beer. Let's stick to beer here since that really is supposed to be my main focus on these pages, right? Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) eluded to this a couple of Fridays ago when he discussed leaving old mainstays by the wayside in search of the "next great thing" and it segued me over to another loosely related strain that Andy Crouch wrote about recently for Beer Advocate magazine. These pieces brought me back to a eventual theme being: "Is the thrill of the hunt being lost as beer, what used to be regional beer and even in some cases "limited production beer", becomes more widely available?" Obviously, you can tell already that I do believe some of the thrill is gone. Like recently when I was in the southeast (Florida and Georgia to be exact) and was happy to find fresh and local (relatively, I suppose) Terrapin beer. Granted, I realize that Terrapin is not the smallest brewery in the country, but yet they didn't (at that time) distribute to Pennsylvania and most of the northeast. I wasn't aware that almost exactly at that time, they were getting approval and distribution arrangements in place to do just that. And, now this month, southeastern Pennsylvania is getting regular shipments of Terrapin. Not that it's a bad thing from a selfishly personal perspective. But also, not that all brands will be flowing into PA, but some of that special allure will be gone during the next trip I make into the southeast. Now what I did bring home with me, though, were brands that we may not ultimately see in PA either regularly, or at all. Ones like the Side Project, Rye Squared, and Big Hoppy Monster. Forget about Terrapin for a minute, though, and take St. Somewhere. A little, tiny brewery also from the southeast, just north of Tampa Bay to be specific. Only have capacity for something like 256 barrels of beer production. Last year did just under 200 barrels. Yet they distribute to PA, CA, MA, and somewhere else I don't recall....and they have plans to go farther. Yes, the Saison Athene tasted delightful in Florida and there was certainly a intangible side to the experience, knowing that it was brewed just up the Gulf Coast. But, when I can buy it at home for a couple of dollars more per bottle, it didn't make the experience of drinking it there or the desire to cart any of it home with me any more than it might have been otherwise. What do you think? Consumers, Brewers, Distributors, Business Owners...weigh in.

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