The Columbus Ale Trail

Elevator Brewery & Draught Haus – one of the breweries on the Columbus Ale Trail
The Columbus Ale Trail Passport

I was in Columbus, OH a few weeks ago. I was there for a couple of conferences – CEOs for Cities and Data Driven ’16. While my days were spent listening to presentations my evenings were free. My colleague Margie, who arrived in Columbus before me, picked up a small booklet titled Columbus Ale Trail. It is a pocket-sized, passport-type, booklet that contains information on the twenty-eight breweries that comprise the Columbus Ale Trail. The basic idea is that as you visit an establishment on the trail you get a stamp verifying your visit. Visit four establishments and you receive a complimentary ale trail beer glass (shaker style); visit all twenty-eight and you get a complimentary pack of ale trail playing cards. While most of the breweries on the trail are located in the city of Columbus there are a few that are to be found in outlying communities such as Westerville and Gahanna. In the three evenings that I was there I was able to visit six of the breweries – Barley’s Brewing Company, Elevator Brewery Restaurant, Elevator Brewery Taproom, North High Brewing, Seventh Son Brewing Co., and Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. This  qualified me for a complimentary shaker pint glass which I picked up at the Experience Columbus Visitor Center located inside the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

My Columbus Ale Trail Shaker glass

Columbus is not unique in having an ale trail; other cities have them. These include Fayetville, AR, Fort Worth, TX, and Jacksonville, FL. Most ale trails have common components – a website, a map, a passport, and rewards for reaching certain milestones. There are some places that have combined beer and wine trails; the West Michigan Wine and Beer Trail and The Mansfield and Richland County (OH) Wine and Ale Trail being two examples. Ale trails can be self-guided or they can be undertaken as part of an organized tour. Both have their merits and I have done them both ways. While in Columbus there were enough breweries within a short walking distance from each other that I was able to go the self-guided route. Earlier this year I was in Charlotte, NC and went on an organized tour of a handful of the city’s breweries. This was ideal as the craft breweries in Charlotte were not within walking distance of each other.

So why do communities go to the trouble of developing ale trails? They do so because they recognize that beer tourism is a growing phenomenon.  To quote the website of the Michigan Brewers Guild, “Tourism is big business in Michigan – and travel focused on the craft brewing industry is a hot ticket”. It is not just a hot ticket in Michigan. Beer related tourism is booming across the entire United States. A 2014 survey by MMGY Global, for example, provided some insights into craft brewery tourists who visited Portland, OR tourism industry. During the two years prior to the survey one in ten Americans had visited Portland. Of those visitors forty-five percent indicated that they had visited a microbrewery, forty percent took a brewery tour, thirty-five percent attended a craft beer making class, and thirty-four percent attended a craft beer tasting event or festival. A 2015 study examining the economic impact of beer tourism in Kent County, MI estimated that during the previous year the county received nearly 43,000 beer tourists, who each stayed an average of  2.27 days during which time they visited an average of 3.7 breweries. The total spending of these beer tourists was estimated to be in excess of $7 million. This includes money spent on beer, lodging, food, retail, transportation, and entertainment. Kent County is home to a number of well known breweries including Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids.

A map of Brewer’s Row in Columbus, OH

All of the breweries I visited in Columbus (except the Elevator Brewery and Taproom) are located on what the Ale Trail website refers to as Brewer’s Row. Brewers Row, which is focused on North High and North 4th Streets is a little more than a mile in length from north to south and is runs about three blocks in an east-west direction. Having a concentration of breweries in a relatively small geographic area is beneficial to beer tourists like myself as it makes it possible to walk between all the breweries within the time-frame of an evening or two (if like me you prefer a more leisurely pace).

Wolf’s Ridge Brewing – one of the breweries on Brewery Row in Columbus, OH
North High Brewing – one of the breweries on Brewer’s Row in Columbus, OH

Recently I have been looking at the issue of the geographic clustering of craft breweries in ten cities across the United States. This is research being conducted with two colleagues – Isabelle Nilsson who is on the faculty at the at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and Matt Lehnert, a doctoral student at the University of Toledo. One of the arguments that we use in support of the idea that craft breweries should cluster together in close proximity to each other is that doing so facilitates the practice of brewery-hopping (the same as bar hopping except you are hopping between craft breweries). As I was doing some background reading for this research project I came across a paper that had been written by a group of students as part of a class assignment for a course in Marketing at Northern Colorado University. It caught my eye because the students, based on interviews, had developed a typology of craft beer drinkers. Their typology comprised four types  – novice, loyalist, enthusiast, and explorer. By far, the greatest number of craft beer drinkers are either enthusiasts or explorers. What differentiates these two groups of drinkers is that the former has a strong appreciation for the brewing process and is interested in the history of the industry, while the latter have little interest in such things. However, it is what these two groups have in common that is of interest to us here. Both groups enjoy visiting craft breweries and make an effort to visit as many as possible. They also like to try beers that they have not tasted before. Clearly, visiting different craft breweries is easier when they are geographically concentrated in space. In our research on craft brewery clustering we used a measure called Ripley’s K (sorry to get technical for a second) to assess whether craft in the cities of Austin, TX, Charlotte, NC, Chicago, IL, Denver, CO, Minneapolis, MN, New your City, NY, Portland, OR, San Diego, CA, San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WI. With the exception of Austin, TX we found evidence of the geographic clustering of craft breweries in all of the cities.

RAM Restaurant and Brewery is scheduled to open in Columbus in October 2016

This clustering of craft breweries will become more pronounced as more breweries open up. While walking between breweries in Columbus I happened upon a brewery under construction – the RAM Restaurant and Brewery is scheduled to open on October 31, 2016. More breweries, of course, are good news for beer tourists, particularly those who are enthusiasts and explorers. It will make it more convenient to travel between breweries and sample the fine beer that so many are producing.



Beck’s, A Lawsuit, and Terroir

My $12.00 check

Earlier this summer I received a check for twelve dollars in the mail. It was my share of a class action lawsuit that had been successfully brought against Anheuser-Busch (A-B). The focus of the lawsuit was Beck’s beer. Beck’s is ostensibly a German beer. The Beck’s brewery was established in the German town of Bremen in 1873. The brewery continues to brew Beck’s until this day, although the brewery, and hence the Beck’s brand, is no longer German-owned. Today it is part of the vast Anheuser-Busch InBev global empire that also includes brands such as Corona, Stella Artois, and Leffe. To the average beer drinker, blissfully unaware of the merger and acquisition activity that is so commonplace in the global beer industry, Beck’s is a German beer.  But Beck’s is not only brewed in Germany. Since 2012 it has also been brewed in the United States, in A-B’s St. Louis, MO brewery. The Beck’s brewed in St. Louis is sold in the American market. Enter lawsuit stage left.

The offenfing label clearly tells the consumer that the product was made in the United States

The lawsuit, filed by Rene Marty et al., alleged that Anheuser-Busch “misrepresented to consumers that Beck’s Beer is brewed in and imported from Germany. Plaintiffs allege that these beers are in fact domestically brewed but priced as a premium imported beer”. The crux of the plaintiff’s argument revolved around the fact that the Beck’s label states that the beer “Originated in Bremen, Germany” and is of “German Quality”. But as noted above the Beck’s sold in the U.S. market is brewed in the U.S.  Actually, it states on the label that it is brewed in the United States – the words “Product of USA” are there, in plain sight, for all to see. However, that did not stop Marty et al. from filing their lawsuit. One of the arguments made by the plaintiffs was that “many breweries in the US and Europe are located in certain areas solely because the water in those regions yield a high quality beer”. And American consumers are willing to pay more for higher quality imported beer, which the Beck’s brewed in the United States, they argue, is not. So you get the picture.

1939 advertisement extolling the virtues of Burton-on-Trent’s water

Raising the issue of water in their lawsuit is interesting. In doing , the plaintiffs were, to some extent, making a terroir argument. Terroir is a concept that is used in the wine industry. It is the idea that the character of the wine grapes (and hence the character of the wine they produce) is highly influenced by local environmental conditions, especially soil and climate. Water has an  influence on the taste of a beer. Today breweries can modify their water supply to to suit different styles of beer. Hence all craft breweries , no matter where they are located, can brew a portfolio of beers that include, for example, pilsners, IPAs, porters, and Scotch Ales. That was not always the case, however, and there are numerous historical examples of particular places brewing a particular style of beer that reflected the characteristics of the local water. The hard water of Burton-on-Trent in England is ideal for making English ales such as Bass, while the soft water of Plzen in the Czech Republic gave rise to the famous Pilsner Urquell. Indeed, in 1939,  an advertisement in the The U.S. Virgin Island’s Daily News  described Burton-on-Trent as “the one spot in the world where the well-water is so obviously intended by Nature for kindly union with those fruits of the earth, to give beer incomparable”. In a more contemporary example Tim Patton, owner of Saint Benjamin Brewing Company in Philadelphia, PA argues that the water in the city of brotherly love is particularly suited to making English-style ales. One of the beer’s brewed by Patton is Baxter’s Best,  described on the brewery’s website as a “dark English session beer brewed with unmodified Philly water from the Baxter Plant”. Yes, the beer is named after one of the city’s water treatment plants.

Michigan centennial hops are being grown at the Lansing Brewing Company in Lansing, MI
Ohio is one of the state’s where hop farming is growing

But water is only one of the basic ingredients that go into the making of beer – the others are hops, malted barley, and yeast.  With repspect to hops three states dominate American hop production  – between them Washington, Oregon , and Idaho produce over 95% of American hops. The recent craft beer boom, however, and the appearance of 4,000+ craft breweries all across the country has seen farmers in nineteen other states enter the hop growing business. Of course the majority of craft beers are brewed using hops from the Pacific Northwest. As more locally-grown hops become available, however, I expect that more breweries will start to utilize and incorporate them into their recipes. And, in all likelihood, the characteristics of these hops will be influenced by the soil and climate of the places where they are grown.  For example, it had been observed that the taste of Citra hops depends upon where they are grown – those grown in Chico, CA have notes of ripe honeydew melon while those grown in Yakima, WA have notes of tropical fruit, particularly mango. The science behind terroir is farirly straightforward. As noted by John Henning, hop geneticist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Oregon, “All plant species have methylated DNA, which causes some genes to be “switched on” more easily than others. Differences in soil, day length, temperatures, amount of rainfall and terrain all may influence the methylation process.”

Moving on to malted barley and yeast, a growing number of craft brewers are sourcing both of these locally.  Regional malting houses that use locally grown barley can now be found in a number of states including Massachusetts, Michigan, and Colorado. In the state of New York over a dozen small malt houses have been established in recent years to serve the state’s 200+ craft breweries. In a recent survey of craft breweries in New York ,eighty-eight percent indicated that they intend to purchase New York-grown malt in the future. Furthermore, seventy percent said that they would be willing to pay a premium for malted barley grown within the state. New York State is an interesting case. On January 1, 2013 the Farm Brewery Law went into effect. The law is designed to encourage craft breweries to use more ingredients sourced from within the state’s borders. If at least twenty percent of a beer’s hops and at least twenty percent of its other ingredients are grown within New York it can be designated as a New York State labeled beer. These percentage minimum thresholds will increase in the future, eventually reaching ninety percent by 2024.

Yeast is perhaps the least locally-sourced of beer’s ingredients. Most yeast used by America’s commercial brewers is isolated, stored and propagated by a laboratory. However, as noted by Erika Bolden “there are a number of experimental breweries that are gathering yeast from their region and isolating it for the purpose of creating beer that better reflects its place.” This is a process called spontaneous fermentation, whereby the wort (beer before fermentation) is exposed  to the air and is so exposed to  naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria. Allagash Brewing in Portland, ME is credited with being the first American brewery to use spontaneous fermentation.  Others breweries have followed Allagash’s lead and have sought to incorporate local yeasts into their beer. Urban Architect is one such brewery. Located in Cincinnati, OH,  Urban Architect sources local wild yeasts leading them to proudly proclaim that “all our beers are wild“. Christian DeBenedetti, the founder of Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery in Newburg, OR has been experimenting brewing a saison using yeast attained from overripe Brooks plums.

What happens in the brewery can overpower any expression of terroir
What happens in the brewery can overpower any expression of terroir

In addition to water, hops, malt, and yeast some brewers are also utilizing more unusual locally sourced ingredients (everything from spruce tips to fresh cherries to chanterelle mushrooms) in order to “convey a sense of the [local] landscape” in their beers. The term foraged beers has been invoked to describe beers that incorporate such locally available ingredients. Such is his passion for using local ingredients in the brewing of beer that one individual, Eric Steen, started a program called Beers Made by Walking (BMBW). Established in 2011 the program “invites brewers to go on nature hikes, and urban walks, and make new beer inspired by the edible and medicinal plants from the trail” and, in doing so, to “create unique beers that give drinkers a sense of place”. BMBW takes its show on the road and in 2015, for example, hosted walks for brewers in eight different American cities. With respect to the walks “each walk is different, each beer is a portrait of that landscape.” Breweries that specialize in using locally-foraged ingredients in their beers include Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, IL. Scratch brew their beers “with a diverse array of farmed and foraged ingredients that showcase the “terroir” of Southern Illinois.” Their brews include Wild Carrot Ale that uses “wild carrot roots and seeds harvested from the property” and Gooseberry Saison whose ingredients include local gooseberries. In a similar fashion Alec Stefansky, owner of Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz, CA uses locally foraged ingredients (including fragrant redwood branches) because he wants “to make flavors that are uniquely Northern Californian.”

As a professional geographer the concept of place is important to me.  Each place is unique in terms of culture, economy, physical environment, and if some of these brewers are successful, then pephaps even beer. It is exciting that a small cadre of brewers are trying to brew beers that capture the unique flavor imparted by local ingredients.

But what about that $12 check I got in the mail? What did I do with it? Well I cashed it of course and put it towards the purchase of a couple of six packs of craft beer.




My wife and I just spent ten days in Austria. Most of the time was spent in Vienna, but we did take the train to Salzburg and spent two and a half days there. This was part of a longer trip to Europe where we also spent some time in Munich, Germany, and Poznan, Poland. The trip was a mix of business and pleasure. I was attending a couple of conferences, including the 56th Congress of the European Regional Science Association which was held in Vienna.

Vienna’s 1516 Brewing Company – one of the many microbreweries that dot the Austrian landscape

The Austrians certainly enjoy their beer. They drink an average of 104 liters per capita per year – in Europe only the Czechs and the Germans drink more. And more of the beer that they are drinking is craft beer which is growing in popularity. Of the country’s 198 breweries 109 are microbreweries. Today the most popular style of beer in Austria is Märzen. Accounting for approximately sixty percent of Austrian beer sales it is a style that has its origins in the Middle Ages when brewing good-tasting beers during the hot summer months was challenging – brews often became infected with air-born bacteria. So starting in the month of March (the German word for March is März) the brewers of the period made well-hopped beer that would keep through the summer months.

Anton Dreher – the creator of Vienna Lager

Vienna is famous within the beer world for lending its name to a particular style of beer, namely Vienna Lager. You will be hard pressed, however, to find any Vienna Lager in the city of Vienna. For while the style was invented here, it is nowadays only brewed by a small number of microbreweries who are rediscovering this classic lager. The style was developed by the Austrian brewer Anton Dreher (1810-1863) in 1841. Dreher utilized higher drying temperatures to create a reddish carmelized crystal malt which, when combined with larger yeast, resulted  in an amber hued lager. The malt created by Dreher became known as Vienna Malt and the lager became known as Vienna Lager. It is the Vienna malt that gives the lager its distinctive flavor profile. The style’s popularity in Central Europe was short-lived, however, as pale lagers increased in popularity in the late 1800s.

Casilda of Toledo - A Vienna Lager from Toledo's Black Cloister Breweru
Casilda of Toledo – A Vienna Lager from Toledo’s Black Cloister Brewery

While Vienna Lager’s star was falling in Europe it started to rise over 6,000 miles away in the Republic of Mexico. In 1864 Maximillian, the younger brother of  Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I, was appointed as the Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire.  Maximillian arrived in Mexico with a number of Austrian brewers in tow, all of whom brought with them recipes for Vienna Lager. While Maximillian’s reign was short-lived (it ended with his execution in 1867) Vienna Lager’s popularity grew. Today, the style is represented by Mexican brews such as Dos Equis Amber and Negra Modello. Vienna Lagers are also popular among craft brewers in the United States. My own local brewery in Toledo, OH, the Black Cloister, but has its Vienna Lager, Casilda of Toledo, as one of its year-round offerings. Today, a small number of Austrian breweries produce a Vienna lager. Ottakringer, Vienna’s oldest operating brewery (established in 1837) brew Wiener Original, which is based on a one hundred year old recipe, while Salzburg’s Brauerei Gusswerk produce Wiener Lager.

Austrian Amber Ale and Schwarz Brau Helles – two of the microbrewered beers I enjoyed while in Austria.
1516 lager which I enjoyed while visiting the 1516 Brewing Company while in Vienna

When I visit another country I like to sample both their macro-beers and their craft beers. Unlike the United States (where Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors dominate the market) the Austrian brewing industry is much more decentralized and the market is more evenly spread across a larger number of medium-sized breweries. Austria’s largest brewery, Brau-Union Österreich  (which is owned by Heineken) had a 57% market share in 2015. The second and third largest Brewers, Stieglbrauerei zu Salzburg and Ottakringer Getränke had a twelve percent and six percent market share respectively. I enjoyed a number of beers produced by Austria’s larger breweries. These included  Zipfer Utryp (a Munich helles), Gösser Märzen,  Kaiser Fasstyp  (Munich Helles), Stiegl-Paracelsus-Zwickl, and Edelweiss Hofbrau. I also tried a number of beers from the country’s smaller breweries. It should be noted that the Europeans have a different threshold for defining a microbrewery than we have in the United States. In the United States a microbrewery is defined as one producing under 15,000 barrels of beer per year, while in Europe a microbrewery is defined as one producing no more than 852 barrels (1,000 hectoliters) annually – quite a difference. Beers from the smaller Austrian breweries that I sampled were 1516 lager from Vienna’s 1516 Brewing Company, Austrian Amber Ale from Salzurg’s Brauerei Gusswerk, and Schwarz Bräu Helles from Privatbrauerei Gerald Schwarz in Krumbach. Brauerei is noteworthy as its beers are brewed using only organic ingredients.

While in Austria my wife took a liking to radlers. A radler is simply a mix of lager and a soft drink such as Sprite. In Austria Almudler (a carbonated soft drink) when making a radler. Proportions can vary but the ones I saw the bartenders make in Austria tended to be three parts lager to one part soft drink. It reminded me of shandy in Britain, which is basically the same drink. Growing up in Scotland I remember that my mother would often enjoy a shandy on a hot summer’s day. Watching my wife enjoying a radler brought back some childhood memories.

Overall, I was impressed by the Austrian beer scene. There is a nice mix of larger and smaller breweries producing a variety of very drinkable beers. As is the trend in many other European countries I anticipate that more craft breweries will open their doors and that the diversity of beer offerings will grow. All this is good news for native Austrians and visitors alike.

Loos American Bar

I travel quite a bit in my line of work. And every now and then I come across a bar to which I know I will return should I visit that particular town or city again. Loos American Bar in Vienna, Austria is one such bar. I first visited Loos in August of 2012. A few weeks ago I was back in Vienna and found myself at Loos once again. Loos has everything – a fascinating backstory,  a wonderful ambience, and a fantastic selection of cocktails;  more than all of these things, it is an architectural gem. Ironically, given that The Beer Professor has chosen to feature this bar in his blog, Loos’ beer selection is far from impressive (more about that later).

Adolf Loos
Adolf Loos

Adolf Franz Karl Victor Maria Loos (1870-1933) was an Austrian architect who has been described as “one of the most influential European architects of the late 19th century”. From all accounts he was more influential for his writings than his works. In his writings he advocated that building design should be driven by pragmatism. He opposed ornamentation and anything that did not have a rational function. As a result “his buildings were often composed of pure forms and were justified by their economic practicality and utilitarian qualities.”

Loos is located next to Chez Nous Nightclub

At the age of twenty-three Loos moved to the the United States where he lived for three years (1893-1896). While in the U.S. he was impressed by American innovative efficiency, particularly with respect to industrial buildings, furniture, and clothing. The work of Louis Sullivan had a particular impact on him. Upon returning to Europe Loos settled in Vienna, making it his home. In 1907-1908 Loos designed and built the Kärntner (Corinthian) Bar. It was so named because of its location just off of Kärntner Strasse. It was Vienna’s first  American bar.  Indeed British architect Sean Griffiths notes that “as well as being a very radical piece of early 20th century design, as Europe’s first ever cocktail bar (cocktails are an American invention) it brought a decadent New World experience to an old imperial Europe on the verge of catastrophic dissolution.” Exactly  when it transitioned from being referred to as the Kärtner Bar to Loos American Bar is uncertain.

Loos’ interior
Loos’ interior

The interior of Loos was described in a 2013 story by Frederic Morton in Vanity Fair magazine. Morton describes Loos as follows – “In a low-wattage speakeasy dusk floats a saloon of only 290 square feet, expanded by wall mirrors to suggest a glimmering spaciousness. The materials are elegant: mahogany (the bar counter and paneled ceiling), onyx (the backlit wall tiles), and marble (the green and white squares of the floor). Loos somehow conjured a modernist mirage, akin to the Cubism Picasso was creating simultaneously in Paris.” Griffiths describes Loos’ interior as “astonishing“. It is an interior that was used in 2012 to film a Gucci commercial.

Loos’ menu

One of the things that I particularly like about Loos is the drinks menu. It is a thirty-eight page hardcover book. It contains autobiographical information about Loos, as well as both black and white and colored photographs of the bar. It also provides informative histories of different types of drinks such as aperitifs, digestifs, champagne cocktails, brandy, tequila, vodka, whiskey, and rum. The cocktail list itself is impressive. I am not a cocktail guy but I was intrigued by concoctions with names like New York Flip, Betsy Ross, Hanky Panky, and Bee’s Kiss.

Enjoying an Ottakringer Gold Fasl Pils at Loos

As I noted above, Loos is not a beer bar. It has one draft beer and three bottled beers available. The draft beer is Ottakringer Gold Fassl Pils, while the bottled beers are Guinness, Budweiser (the Czech one, not the American one), and Samichlaus, from the Schloss Eggenburg brewery in Vorchdorf, Austria. I opted for the local beer – the Gold Fasl Pils. Gold Fasl is brewed by Ottakringer Brauerei. Located in Ottakring, Vienna’s 16th district the brewery has been around since 1837 and today is still predominantly family-owned. At Loos the Gold Fasl comes in one size – 0.2 liters. At €3.50 (~$4) it is not cheap, even by Viennese standards (the average price for a pint of domestic draft beer in Vienna is €3.50).  Inevitably if you spend enough time at Loos you will will have to pay a visit to the restroom (Loos’ loo if you will). Be careful – like many European bars the restroom is to be found in the basement and the stairs to get there are both steep and narrow – not   an easy journey if you try to make it after too many cocktails.

Outside Loos

If you are ever in Vienna go to Loos. It is right there in the city center, sandwiched between Chez Nous Nightclub (a strip bar) and Maison de Perfum (a perfume retailer). Have a beer (or a cocktail), sit for an hour or so, and soak up the ambience. On my last visit in 2012 I sat inside the bar; this time my wife and I sat at one of the sidewalk tables just outside the bar. When we got there in the mid-afternoon we were one of the few folks sitting outside; but within an hour it picked up and was soon bustling. It was a great place from which to people watch – both other patrons and passers-by.  I doubt I could visit Vienna without going to Loos. It would be like going to Tokyo and not stopping off at Bar Monde or going to Amsterdam and not having a few beers at Brouwerij de Prael – unthinkable.

Buy Me, I’m Local

I'm Local - a six-pack of Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale from Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI
I’m Local – a six-pack of Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale from Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI

I was in my local Kroger grocery store last week. Those of you who are Facebook friends with me will know it as Scary Kroger (yes people have been shot in the parking lot). I pretty much follow the same pattern winding my way through the aisles every time I go there. The last aisle I usually wander down is the one with beer in it. I do not buy much beer from Kroger but always like to check out what they have to offer. Last time I was there I noticed that a number of beers had the words “I’m Local” next to or incorporated into the price tag. Kroger have been using these “I’m Local” designations for quite some time but I never paid much attention to them before. So noticing them got me thinking – what does it mean for a beer (or any product for that matter) to be identified as a “local”?

As a trained geographer I think of “local” as an inherently geographic concept. When I hear the term “local” a number of adjectives spring immediately to mind – nearby, close, and proximate being just a few.  It is also a relative concept – beer brewed in Toledo is more local than beer brewed in Detroit, MI, which is more local than beer brewed in San Diego, CA. Which, of course, begs the question as to when does beer cease being local and become, well, non-local?

There is no straightforward answer to that question. There are almost as many different definitions of local as there are styles of beer (The Brewers Association recognizes over 150 different styles of beer). According to the 2008 Farm Act passed by the United States Congress local foods are defined as those that are transported less than four hundred miles or come from within the state that they are produced. Many consumers disagree with this definition, considering a four hundred mile radius too generous. A 2015 study by A. T. Kearney found that consumers have a stricter definition of local. Ninety-six percent of consumers surveyed believed that for a product to be local it had to be made or produced within a one hundred mile radius of the point of sale – this was up from 64% in 2013. This suggests that consumers are perhaps rethinking the meaning of local and are redefining it to be even more geographically restrictive.

Not surprisingly different retailers define local differently. Wal-Mart, the country’s largest retailer, defines a food as local if it is grown in the same state as it is sold. From one perspective this is a problematic definition – states are different sizes; Texas, for example, is much larger than Rhode Island (two hundred and twenty times larger in fact). Whole Foods defines any food that is produced within seven hours of one of its stores as local. As for the grocery store where I purchase a lot of my groceries, Kroger, a local food is defined as coming from within a four hundred mile radius. On my last visit to my Kroger I counted beer from nine breweries labeled as local – Bell’s in Kalamazoo, MI;  Brew Kettle in Strongsville, OH; Christian Morlein in Cincinnati, OH; Fat Head’s in Middleburgs Heights, OH; Founders in Grand Rapids, MI; Four String in Columbus, OH; Great Lakes in Cleveland, OH; Maumee Bay in Toledo, OH; and Rhinegeist in Cincinnati, OH. Interestingly beer from Atwater in Detroit, MI was not labeled as local – an oversight perhaps?

The fact that some retailers promote some goods as being local, however defined, suggests that the concept has some currency. And there is no question that demand for local food is increasing. This can be witnessed by the increasing numbers of farmers markets, community gardens, CSAs (community supported agriculture), and yes craft breweries. For example, between 1994 and 2014, the number of farmers’ markets in the United States increased from 1,755 to 8,284. During the same twenty-year period the number of craft breweries increased from 537 to 3,676. The demand for locally-made products is referred to as neolocalism. Neolocalism was defined in a 1996 paper by James Shortridge as the “deliberate seeking out of regional lore and local attachment by residents (new and old) as a delayed reaction to the destruction of modern America of traditional bonds to community and family”. In other words many Americans are seeking out products that have a connection with the local community in which they live. Small scale craft breweries that are independently-owned and operated by people who live a few miles away certainly satisfies this demand for a product, beer, that has its roots firmly embedded in the local community. Yes the yeast, hops, and malted grains that go into the beer may be imported but the water and the creativity of the brewer are very much local. In a 2003 article  Steven Schnell and Joseph Reese (2003, 46) suggest
that craft breweries are partly a response to the “smothering homogeneity of popular, national culture” and the desire on the part of increasing numbers of people to “reestablish connections with local communities, settings, and economies,” while Wes Flack, in 1997 stated that craft breweries represent a “rejection of national, or even regional culture, in favor of something more local.”

Research has shown that consumers prefer local produce for a variety of reasons, with two of the most important being its superior quality and taste. In the case of craft beer its superior quality and taste (compared with macro-beer) is indisputable. And when it is consumed in the taproom of the brewery in which it is brewed there is the added bonus of product freshness, which can be particularly important for some styles of beers such as IPAs. As noted by one beer writer “beer tastes best fresh” and “the best way to get fresh beer is choose beer from local breweries.” Research has also demonstrated that people, particularly younger people, are willing to pay a ten percent premium (in some cases a fifteen percent premium) for locally sourced foods. This seems consistent with what we can observe in the craft beer market where demand appears to be primarily driven by the millennial demographic who are willing to pay a premium for superior tasting craft beer.

So it seems to make good business sense that a retailer like Kroger would stock locally-produced craft beer. Indeed, this article suggests that Kroger customers are looking for local beer when they visit their local Kroger store and the company is responding by stocking beers that are brewed in the local region. And if they are going to stock local beer then it seems a good idea that they should make customers aware of the fact – hence the “I’m Local” signage.

A Miller Lite Billboard in Toledo proclaiming "Proudly Brewed in Ohio"
A Miller Lite Billboard in Toledo proclaiming “Proudly Brewed in Ohio”

Even America’s macro-brewers, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, play up the local angle from time to time. Just the other day I was driving through my own city of Toledo, OH and caught sight of a billboard advertising Miller Lite – it proudly proclaimed “Proudly Brewed in Ohio”. And so it is. Miller Lite is brewed at a MillerCoors brewery in Trenton, OH. Trenton is about one hundred and eighty miles southwest of Toledo, so in a geographic sense one can argue that it is local beer. In addition to its Trenton brewery MillerCoors brews beer in seven other cities across the United States. Anheuser-Busch also brews its beer in twelve breweries scattered across the United States, including one located in Columbus, OH. In 2013 Anhueser-Busch released a television commercial that emphasized the fact that it has a dozen breweries all across the country. It opened with the narrator asking the question, “Do you know where your beer is brewed?” and went on to bill itself as “America’s largest local brewery”, while emphasizing the role that proximity to the customer plays in the freshness of its product. Interestingly, despite their Ohio breweries,  my Kroger store does not identify any of the Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors beers as local.

“Our Beers Have Less Of A Commute Than You Do!!!”

So back to question as to what constitutes a local beer. There is no clear-cut answer of course.  For me a beer brewed in Toledo is definitely local. The concept of northwest Ohio also resonates with me, so a beer brewed in Sandusky or Napoleon certainly has a localness about it. And I do find myself having a stronger emotional connection with a beer brewed in Ohio than say the neighboring state of Michigan, even though the latter may come from a brewery that is geographically more proximate. So I have a stronger affinity with a beer brewed in Cincinnati, OH (two hundred miles from Toledo) than a beer brewed in Ann Arbor, MI (fifty miles from Toledo). When I travel and go to a bar I always try to drink local beer. Typically, I ask the bartender if the bar has any beer brewed in the town or city I am visiting. In the absence of that I inquire about beer brewed in the state. So last month when I was in Charlotte, NC I sought out Charlotte brews first and North Carolina brews second. And when I travel overseas I prefer beer brewed in the country I am traveling in and increasingly, with the growth of craft breweries in other countries, from the city or region I am visiting. Whether at home or traveling there is no excuse not to drink beer that was brewed nearby. Retail outlets, bars, and restaurants are carrying more and more locally-brewed beer and according to The Brewers Association 75% of Americans who are of legal drinking age live within ten miles of a craft brewery. I was in San Diego, CA last week. While there I had a couple of beers in one of the bars at the Sheraton Hotel. Above the bar was a screen displaying the bar’s draft list. With the exception of Bud Light were San Diego beers. Across the bottom of the screen were the words “Our Beers Have Less Of A Commute Than You Do!!!” Now that’s some really local beer.

Further Reading:

Flack, Wes. 1997. American Microbreweries and Neolocalism: “Ale-ing” for a Sense of Place. Journal of Cultural Geography, Volume 16, numer 1, pages 37-53.

Schnell, Steven M. and Joseph E. Reese. 2003. Microbreweries as tools of local identity.” Journal of Cultural Geography, Volume 21, number 1, pages 45–69.

Shortridge, James. 1996. Keeping tabs on Kansas: reflections on regionally based field study. Journal of Cultural Geography, Volume 16, number 1, pages 5-16.



No Beer For You

Phil Silvers as Seargent Bilko in The Phil Silvers Show
Phil Silvers as Seargent Bilko in The Phil Silvers Show
Leonard Rossiter as Reginald Perrin in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin

I am not a huge fan of situational comedies on television but over the years there have been a few that I have really enjoyed. Having lived in both the United Kingdom and the United
States my favorite sitcoms represent a mix from both countries. They include The Phil Silvers Show (CBS 1955- Continue reading No Beer For You

Craft Beer in the Queen City

My wife and I spent a few days in Charlotte, NC last week. I was there for the annual conference of the Mid-Continent Regional Science Association. And yes, I gave another talk about the American craft beer industry. This time the topic was the intra-urban clustering of craft breweries. This is work that I am doing with Isabelle Nilsson, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and Matt Lehnert a doctoral student in the Spatially Integrated Social Science Program at The University of Toledo. Isabelle and I shared the presentation. I provided the background and context for our study while Isabelle presented our methodology, analysis, and findings.

Queen Charlotte

Charlotte was  founded in 1768 and is named after  Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III of Great Britain and Ireland. As a result it is known as The Queen City. Charlotte, like many cities in the United States, has a burgeoning craft brewing industry. According to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce there are 28 craft breweries in the Charlotte region, with 16 of those being in the city of Charlotte proper. In addition to these establishments there are 11 new breweries slated for opening, 5 of which will be in the city.

During our first evening in town my wife and I went to our hotel bar for a drink. I asked the bartender what beers he had on draft. “It’s all local beers on draft” was his reply. I must admit I was surprised. The hotel – the Charlotte Sheraton – is part of a multinational chain. I had expected the draft selection to include at least a couple of macro-beers. So kudos to the hotel for supporting the local beer scene in this way. And when I say local I mean local. All of the half dozen draft beers were from breweries in Charlotte.

NoDa Brewing Company on North Tryon Street
Dinner came from The Improper Pig food truck

The next evening a group of us met up at the NoDa  Brewing Company on North Tryon Street. The brewery is named after the NoDa, Charlotte’s historic arts and entertainment district. NoDa is short for North Davidson, the Main Street that traverses the district. The brewery on North Tryon is actually NoDa’s second brewery in Charlotte. The original (opened in 2011) is just over a mile away on North Davidson. The Tryon Street location opened in October 2015 and was built as demand for NoDa beer exceeded the capacity of the North Davidson Brewery. I was keen to try NoDa’s Hop, Drop, ‘n Roll, an American-style IPA, that had earned the brewery a gold medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup. Our hotel bar had it on draft but there is nothing like tasting a beer at the source. I was not disappointed. The NoDa brewery does not have a kitchen but a different food truck is there most evenings. When we visited The Improper Pig was on site with a variety
of BBQ offerings.

Zuri, our Charlotte Brews Cruise guide

My conference ended at lunchtime on the Saturday, leaving us with the afternoon free before heading back to Toledo the next day. We decided to fill the afternoon by going in the Charlotte Brews Cruise. The Brews Cruise is the brainchild of Mark and Trish Lyons and originated  in Asheville, NC in 2006. Since then it has expanded to other cities – Charleston, NC, Denver, CO, Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN, Chicago, IL, and of course Charlotte. The Charlotte Brews Cruise was established in 2013.

Our Brews Cruise tour guide, Zuri, pouring samples at Birdsong Brewery

For $49 per head you visit three Charlotte breweries. There are seven breweries that the Brews Cruise have a working relationship with so you could theoretically take a second cruise and visit three entirely different breweries. The three that we visited on our cruise were Birdsong Brewing Company, The Unknown Brewing Company, and Heist Brewery. The departure point for our cruise was the Heist Brewery. There we met the other six people who were going on the cruise with us as well as our cruise tour guide, Zuri. We all then jumped into a twelve-seater van and headed off to Birdsong. When we go there our tour guide, Zuri, took us to the production area of the brewery and provided us with a description of the brewing process. As he did so he weaved in information about the brewery and its founders, Chris and Tara Goulet. As Zuri was talking he had a pitcher on hand that contained one of Birdsong’s brews. Sample glasses were 4oz but the pitcher contained enough beer for second servings. At Birdsong we sampled four different brews.

Left to Right (above) – Birdsong, Unknown, and Heist Breweries

Our tour group at Heist Brewery

After Birdsong we went to The Unknown Brewing Company and, after that, Heist Brewery where we were again provided with generous samples while Zuri regaled us with stories of the breweries and their owners. The Brews Cruise was highly enjoyable. It was well-organized and informative – overall a great way to spend three to four hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Rebels, Renegades, and Revolutionaries

Huggy Rao


I’ve been reading quite a lot of the writings of Huggy Rao recently. Huggy (or Hayagreeva to give him his Sunday name) is the Atholl McBean Professor of Organizational Continue reading Rebels, Renegades, and Revolutionaries

Eight Beer Bottles Sitting On A Sill

My view of University Hall from my office

I have two windows in my office at The University of Toledo, one of which overlooks the university’s Centennial Mall. From that window I can watch students and faculty crisis-cross the mall as they move from one Continue reading Eight Beer Bottles Sitting On A Sill