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The freshest ingredient in craft beer — Appalachian values

By Paul Viau | Mar 01, 2017
Photo by: File photo THINK LOCAL, BUY LOCAL, DRINK LOCAL — Craft brewers are putting a fresh, new twist on craft beer.

At the recent Asheville Brewers Alliance AVL Beer Expo, there was an abundance of great craft beer. That’s a given. But there was also a resurgence of a timeless ingredient in brewing, shared by a majority of the brewers gathered — the commitment to keep it local.

I have long been a proponent of the ‘Keep it Local’ movement, and the strong focus on local sourcing and sharing local ingredients was music to my ears.

Craft beer is getting back basics.

When you think about it, beer has a storied history of being brewed locally, from ingredients readily available nearby, then shared among close friends — usually residents of the same community.

In Europe, where beer flourished as a healthy alternative to oft-contaminated water, many a town had its own pub or tavern, serving fresh (obviously local) brews. As the towns grew, the breweries grew and occasionally more than one brewery was needed to supply the demand for beer. Some of those breweries expanded to meet demand— selling an occasional keg to a neighboring town.

Beer became the beverage of the common man throughout Europe, and when Europeans immigrated to America, they brought their craft with them.

In the 1800s, a number of brewers moved their families and their passion for beer to America.

(Think Super Bowl LI Anheuser-Busch television commercial.)

August Busch moved to St. Louis, Missouri (bowtie Budweiser logo and beer label designs in hand,) Adolph Coors moved to Golden, Colorado, Fredrick Miller and Joseph Schlitz worked their way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jacob Pabst immigrated to Chicago, Illinois, and Theodore Hamm discovered “The land of sky blue waters” — St. Paul, Minnesota.

You may have noticed that these are fine, German names. Danke. The Germans love beer, and I’m grateful that they brought their tastes and their craft to America.

I had the privilege to work on the Budweiser advertising account in the 1970s when I lived in St. Louis. There was definitely ‘Germanic Rule’ in the industry, but to sell more beer, larger breweries slowly moved away from the beer styles and traditions of ‘the old country’ — favoring better selling, lighter beers in both taste and calorie content.

The tremendous success of these lighter beers resulted in a consolidation in the brewing industry — with fewer breweries, producing more or less the same styles of beer. Competition was fierce, and light beers dominated the market. But many beer lovers longed for more taste and variety in beer.

The only way to get beer in the tradition and taste of other countries, was to either: (1) travel to those countries; or (2) brew it yourself.

And so, a grassroots movement of homebrewers began doing just that, and that grew into the craft beer industry we know today.

This movement was greatly accelerated when home brewing pioneer, Charlie Papazian, who literally ‘wrote the book’ on the subject — “The complete joy of home brewing” — now in its fourth edition.

I met Papazian a few years ago at Hickory Hops — The Carolina Championship of beers, and he took great pride in the craft beer industry he helped create. And I’m proud to support this industry and spread the news of just how grounded it is.

Which brings me back to the Appalachian values on display at the AVL Beer Expo. There were representatives of the local farming community that supplies the grains, fruits, vegetables and herbs used in ciders and specialty beers, local hops growers and French Broad Chocolates — whose cocoa nibs enhance many a chocolate stout and porter.

A few years ago, I was proud to ‘broker’ a deal that used an over-abundance of rhubarb at Cataloochee Ranch in an inventive Saison brewed by BearWaters brewing. The Cataloochee Rhu Brew was a popular addition to the ranch’s summer dinners. It was a great example of ‘What goes around comes around,’ in a positive way. And in the Appalachian way.

At the AVL Beer Expo, panel members spoke from the heart — about the values that guide craft brewers.

“Use what you have.” Support your neighbors and local farmers.” “Help one another.”

Finally, the panelists likened the many craft breweries located throughout WNC to the neighborhood bars of the past. You know, “Where everybody knows your name.”

Cheers to our craft brewers, who share a great variety of beers, great values and a strong sense of community.

I lift my glass to salute them.

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