Occasionally I’m accused by my critics (oddly, a handful remain) of having an insufficient social conscience, in the sense of my always preaching about beer when more important issues beg to be addressed.
With specific reference to my workplace in downtown New Albany, this criticism sometimes is extended to encompass the relatively sudden growth of dining and drinking establishments over the past five years, with the question being phrased something like this: Can gluttony and drunkenness alone revitalize a moribund area?
My answer is that unless we discover vast oil reserves beneath our decaying pavements, or find a way to mimic the manufacturing practices of Asian sweat shops inside the many remaining deteriorated historic structures, then yes, beefsteak and porter are fairly good starter options for regeneration, at least when they’re correctly prepared – the meat served rare, and the beer in a damned big glass.
In reality, this “Roger, you’re just a self-centered drunkist” critique is pure hokum, as emanating somewhat predictably from the usual reactive alliance of disaffected troglodytes and fundamentalist nutjobs. In fact, I’d venture to say that in its purest form, craft beer eloquently personifies a clear and pro-active vision of localism.
After all, the craft beer business generally reflects an ethos summarized by a 1960’s-era social activism mantra, one refashioned to suit our specific brewing circumstances: “Think globally, drink locally.”
Obviously, I’ve always enjoyed using beer as a metaphor for other aspects of the human experience, and whenever a clear connection is lacking, it’s advisable to drink beer as we discuss them. Beer is life, and vice-versa … but you already knew that.
As an adult beverage brewed locally, American craft beer is not to be confused with mass-produced, conceptually derivative carbonated urine from multinational industrial manufacturing corporations like AB-InBev, which has taken to foisting the word “craft” on undiscerning drinkers by means of misleading marketing tactics likely to make Herr Goebbels do a dervish goosestep in Hell.
Genuine American craft beer is best consumed locally, where we live and love and work and play, with folks who share the vision and dream the dream. I certainly do my fair share of sampling, and to my delight and edification, the ongoing revival of downtown New Albany allows me to drink local beer quite locally – when merited, even copiously – and to walk home afterward in a physically beneficial and socially responsible manner.
In fact, our decision to buy the midtown house we currently occupy, and my company’s 2009 downtown brewery expansion, both were calibrated with walking (and bicycling) in mind. It isn’t “luck” that enables my strolling and biking. It’s planning, as logically rewards solid, traditional, locally-based principles of life and living in an urban area originally built for precisely that purpose. At one time these notions were the accepted norm. Now they’re being rediscovered by residents and business communities around the country.
Local brewing and drinking fit wonderfully within this paradigm of greater localism, as expressed here by New Albany First:
New Albany First is the only Independent Business Alliance that exists solely to support and promote independent business owners and to educate community members about the importance of buying locally in New Albany and Floyd County.
New Albany First works to create a community culture that values local independents by raising public awareness of the benefits of local buying. We promote independent businesses to help them better compete with national and transnational chains and preserve our community’s character. Through our education and outreach programs, we increase awareness and support for local independent businesses.
Local craft beer fully embraces these precepts. Louisville’s own excellent and long-standing locally-minded group, the Louisville Independent Business Alliance (LIBA), only recently hosted its annual Brewfest at Slugger Field, offering a stellar example of the linkage. Most Louisville breweries, if not all, are members of LIBA, and LIBA’s goal of keeping Louisville “weird” (unique and independent) is shared by NA1st, as applicable to my beer businesses on the Indiana side of the river.
Why does any of this matter? The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (www.ilsr.org) offers these ten vital commandments in a civic context. The sooner we make them part and parcel of the craft beer dialogue, the better.
1. Protect Local Character and Prosperity
Your city is unlike any other city in the world. By choosing to support locally owned businesses, you help maintain your city’s diversity and distinctive flavor.
2. Community Well-Being
Locally owned businesses build strong neighborhoods by sustaining communities, linking neighbors, and by contributing more to local causes.
3. Local Decision Making
Local ownership means that important decisions are made locally by people who live in the community and who will feel the impacts of those decisions.
4. Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
Your dollars spent in locally-owned businesses have three times the impact on your community as dollars spent at national chains. When shopping locally, you simultaneously create jobs, fund more city services through sales tax, invest in neighborhood improvement and promote community development.
5. Job and Wages
Locally owned businesses create more jobs locally and, in some sectors, provide better wages and benefits than chains do.
Entrepreneurship fuels America’s economic innovation and prosperity, and serves as a key means for families to move out of low-wage jobs and into the middle class.
7. Public Benefits and Costs
Local stores in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure and make more efficient use of public services relative to big box stores and strip shopping malls.
8. Environmental Sustainability
Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers-which in turn are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss, and air and water pollution.
A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term.
10. Product Diversity
A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based, not on a national sales plan, but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.