Friday, October 05, 2007

The Session #8: Beer and Food - Eat Locally, Drink Locally!

(This is our contribution to the October Session: for more information and to read some previous Sessions posts from around the world, please check out the blogroll to the left...)

We here at Beerjanglin' are not, generally speaking, a socially conscious lot. I mean, we like beer. That's what we do. Anything else is - basically - extra. That being said, every now and then, we keep our ears open for social trends.

One of the more intriguing social developments of the past few years has been the growing push for people to “eat locally” – that is, make a conscious effort to purchase and consume goods produced within a certain radius of your home (generally, 100 miles is an acceptable radius). In thinking about this movement, we’ve read a few things in magazines like “Men’s Health” and on the internet, but haven’t really seen a centralized take on this that we’ve found to be particularly clarifying, so we’ll do our best to explain the tenets of this ethos.

Eating locally is the “right” thing to do because when you buy from regional food producers (the more that you buy directly from them, the better), your money stays in the local economy and helps better the towns and neighborhoods in your proximity. Beyond that, the reasons for eating locally are myriad; proponents of doing this cite reasons raising from the standard “it’s better for the environment because the more people who do this means the less energy is spent in transporting food on planes and trucks” to the simpler thought of “local food is generally fresher.”

Here in the Capital Region of New York, there’s a lot going on that makes “eating locally” an intriguing and delicious prospect. If you were to take a compass and map of the region and place the compass’s center point on Albany, and then draw a circle to approximate a 100-mile border, you’d create an area that included a lot of farms (the full four seasons of the area lend themselves nicely to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and even a surprising variety of meat and dairy-related products, including a farm in Rensselaer County that produces fresh buffalo meat). You’d be doing all right at the dining table.

What we’d love to see as part of the “eat locally” movement would be an increased push to “drink locally,” which I will define as making a conscious effort to purchase and consume beers produced within that same 100 mile radius. It falls into that same ethos: better for the local economy, less energy is expended in transporting beer from place to place, and oh, the freshness of local beer!

With that same 100-mile radius around Albany in mind, there’s a lot of phenomenal beer-making going on locally. A quick visit to reveals a vast number of breweries and beer pubs that makes even the hypothetical proposition of “drinking locally” supremely appetizing.

There are a couple of larger-output breweries in this area which put out a great variety of craft beer. Most prominently, on the western outskirts of this radius sits the FX Matt Brewing Company, which produces a variety of beers, from the unfairly-maligned Utica Club Lager to a wide range of beers under their Saranac brand, as well as doing a great deal of contract brewing for quality brands like Brooklyn. Additionally, to the north, there’s the Olde Saratoga Brewing Company, which produces a great line of beers both under the "Olde Saratoga" name as well as Mendocino beers, while contract brewing quality beverages from companies like He'Brew and Blue Point. If these two were the only breweries in the radius, the area would already be awash in phenomenal beer.

However, there are several brewpubs in the area that satisfy this way of thinking doubly so; by creating a number of fresh beers while cooking and using a variety of locally-produced foods. Some of these even cross their streams, so to speak, creating local beers while using locally-grown produce in the process. Two of these are particularly notable.

C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station, which we’ve highlighted earlier in this blog, is located in downtown Albany and offers a menu that includes locally-produced food. One of their recent beer offerings, however, demands special highlighting – the Cherry Brown, a Belgian-style strong Brown Ale brewed with more than 250 pounds of handpicked sour cherries that came from area farms. We were fortunate to sample this recently, and we were pleasantly surprised – the cherry taste was far from extraneous in the beer, serving as an integral part of the taste and making for a remarkably pleasant drinking experience.

Brown’s Brewing Company, located across the mighty Hudson River in Troy, also does a remarkable job of combining a fine menu (that emphasizes the cuisine of Upstate New York nicely, from southwestern New York-style chicken spiedies to Buffalo wings) with a great variety of beers. Of note: the brewers recently released a limited batch of a Wet Hopped Imperial Pale Ale, made with hand-picked hops from the area. This is a tremendously exciting development, to say the least.

In general, Upstate New York is awash in microbreweries and brewpubs that all make a consistent effort to use local ingredients in their brewing process. Whether it's Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, Rohrbach Brewery in Rochester, Flying Bison in Buffalo, or the phenomenal Davidson Brothers in Glens Falls, there's a lot of wonderful things happening in this fine state of ours.

Some websites advocate having people pledge to eat and drink locally whenever possible; we’re going to shy away from going that far. To be honest, there’s way too much good stuff being made outside our little 100-mile-radius to avoid that altogether. What we would like to advocate, however, is that when you’re at the beer store the next time, wherever you are - whether it's southern California or northern Wisconsin, the mountains of Colorado or the Mississippi valley - stopping to take a look at what’s fresh and local, and maybe trying something new from that group. It’s not much, and it probably won’t save the polar ice caps from melting, but hey, it’s not a bad start.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Hey D.G.-

We are in the process of launching Edible Upstate - a publication celebrating the abundance of local foods in upstate NY - and, yes, we agree with you that eating locally in our region is "a delicious prospect".... local drink is also part of the bounty we are celebrating..... our department "Liquid Assets" is dedicated to just this and we would love to hear any ideas you might have..... best,