When It Comes To Beer, Stay Local

We have local beer at our airport. The Phillies have the best beer selection of any ballpark in the country. Many area distributors have a “locals only” section. So why does it still seem local brewers can't catch a break in Philly pubs?

By Suzanne Woods
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 15 | Posted Nov. 9, 2009

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Locals love the beer from Philadelphia Brewing Co. Do local bars?

Photo by that blonde girl, via Flickr

My beer career commenced in 2003 during a 15-month stint with the “Goliath” of the craft beer industry, Sam Adams. The company's motto was “take pride in your beer” and it was easy to follow The best Boston Lager I ever had--hands down--was at the company's pilot brewery in Jamaica Plain.

When you drink local, you drink fresh--but you also support the local economy. I’ll break it down for you: When you drink a Joe Coffee Porter from Philadelphia Brewing Co. you’re not only showing some love for a local business, you’re supporting a business that’s outsourcing their graphic design to a local artist. That same artist probably walks an extra block to go to an independent café instead of Starbucks. Everyone benefits.

So what's the problem? We have local beer at our airport. The Phillies have the best beer selection of any ballpark in the country. Many area distributors have a “locals only” section. Even the area’s newest Wegmans in Collegeville has Pennsylvania beers featured separately.

But there are a few bars out there that want the gasoline beers--the heavy hitters, the brew pub one-offs--but the latest might not be the greatest. And that's not to the benefit to the hometown brews.

These are the bars that want to have the launch party for the new brand in the market. The bars that want to host Adam Avery for Philly Beer Week. It was actually during  beer week that I started wondering, “Where have all the locals gone?” Steve German, director of sales for Victory Brewing, brought it up to me at a pre-Philly Beer Week meeting. He ranted “It’s Philly Beer Week, and we’ve lost handles.” Bars were taking off the locals so they could host events with California/Colorado breweries all over the city. But wait- isn’t it Philly Beer Week?

Quotations, a craft beer bar in Media, does not serve any locals. The first time I met the owner Michael Burke, he said: “If I owned a bar in Denver, I probably wouldn’t serve Flying Dog.” He felt that local brewpubs were competition. He said someone might get excited about the beer at his bar, and want to go to the brewpub instead.

Maybe that's an exception.

“When I opened the tap nearly ten years ago, the locals were underrepresented," says Standard Tap proprietor William Reed, whose pub only pours beer from a 90-mile radius. "From the beginning we tried to embrace what is timeless about a great tavern because you don’t get to be the 'new kid' for very long in this business.”

Or maybe not.

Chris Mullins of McGillin's Olde Ale House says, “It is shocking to go into some of the new, cool, gastro pubs and see a dearth of the locals on draft. When you are featuring beers from Oregon or Colorado, but barely one or two locals, it sends a sign to the consumer that this region can't compete on quality and that couldn't be further from the truth…we are proud of our goal to focus on local beer. Our breweries within 90 miles work hard for this market and we are determined to support their efforts.”

Bars that pour mostly macro are often incentivized to do so. Craft breweries don’t often have enticement in their budget. Why else would a bar owner pour three similar liquids from three different companies? “The liquid is secondary to the goodies that come along with said liquid- the radio advertising, game tickets, promo teams, scooters, etc,” says James Wiggins, craft key account manager for Origlio Beverage.

Nancy Barton of Philly Brewing Co. thinks that local beers give local bars an advantage over the usual suspects.

“Those ‘hot’ beers of the moment don’t sell through that fast," she says. "Therefore they hog a tap line for way too long. So, it's lose, lose for everyone - the bar isn't making money, the local breweries aren't selling beer, and the customer is paying too much for old beer."

This is merely to spark conversation. I started writing this sipping on a Dogfish 90 Minute IPA. I am concluding with a Crooked Tree Double IPA from Darkhorse out of Michigan. Both damn good beers that don’t use corn or gimmicky advertising. It has always been about the greater good of craft beer. And it always will be.

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Comments 1 - 15 of 15
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1. Christopher Schmidt said... on Nov 10, 2009 at 10:09AM

“Suzanne, you make a great point here. I love supporting and drinking from local breweries here in Philadelphia. I love when tourists or business folk pop into a pub and they order a Kenzinger, Brawler, or even a Yuengling and they find that beer to be one of the best that they've ever had. It kind of boosts my Philadelphia pride that much more.

Don't get me wrong, I love trying beers from all over the globe, but supporting our local breweries could lead to them brewing even more great tasting beers. I often visit the South Philly Taproom for their happy hour where all local beers and appetizers are half off. It's a great deal because there are so many options from our fine local breweries.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 10:34AM

“Goliath? Sam Adams? There's only one Goliath in the beer industry, and that's Anheuser Busch/InBev. I too love the local beers, but with refrigerated trucks, it's not as big a deal as it used to be.

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3. ironchefireland said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 11:29AM

“Should we buy beer just because it is local? What if I want a good stout from Bell's or something from Stone? A bar is a busines, and owners need to decide for themselves how they run it. The Standard Tap does a great job, and I applaud them, but if a place like Quotations or anywhere else wants to feature something different that I don't normally see, then I say hell yeah. I want good beer. We have a lot locally, but there is good stuff from everywhere. If you only had AB products, Sam Adams, and locals on every tap, wouldn't you feel a little cheated. I didn't hear any complaints from locals in California about Dogfish Head taking a space where another Anchor product could be.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 01:13PM

“I think the point of the article was not that you serve only local beers but that you do serve them. I think it's a damn shame that you can't get a local beer in hotel bars or hotel restaurants in this city. Very few are serving them.

I'd love to slap every independent restaurant owner who cries about how tough it is to compete with the chains and then turns around and stabs the local brewer in the back by not having their beer available.

I'm ready to boycott any establishment that doesn't have a local beer on tap!”

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5. Chris said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 08:43PM

“True, you shouldn't drink local just because it's local. If I lived in St Louis I still wouldn't drink Bud. But too many people ignore great local beers in favor of those that are from somewhere else or hard to get. At the end of the day that La Colombe Coffee and Amorosso's roll are probably way better than that stuff you "usually can't get outside of Seattle."”

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6. Jim said... on Nov 12, 2009 at 10:17AM

“I think these locals are getting a little greedy, every bar I go to I see Victory, Troegs, Philly Brewing Co. They do just fine, ask to see their numbers, the sales are going up every quarter at drastic rates. And this is during a recession when not everyone has $40 for a case and $5-6 for a pint. If your trying to be a "craft brewer" be one, don't try to be Sam Adams or Inbev and need your product in every bar. You make plenty of money and beer tastes great, stop being greedy.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Nov 12, 2009 at 11:02AM

“I think we get your point Jim after 6 entries. Local breweries depend on local bars to support them. They do not have the marketing budget or quarterly numbers as many other craft breweries in the country. Sure, numbers may be on the rise but it's all according to scale. Breweries like Philadelphia Brewing, Yards, Slyfox, etc who do most of there business in the Pennsylvania region are not posting numbers as high as Stone, Dogfish, even Victory which are available across the county. So when a local brewery get replaced by an out of towner they have to work twice as hard to make up for it at another establishment. As for price per case and pint, you have to account for cost of ingredients and materials used to make each specific beer. Not all local beers are as high as Jim previously mentioned, it all depends on what style you prefer. Bottom line, support local breweries and don't be so GREEDY.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Nov 12, 2009 at 01:23PM

“I, for one, like variety. I want a different beer every time I drink one. The publican, wanting to keep my business, is forced to rotate his taps. As craft beer drinkers, I think all of us like variety. It's constantly all about "what's new on tap?"

As a country, we spent billions bailing out GM just b/c they are an "American" car company, even though Toyota (which has factories in the states and employs American workers too) outsells GM in the states. Is my next car going to be a GM just because, as a taxpayer, I'm a stockholder? No. I'll go with the reliable car that looks good (which may or may not be a Toyota--this really was just an example).

It's called capitalism. You can throw the "loyalty" argument as much as you want. But in the end, it's my tastebuds that determine which beer I purchase, not my loyalty to where I happen to live at that moment of my life. And my tastebuds are constantly looking for something new.”

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9. CMF said... on Nov 12, 2009 at 08:01PM

“If I lived in St. Louis, I'd drink Schlafly!”

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10. Aaron said... on Nov 13, 2009 at 01:18AM

“If there were some decent local breweries out there I'm sure more bars would be keen to serving them. Lets be honest, the great local breweries are Yards, Troegs, Lancaster and Weyerbacher. You could even put Dogfishhead on there. Just because you produce beer in small quantites and in local markets doesnt make you a good beer. There is a simple reasoning as to why you dont see many locals as I believe most of the local breweries to be garbage (Slyfox, Flying Fish, PBC). Who wants to drink an O'reillys Stout when there are 50 better Dry stouts (including the giant Guiness) out there. I dont care if it was made 40 miles away, it still sucks. I don't care if Kenzinger is made in Fishtown, It tastes like ass and there are numerous better Kolschs out there. If I see a Flying Fish handle at a bar I know for sure that I will not be ordering one. I have never been impressed with ANYTHING they do so why should I support them. Stop whining and produce good beer.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Nov 13, 2009 at 11:55AM

“I think some people are missing the point. It's not "YOU MUST DRINK LOCAL" message. It's please support the local breweries as much as you can. Part of the reason that Vermont, Colorado, Washington and Oregon have such a strong microbrewery presence is that the residents of those places are fiercely supportive of their local offerings (both beer and food).

Variety is the spice of life, who doesn't like it? But when every publican is constantly looking for the next new crazy thing, it hurts the local brewery a little.

Get your facts straight too, local breweries are not greedy. They are struggling just like every other business. They're small businesses whose owners and employees do what they do for the love of their jobs, not to get rich.

Finally, calling these breweries garbage is ridiculous. You may not like their beer, but it's not garbage. Your personal taste might not enjoy the beers they produce, but it's still better than mass produced swill. Embrace your local”

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12. Tom E said... on Nov 13, 2009 at 01:01PM

“So Aaron can call all of these breweries garbage but nobody can call Aaron garbage? Seems like a double standard to me.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Nov 14, 2009 at 10:14AM

“The bottom line is that supporting your local business(i.e. breweries) is beneficial to all Philadelphians in countless ways. The more we put ourselves on the map as one of the country's best beer towns, the more money gets pumped into the local economy from visitors coming to taste our beer. Just look at how successful Philly Beer Week has been. Besides, do you really want massive amounts of fuel to be consumed just so that you can enjoy your favorite beer from CA at your local pub?”

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14. Chris said... on Nov 14, 2009 at 08:38PM

“Sam Adams is a "Goliath" in the craft beer world (as was stated in the article). Anheuser is not a craft brewer by any stretch of the imagination.

I will drink any craft beer, but it does bother me when bars will seemingly go out of their way to not carry and PA beers. That's why when given the choice between quotations and Iron Hill in Media, I will always go to iron Hill.

IMO, it's up to the patrons of these places to let their opinion be heard. That means not only vocally expressing your opinion, but also talking with your wallet. I don't want to see a local shop go out of business any more then the next man, but if the owner does not want to carry the local beer I like, I'll hapily go to a place that does.”

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15. Anonymous said... on Nov 17, 2009 at 07:07PM

“2003 Sam Adams Boston Lager in Jamaica Plains? You might want to check with the Boston Beer Company on that. I believe they would give you the facts, but I don't think they ever brewed that beer there (they must produce less than 1% of their annual production in that pilot brewery I'd have to guess). In 2003 it was likely brewed at Cincinnati's Huedephol-Schoenling brewery, or at one of the Miller Brewing plants that they had a contract with to produce their beer. Again, Boston Beer could verify.

At any rate it goes to show that "thinking" it's local is a powerful influence isn't it!”


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