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?
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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