Eat local. Eat healthy. Eat mindfully. This is a common refrain in the locavore movement, which encourages consumers to get their food from local producers. It just seems to fall a bit short, failing to address what we drink.
Merriam-Webster defines a locavore as “one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.” The movement has gained traction among engaged consumers for its nutritional, economic, and environmental benefits. But why is the focus only ever on food? Eat local. How about drink local?
The local craft beer industry has been steadily growing over the past decade, both in Massachusetts and on the national level. According to the Brewer’s Association, there were 85 craft breweries in the state in 2015, up from fewer than 50 in 2011, which produced a total of 446,158 barrels of beer per year.
“For the past decade, craft brewers have charged into the market, seeing double digit growth for eight of those years,” said Bart Watson of the Brewer’s Association in a press release.
Just as the industry as a whole has exhibited a capacity to grow rapidly, so too have individual brewers. An article published earlier this year by the Worcester Business Journal Online noted impressive growth by Wormtown Brewery, Jack’s Abby Craft Lager, and Wachusett Brewing Co., which “has expanded production by more than 100 percent every year since 1996.”
The reasons that the food-based locavore movement has gained momentum often overlap with the drivers of the craft brewing industry. The quality of the product is just better, passionate beer drinkers say. A sense of a relationship to one’s home might drive a consumer to drink local.
But if someone needed just one more reason to switch from Budweiser to Night Shift Brewing in Everett or Notch Brewing in Salem or Trillium Brewing Company, with its breweries in Canton and Fort Point, take a look towards sustainability.
Or perhaps recent developments have some Coors loyalists looking for any way to help the fight against climate change. Maybe it is time to go local.
It doesn’t have to be limited to just beer, either. Downeast Cider House started its handcrafted hard cider company in 2011 and are moving from their original home in Charlestown to a larger location in East Boston. Cider lovers could also check out Far From the Tree in Salem or Bantam Cider Company in Somerville. For fans of the harder stuff, craft distilleries like Bully Boy are faring well in Boston as well.
Beer, however, remains the most prolific producer and, therefore, a shift to local sources of the beverage would have the strongest effect.
It’s about the water
The Brewer’s Association’s 2015 report on water and wastewater sustainability stated that water consumption is one of the greatest obstacles facing breweries in terms of their environmental footprint.. Beer is, after all, typically 90 to 95 percent water. According to the report, the average brewery uses seven barrels of water to every one of beer, but “many craft brewers are world leaders with ratios below three to one.”
Of course, eating, drinking, or shopping locally is no guarantee that the practice is necessarily better for the environment. As always, you should take a closer look at the company, farm, or brewery you are supporting. There are a few that stick out.
Harpoon Brewery’s Boston location was noted in the Brewer’s Association’s report on energy usage for distinguishing itself as energy savvy. Utilizing a strategy that includes “modifying the set points on Harpoon’s chillers, rescheduling bottling processes,” and even motion-sensing lights, Harpoon significantly reduces its environmental impact – and saves money – via reducing energy usage.
One craft brewery highlighted in the report, the New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado, has set itself apart relative to its green practices.. The brewery installed a Smart Grid, which alerts them to non-essential functions so that they can turn them off and conserve. In addition, the company uses recovery systems to conserve natural gas.
Most famously, New Belgium has collaborated with Ben & Jerry’s in 2015 and 2016 to create “ice cream beers”. The 2016 flavor is Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale. Some of the profits from the sales of this beer went to Protect Our Winters, a non-profit organization dedicated to climate change awareness.
Many craft breweries are proving to be leaders in the industry on sustainability. New Belgium in particular has been exceptional, but local breweries like Harpoon have also made an effort to minimize their environmental impact.
Locavores beseech everyone to eat mindfully. Be mindful of where the things you are consuming are coming from and how the producer goes about its business. Reduce the necessary transportation demands.
But it is not only farms and restaurants that can benefit sustainability. Breweries, especially craft breweries, do so as well. I say don’t just eat mindfully – drink mindfully, too.