By Donavan Hall, Beer Columnist
Lenn asked me to write a year-end post and I've been mulling over what you might be interested in hearing about. I could give you a list of all the great locally brewed, Long Island beers that I've tasted this year. I could tell you which ones were my favorites, but in the end such lists and recommendations reflect a personal taste. They might prompt you to try something new, but ultimately you'll have to decide for yourself what you like. So, instead, I'd like to tell you about what I've been thinking about this past year.
I've been covering the Long Island beer scene for three years now and I'm happy to report that the state of craft beer is still improving; however, the landscape is changing. With Southampton's deal with Pabst for nation-wide distribution we suppose we are witnessing the success of one of our own. After all, our culture typically views growth and expansion as a good thing. On the other hand when one of our local breweries turns into a national brand, we risk losing something that it truly Long Island as the brewery reshapes itself to compete in the national market. Good or bad? Well, that's a question that I've been pressing craft beer drinkers to ponder over on The Beer Hall.
Big brewers do make excellent beer. But the question that those of us in the "craft" world have to confront is just how compatible "craft" is with "big". There's a camp that says is all about the beer and how it tastes. There's another camp that says, no is not just taste, its also about how the beer is made and under what conditions. Who's right? The answer depends a lot on whether you think your actions (such as your choice of beer to drink) has any connection with shaping the sort of world you want to live in.
Big questions for something that is supposed to be refreshing and relaxing. But these are precisely the things we should be thinking about.
So I've been turning beer drinking into a social, cultural and political philosophy that is firmly rooted in a view of the world that I think makes a lot of sense. The fundamental principle of this philosophy of drinking is that local is better. This principle isn't obvious to everyone.
Unfortunately, if I tried to articulate it here, Lenn would probably get annoyed by the ten thousand word post that would result. (Editors note: No I wouldn't. Bring it on Donavan)
I've started doing three things this year that I think could go along way to developing Long Island's craft beer culture. First, I drink craft beer as close to home as possible. I go to my local pub and pay a little extra for beer because it's important to have locally run businesses that support local brewers and they can't keep their doors open if we don't show up. Second, when I go to my local pub, my first beer is always a locally brewed beer. Show the pub owner that there is support for locally brewed beer by actually drinking it. If you must have the lastest IPA from the West Coast, save it for your second pint. Third, I brew my own beer and primarily drink that when I'm drinking at home. Believe it or not, brewing at home is the one act that really drives craft beer culture. You might think it would eat into local craft brew sales, but what it does is make the local brewing scene stronger. Good homebrewers are the next generation of local commercial brewers.
If you believe the news, we have some dark economic times ahead. Premium products like craft beer might be hit hard. We've already seen a price jump as a result of the "hops shortage." Other factors are sure to drive the price up even further. With the price of a craft pint now up to $7 in many places on the Island, people might be tempted to choose a industrial macro alternative at $5 pint. However, if we shell out the extra bucks for a locally brewed beer, we will be creating jobs and wealth right here on Long Island where it will do us the most good.
So next time you head out for a craft beer at your local pub, make it a locally brewed beer.