5pm: Support America, Drink Local Beer

a glass of beer next to an Ithaca Brewing Company Flower Power IPA bottle

Photograph by Steven Severinghaus


A tall cold beer on a summer afternoon with an American Spirit, good company and absolutely no responsibilities otherwise is one of my favorite pastimes.

If any of the syllables in that previous sentence perturb you, I encourage you to discontinue reading the rest of this passage. I am absolutely unapologetic in my love of imbibing, and considering Christ himself kept close to the company of drinkers, I can see little excuse for anyone to question the morality of such a decision. I will admit that in my earlier days my passion for alcohol resided in a desire strictly to find myself inebriated via a can of any “domestic” beverage available. This transitioned into a love affair with a local beer to my fair state of Pennsylvania—before craft beers were as common as they are today—by the name of Yuengling. While that particular beverage now gives me heartburn and the thought of downing a Miller Light sends me running to the water fountain, I still have a place in my heart for lazy days spent on the porch chatting away the hours with old friends, my lady, or our dear grandmother/nanny-in-residence.

New York is not the first state which comes to mind when people think craft brews. While Colorado and the three West Coast States rank highest in terms of total number of breweries, New York comes in at a healthy 6th place. When you combine brewpubs and breweries, the state boasts an impressive 80 or 90-some places creating their own beers.

We’ve found that most of the places we want to visit end up being the types of places that are home to small breweries, or at least have bars, restaurants and grocery stores who recognize the value of a good, locally produced beer. While someday we hope to sample every IPA brewed in America, today we’re in Ithaca, New York and so we’ll focus on what we can get our hands on in the area.

Ithaca itself is home to two breweries, Ithaca Brewing Company and the Scalehouse Brewpub. There are fifteen breweries within an hour and a half of the city, and we certainly consider that to be “local” in terms of how far your beer has to travel from the barrel to your tastebuds.

Why do we find it worthwhile to create an entire article surrounding the consumption of alcoholic beverages? Well, aside from the aforementioned love I have for a heady, hoppy IPA, there are several reasons to start thinking local when it comes to your alcohol. Yes, you’ll pay more per ounce than you would for a 30 pack of Busch Light. But you know what? While we find it easy to place all of the blame for this Great Recession on big banks, government corruption and home mortgage scandals, the truth also lies in American choices. We have chosen to forego local goods in favor of cheap imports. This applies to the t-shirts on our backs, the shoes on our feet, and the plastic toys in our kids closets. It also applies to the way we intoxicate ourselves.

The country, including our liberal President, talks a lot about “growth”. “My fellow Americans, we need to grow the economy, build more, and you need to do your part and consume more. Spending is down. Inflation is up.” Blah, blah, blah. The problem is not so much that we need to continue growing to maintain a viable economy. We need to begin to grow where it matters. Not in the purchase of amassed goods which bring little value to our lives other than to encourage us to buy bigger houses to store more and more stuff. We need to enjoy our lives more, spend our dollars where they matter, and keep the cycle of value where it matters most: our own neighborhoods.

The craft beer industry is responsible for over 103,000 jobs in the United States. Compare that to the Big Three car companies—General Motors, Ford and Chrysler—who employ 422,000 people. Yes, they employ more people. But they also cost us billions in bailout funds (though it should be noted that Ford didn’t take any bailout funds). Craft beer is an example of what America, and Capitalism, are all about: having lots of competition in the marketplace, and the best products triumph while garbage dies.

Further proof? The big boys of brewing, think Budweiser and Miller, are seeing their sales decline. By about 1.2% per year for the past few years. In a world where every backcountry fisherman and high class executive alike loves their Bud Light, that’s astonishing: the population grows while the amount of people drinking declines? It doesn’t make sense. Except when you consider craft beers. Though they only account for around 5% of the total sale of brews in the country, they hold over 9% of the dollar share. And that market share is growing, by 13% last year That means that while craft beers are almost always more expensive, Americans are choosing them more and more.

What does more expensive mean in terms of local breweries though? There are a few ways to look at this, some can be backed by facts, others are more elusive. Among the latter include the idea that craft beer tastes better. That is opinion, but I personally can attest to the idea that I, accustomed to Miller Lights in my younger days, did not appreciate a good, flavorful IPA until I gave it more than one chance. But you know what? Did you love the taste of coffee right off the bat? No? Do you want to drink it every single morning now? I thought so.

A more appreciable reality also exists: while most domestic light beers weigh in at around 4.2% ABV. Craft beers, while they can obviously range dramatically, can come it at over 7%, sometimes significantly higher. So if it’s intoxication you’re looking for, well you get more bang for your buck. Of course, you’ll probably find yourself sipping your beer a little more slowly when its got all the robust flavor of a good local beer, versus tasting more or less like it’s come straight out of the tap from a local sulfur creek.

While in Ithaca there are plenty of places to enjoy a cool glass of something local. The Scalehouse Brewpub has their own. Ithaca Brewing Company does tastings and tours regularly. Nearly every restaurant we visited offers something from one of the local breweries, and plenty more from other craft brewers across the country.

If you’re still drinking Bud Light Lime, please, do us a favor. Step out of your comfort zone. Support our economy. Embrace this countries talents. Hell, even the founding fathers were often brewers, almost always imbibers.