How Important Is the Origin of Your Beer?

I caught this little nugget today over the Twitter wires from Stone Brewing Founder and CEO Greg Koch:

@StoneGreg  If your beer isn’t actually brewed there, why do you spend so much time, energy & money trying to convince people it is? How about #honesty

Tracing back the short conversation reveals no specifics. Rather, he’s got a follow up tweet noting he’s not going to call out the offender.

Honesty? Sure, who would argue against that? Yet honesty in advertising has always had a far different definition than the kind we expect in our daily lives.  When it comes to this beer thing, I think the better expectation is transparency.

Transparency is many things. It’s an attitude, a quality, a goal, and a process all wrapped up into one. It’s ethics, disclosure and credibility.  When origin matters, it’s necessary. When credibility matters, it’s essential.   When neither matter, it can apparently get pretty pricey to overcome.

One local example comes to mind.  Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish, MT, revived Black Star Beer in 2010 with an ambitious plan to make it a national brand.  The beer was originally brewed in Whitefish starting in 1995 by the great-great grandson of brewing pioneer Henry Weinhard.  When the brand burst back on the scene, it’s clear the Montana ties were intended to serve as the cachet to help set Black Star apart from similar beers.  “The Great Northern Brewing Co. – Whitefish, Montana” is featured prominently on the label.

Black Star Double Hopped Golden Lager is brewed in Milwaukee, WI.  Is this a problem? The answer lies in the level of transparency. Great Northern Brewery is the original origin of the beer and it was brewed there for many years.  At least at first, the draft Black Star distributed in Montana was brewed in Whitefish  (that may still be the case). The label on the bottles does note the beer is brewed in Milwaukee.  On the Great Northern’s website, both the history and the beer description pages note the beer is brewed in Milwaukee (with assurances it’s just as good as if it was brewed in Whitefish).

Is this enough transparency? I think so. Yes, they are borrowing some Montana currency to market the beer, but there’s history there, too, and full disclosure.

I do care about origin.  I like to meet the people who make the beer and share it with them at the source.  I like for beer to stand on it’s own merits – removed from the marketing, the hype and the beer advocate ratings.  I am impressed by transparency which allows me to consider the whole picture.  Allowing us to think for ourselves? There’s a concept.