Jason Notte had a similar experience as I did when I went to GABF this year. He went to New York City for work and it gave him a better view of the beer culture of his home. Here is a link to my previous piece.
As usual, whenever I read one of his pieces there are many things I get out of it. One of the primary things is how cities and areas sometimes become insular and protective of their beer and breweries. It is an insularity and protectiveness that is similar to what happened to English soccer.
English soccer fans are always very quick to remind you that they invented the game and they sometimes seem to think that means they have nothing to learn from other soccer playing countries. I’ve noticed the same kind of insularity in the beer communities of some cities. I have had distribution reps tell me how hard it is to bring new breweries into the Charlotte market.
In Charlotte, it often seems if you aren’t local (by local I mean within the confines of Mecklenburg County), from Asheville (I don’t understand that one), or already a famous name in the beer world it is an uphill battle. The number of times I’ve told someone that a beer came from a brewery in North Carolina but not from Charlotte or Asheville that I get a look of complete shock is amazing. That is beginning to change as more people in Charlotte are exposed to more craft beer.
It probably has to do with the maturity of the craft beer culture and the number of local breweries. Portland’s culture is much older then and much bigger than Charlotte’s culture. That is one of the interesting things that I often forget. The Charlotte craft beer culture in particular and the North Carolina craft beer culture is really only 20 years old.
I have become really interested in what the future holds for Charlotte and North Carolina beer culture. Here is an interesting thing some enterprising blogger or reporter could do: Compare the beer culture of Charlotte to Asheville, Denver, and Portland. How would you do that? Compare beer history. Compare demographics. Compare craft beer penetration.
I think what you find is the overall culture and style of the city and area effects the beer culture. Is the city a “gateway” city or a mountain enclave or a business focused town? How does that change or effect the beer culture and how it grows and responds to outsiders? Some of these questions can’t be answered easily or objectively.
In Notte’s piece, he notes how New York isn’t a center of beer culture, but it is a place that allows a craft beer drinker to try different beers and different styles from around the country. Is that simply because New York is the ultimate gateway city and has people that live there and pass through the city? As I ponder it, Charlotte is a city where there are few Charlotte natives in many parts of the city. Could that lead to a more inclusive beer culture overall as it matures?
I’m going to have to think about his a little more.