An Oregon Trail Back East

The New York Times will publish a fluffy piece in it Sunday edition--already available online--that celebrates the experience of traveling to a brerwery. (Yes, one has the sense that New York is a good two decades behind the west coast in beer appreciation, but that's a different post.) In it, writer John Holl surveys some breweries, and does his best to make it a national article. He mentions a little brewery from New Hampshire and then throws in three others a national readership may have heard of: Boston Beer, Dogfish Head, and Rogue. If you spend much time reading national stories about craft beer, the one Oregon name that pops up again and again is Rogue. Why? Because you can buy Rogue everywhere.

Craft brewing remains a mostly local--or at most, regional--phenomenon. This is its great virtue. Almost without exception, the best beer is fresh and untraveled. The more one loads a keg or case in and out of trucks, the longer it spends sitting on shelves or under a pub's bar, the more it degrades. Oregon brewers have always had the luxury of having a vast customer base right here in its back yard. Why worry about setting up relationships with distributors in the Midwest and East when you can sell all you brew right here? Local brewers know the market, know what Northwesterners like, and know how to sell beer here. So, I get that as a business decision, a local brewery probably won't see the upside in shipping to far-flung locations.

But as a shameless fan of Oregon beer, it's frustrating. We sit in the richest vein of craft brewing in the world, and almost no one outside of the West realizes it. Our breweries produce some of the finest beers in the world, yet these beers, because they are distributed only locally, are never mentioned outside the region. Why would they be? Why would a New Yorker care that Cascade Apricot Ale--to select just one example--is one of the best beers in the world when they have no chance of ever tasting it? For newspapers, there's no editorial reason to mention obscure little beers brewed 3,000 miles away--they want to discuss products available to their readers.

I have no idea what can be done to remedy the situation, except to hope that eventually some of our beers begin a trek to other parts of the country. Everyone knows that Oregon pinots are among the best. New Yorkers can buy them at their local wine stores. I wish they could buy a sampling of Oregon beers, too. Then they'd realize there's more here than just Rogue. I can dream.