The Session #61: What makes local beer better?

This month’s Session coincides perfectly with a lot of local happenings in South Jersey. The topic is local beer and our host is Hoosier Beer Geek. Matt poses the question: What does it really mean to be a local beer and how is it better? For my contribution I want to focus on my local brewery, Flying Fish.

The “local” moniker is used very loosely to describe craft beer. Isn’t every craft beer local to some geographic location? In most cases local doesn’t indicate much about ingredients: Grain, hops and yeast are shipped thousands of miles for use in “local” craft breweries. Water is sometimes treated to change the profile so certain styles can be brewed. This separates the finished beer from any local identity it may have. So is the term just a marketing ploy by these brewers to encourage consumers to buy fresh? I’d like to believe the answer is no.

Flying Fish has always embraced its New Jersey identity. You’ll find images of the state and sayings like, “Proudly brewed in New Jersey… you got a problem with that?” on their pint glasses and t-shirts. But they don’t stop here. The brewery has found a way to successfully highlight the local flavor of the Garden State with their Exit Series. Here’s a description taken from the website:

The Exit Series of beers is a multi-year brewing experiment to brew a series of beers as diverse as the great state of New Jersey. These big beers–in size as well as flavor–will celebrate each exit of the state-long artery that connects us. Each beer will focus on a unique aspect of an individual exit.

For those who have never had the pleasure, the NJ Turnpike is the main artery of the state and, in some cases, can cause some severe road rage. You wouldn’t think this portion of I-95 would work to showcase local ingredients, but somehow it does. Last night was the release of Exit 8: A Belgian-style brown ale brewed with chestnuts and honey which can be found right off the Turnpike in East Windsor Township. This offering, much like the others previously released, is a very well made beer any resident of the state should be proud of. The nuttiness of the chestnuts comes through nicely and compliments the breadiness of the Belgian yeast.

In addition to the Exit Series, Flying Fish stays true to it’s “local” distinction in other ways. Distribution is kept within a 100 mile radius of the brewery so it’s always fresh. Their beers can be found at local sporting events, including Citizen’s Bank Park and Campbell’s field. Owner Gene Muller is a big advocate to change the current state law that will encourage growth for the NJ beer industry. This company doesn’t just preach local… they back it up too. As we speak Flying Fish is moving from their original home in Cherry Hill to a bigger facility in Somerdale. Will this move change their local identity? Fuggedaboutit!

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