Tonight’s party night at Chez Cubbage/Best Beloved, so beer’s been on my mind. That may still be literarly true, depending on how much is still sloshing around my brain from last night’s bender, but no matter!
The point is. Beers. I’ve been chewing on the idea of the “local favorite” lately. I feel like most regions of the continental U. S. have their own brand loyalty, most of which are not actually local beers.
Now, Madison has its exceptions, because some of our local brands are truly local — they’re made here, sold here, and pretty much only available here; I’ve met people who take Capitol Brewery beers home to relatives on the West Coast like it was black market Venezuelan gasoline.
People have died for less.
But setting aside that sort of small-scale craft brewery, most people have an emotional attachment to what they think of as the “local” or at least “regional” beer that’s just what everyone else drinks, regardless of whether it’s sold nationally or not — Grain Belt in Minneapolis versus Sam Adams in Boston, Miller in Wisconsin versus Bud in Missouri; PBR in the Midwest versus Yuengling in the Northeast, and so on.
Here’s where it gets weird: the love stays long after the plant is gone. Take, for example, that favorite of Chicago yuppies who want to out-snob Goose Island, Berghoff brand beer. Not just a local brew but a local restaurant, right? And so we can retail it for at least $8.99 a six-pack, maybe more.
Wrong. The part about local, anyway, not the retail price — that remains. But Berghoff beer was brewed in Rhinelander, WI for years, and sold across the entire state of Wisconsin under the label of “Huber” beer. Same beer, different labels — and way different prices (I picked up a twack of Huber Bock today for $8.99, in fact). And here’s where it gets fun: it’s not even really Huber beer anymore, even though it’s still sold under that label. The beer is made and bottled at the Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, WI, the same people that brought us Mountain Creek and other such gems of affordable ($7.99 a case, no I am not shitting you) yet drinkable (sort of) beer.
Never once made in Chicago or even Ilinois, you'll note.
So to put that in very simple words for those of you that are enjoying your regional beer of choice right now: Berghoff beer is really Huber beer, brewed in Rhinelander, WI by the Huber family brewery, only it isn’t anymore and is in fact brewed in Monroe, WI by a brewery specializing in cheap (but regional) American-style ales. And whatever else they can get paid for, as far as I can tell, which in this economic climate ain’t a bad business model. And it’s still Berghoff beer in Chicago and Huber beer in Wisconsin.
This happens all over. Grain Belt, that Minneapolis favorite that I mentioned earlier, is brewed and bottled at a plant in New Ulm, MN (several hours south of Minneapolis) by long-time Grain Belt rival August Schell. Minnesotans still drink it down by the gallon as “their beer.” Other Twin Cities natives prefer Hamm’s, “brewed in the land of sky blue waters” just outside St. Paul — or it was, but now it comes from Millers-Coors’s plants in Milwaukee. And, just to complicate things for native cheeseheads, those same plants may still produce PBR, but the company is now based out of Woodridge, IL — F.I.B. central.
If you’re not feeling enlightened and edified yet, grab a beer and listen up, because the point is this: most of our sentimental attachments are absurd and unreasonable, to say nothing of based on outdated information. Does it make the “local” beer any worse, or the competition any better? Only if you’re an unfeeling asshole.
So bottoms up, ladies and gents, and if you’re in Chicago I hope you’re staring at the bottom of a Goose Island or a Berghoff. Here in Wisconsin, I’ll lift my Huber to you. Or my PBR. Or my Blatz. Or…fuck it, this is a great state to live in. Cheers!
What’s your local/regional favorite? Do you know where it’s actually brewed? Chime on in on the Comments page — but if I’m a little slow getting back to you, please don’t hold it against me. I may be drinking.