Locally grown and brewed: Foraged beer reconnects brewing with the land

What makes a craft beer truly “locally-made”? For small brewers, it’s using natural ingredients harvested from the immediate surroundings to make foraged beer, reported a Civil Eats article.

More than 5,000 American breweries offer locally-crafted beer, but they obtain many of their ingredients from industrialized farms in other states or outside the U.S.

In response to this agricultural disconnect, a growing number of breweries are making foraged beers, alcoholic beverages that use wild ingredients from hyper-local sources. Some of them, like Scratch Brewing in North Carolina, make only foraged craft beer.

The Scratch brewers harvest wild botanicals such as dandelion, hickory bark, maple leaf, and sumac berries for their beers. Their mission is to establish a link between their customers and the land.

“Every beer we brew is an opportunity to tell a story about a plant or a process,” Scratch co-founder Marika Josephson said. “They can tell a story about our time and place, the unique plants that grow around us, the aromas of the woods.”

Foraged beers are a deliberate throwback to the ancestral alcoholic drink of ancient times. The modern beer formula is a product of the Industrial Revolution, standardized for mass-production.

Bored with the general-issue “nationalized” beer, beer drinkers of the Seventies and Eighties began looking for other options. By happy coincidence, they found the American craft beer movement, whose distinct local and regional brand identities appealed to them.

Now consumers are shifting from large-scale craft brewers to small brewpubs and breweries that cater to local tastes. Foraged beer have caught their eyes as a prime example of intensely local products and farm-to-table foods, reported The Boston Globe.

Sustainable foraging

Programs like Beers Made By Walking organize guided walks through a local park to seek inspiration for unique craft beers. They also try to encourage responsible foraging among brewers and partners.

“If people are going out and taking things without knowing the effects that has on the local ecology, that’s a problem,” cautioned Beers Made By Walking founder Eric Steen. “I’m not interested in beers brewed with a sense of place if they ruin that place in the process.”

One way to encourage responsible foraging comes from Sean Lilly Wilson. The founder of North Carolina-based Fullsteam Brewery envisions a market forged by brewers and responsible foragers and farmers. To that end, he calls on property owners to ensure sustainable levels of foraging.

“We want to pioneer a Southern beer economy,” said Wilson, who buys local malt whenever possible. He also pays a market rate to knowledgeable foragers and growers for persimmons, goldenrod, spicebush and other unusual ingredients.

Other foraged beer brewers like Fonta Flora (also in North Carolina) promote regional growers, small-scale local farms and gardens, and sustainable farming.

“We have varieties of rice and corn that have been grown in the Carolinas for hundreds of years, and we want to showcase those,” said founder Todd Boera.

Fonta Flora recently established its own fruit farm to aft as educational outreach to their community as well as provide ingredients. The nine-acre farm features a fruit grove filled with pawpaw and persimmon trees, elderberry bushes and other wild fruits.

“You don’t see too many wineries in industrial parks like you do breweries. Winemaking never really left the farm,” Boera explained.

“Brewing did for a while, and we want to bring the farm back to the beer.” (Related: A little wine each day may help remove waste from the brain, improving cognitive health, research finds.)

So the next time you decide to enjoy a bottle, try a foraged beer. Every pint will increase your appreciation of the ancient links between agriculture and nature.

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