Don’t Say ‘Local’: Name the Farm

In a recent discussion about the design of restaurant menus with an expert, we were interested to hear that using such sweeping terms as ‘local beef’ is now considered a real no-no. Does local mean it was reared in a nearby field? In the same county? Or does it mean it was reared in Argentina but processed on an industrial estate no more than one hundred miles away?

The smart thing these days, apparently, is to be super-specific: ‘Beef from Red Ruby Devon cows reared by Bob Johnson at West Dunham’.

Most people don’t know what a Red Ruby Devon cow is. They’ve never heard of Bob Johnson or West Dunham. For all they know, Bob could be utterly incompetent, West Dunham a total hole, and his cows diseased bags-of-bones. Nonetheless, the idea is that customers will feel the restaurant is hiding nothing, that it is proud of its ingredients and has a relationship with its supplier. A warm glow will ensue.

The same principle probably applies to beer labelling. We cringe at ‘made with the choicest hops and finest malt’ and its only slightly better, trendier cousin ‘crafted with citrus hops’. Those are evasive, sneaky descriptors with little real content.

‘Made with 2012 West Dunham hops, grown by Bob Johnson in Devon, and Snodsbury malted barley from Timpkins of Steeple Bumpleigh’ is far better. Even a punter to whom specific hop and malt varieties mean nothing will gain a sense of transparency from a description like that. It makes local mean something.

14 replies on “Don’t Say ‘Local’: Name the Farm”

I had a tin of heinz spaghetti bolognese yesterday which according to the tin was made with only the finest ingredients!

Like with all these things, it’s a question of balance. I saw a remarkable ham, egg and chips that read like War & Peace the other day. This is especially true for pubs – I’m choose them for for simple, ‘honest’ (whatever that means?!) food.

I like it when pubs have a separate bit of PoS which just states their suppliers – no B.S.

We in Norfolk are very fortunate to have lots of barley grown here, so it’s easy to be able to state grain from ‘within 25miles of the brewery’, or even name a specific farm. Branthill Farm for example is a barley farm, which sells its grain to Crisps maltsters and then buys it back and sells to local brewers. You even get a grid reference from then so you know which field your grain comes from.
I think people like to know the provenance of their food and drink. However, that doesn’t guarantee quality. Lower food miles perhaps. On the other hand, if you knew the ingredients you were quoting were poor, you wouldn’t bother to quote them surely?

I’d wonder how practical this is. Chances are most breweries are going to be buying from wholesalers and won’t know where their ingredients are coming from. And I’d have thought that would be especially true for hops: pegging yourself to one grower is a bad idea, as many Amarillo users have no doubt discovered recently.

Hops are not like meat.

“Hops are not like meat.”

That’s why my burgers keep falling apart then!

“Beer/Ale Brewed with Spices” is another that makes me cringe a bit, but that’s besides the point. Transparency certainly makes things a bit clearer, and I’m all for it, so long as brewers don’t eventually feel prompted to brand bottles with what style the beer is. That’s a little restricting.

As far as local is concerned, this:

pubman79 — we quite like the way Sainsbury’s economy range actually has things like “made from slightly lumpy onions, but just as tasty!” written on the packaging.

John — yes, you’re right — this can quickly spill over into pretentiousness: “…all held together with Fairtrade Algerian cocktail sticks handcrafted in a mountain retreat”.

NorthcoteBeers — now you say it, we probably didn’t mean local as much as we meant “localised”, i.e. from a specific place, rather than from somewhere nearby. As we’ve just said on t’Twitter in response to someone else, this is marketing patter, in its own way, and can be a bit of a con trick if ‘bad’ ingredients are trumpeted with enough confidence.

Beer Nut — “Hops are not like meat”: nothing to argue with in that statement. I guess we’re thinking here of smaller producers who make a virtue of subtle variation rather than absolute consistency. Even biggish breweries like St Austell name specific hop farms, though, and it only improves their image. Can’t find it now, but there were excited Tweets from the US when Roger Ryman signed a contract for the next year’s supply of Willamette with a specific supplier.

Whosisbrew — I guess what we’re saying is, breweries that *can* do it should do it, cos it’s a neat marketing trick that also happens to work for consumers.

You’re so clearly talking about Schlitz beer here. It’s embarrassing!,5579257

More on topic. We’re home to a number of resorts and fine dining establishments here in Phoenix that mention the local source of their produce and wines, of course, but seldom list local beers. In fact some of our restaurants obfuscate their locations as tony Scottsdale and not Phoenix.

My favorite thing is with this idea is when restaurants list faux provenance for macro beers among the smaller craft places where location DOES make a difference.

Anchor Steam – San Francisco, California
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – Chico, California
Budweiser Light – Lager – Saint Louis, Missouri
Miller Genuine Draft – Lager – Milwaukee Wisconsin

No you idiots They are all made in California. The macros brew in Irwindale and Van Nuys or some equally boring industrial plant.

Oh, yes, we’ve seen this, but with ‘world lagers’:

San Miguel, Spain (actually Northampton)
Carlsberg, Denmark (actually Northampton)
Hofbrau, Germany (actually Dorset)
Asahi, Japan (actually Kent)

This could warrant its own post regarding the pubs’ marketing of ‘world beers’. Not that it’s a completely bad thing, cutting down on miles travelled and energy wasted moving glass or kegs across the seas.

I suppose the irksome part of it is that it’s not international any more, so don’t piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining.

Reminds me of the time I let slip to a local brewer that their Oyster stout was the worst Oyster Stout I’d ever tasted.

Turned out they had got their Oysters from a fishmonger’s stall in Barnsley Market which I won’t go anywhere near due to the terrible off smell. That might have been a large factor in why the beer was so bad.

Have you ever had an oyster stout with discernible ‘oysteriness’? Had a beef and oyster pie once. Never again.

And would they be able to make a virtue of it in marketing either way? If it is US malt, then it’s seen as inferior by some geeks; if it isn’t, it’s unpatriotic.

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