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Drink local: What you can learn about sustainable consumption from boozehounds

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I love beer.

And not in the "I'm going to drink a case of Canadian by myself" way. I'm one of those drinkers who is always bothering the bartender about what they have on draft and is aghast when there's nothing micro-brewed available.

I've now lived in two cities that have opened micro-breweries since I've moved there, something I attribute to divine intervention ("And the Lord cameth and delivered us from crappy booze"). While living in Windsor, all that stood between me and the Walkerville Brewery was a 20-minute bike ride.

In the spirit of the Eat Local challenge, this week I sampled two beers from my new local brewery, Block Three Brewery in St. Jacob's, Ontario. The owners of Block Three pride themselves on sourcing locally (like chefs, brewers will often note where they went local because they take pride in it).

Their Sugar Brown Ale is crisp and a little sweet, thanks to a touch of local maple syrup. The King Street Saison (named for the main street in Waterloo) is a classic Belgian-style ale.

Chances are you have someone like me in your life. If it's not beer they like, then they're prattling on about the how the ph level of soil makes so much difference to the quality of your red wine, or explaining why the 18-year-old scotch tastes so much different than 12-year-old.

It's because people that have a passion for beer, wine or spirits get it -- quality means the freshest ingredients and the best brewing or distilling methods. You know how people say Guinness tastes different in Dublin? It is absolutely true -- everything about the beer's flavour is bolder. It shouldn't be a surprise, really. In Dublin, Guinness is as fresh as you will ever taste it.

Like master chefs, brewers and distillers know that the best ingredients are the ones you find close to home, while they are in season and at their best. It's the same principles that guide the choice to eat sustainably. Often in local breweries you'll find the owners making sure there are other ways that their customers can make sustainable choices for a simple reason -- it's better for their bottom line.

For example, Walkerville Brewery offers a growler bottle service -- a program I highly recommend looking into if your own beer consumption warrants it.

Growlers are 64 ounce bottles that you return once finished. It's a great, sustainable system -- drink beer, return your jug, get a new one. The growlers keep getting reused over and over.

Now, true beer aficionados are probably noting that most breweries don't locally source all their ingredients. This is true.

Hops will often be imported because different varieties will produce different tastes. But there are still a good chunk of breweries that stay as local as possible. A little research into your regional options should help you sort out how local your local brewery truly is.

The gift that local alcohol gives us is that it can be an easy way to get people talking about consuming locally. The same person who doesn't know where anything comes from in the grocery store may be able to rattle off all the wine-producing regions in North America.

The logic jump from local beer to local food isn't that hard to make -- both taste better, have great impacts for the local economy and are more sustainable.

And if you're trying to get someone interested in consuming locally, in my experience, it is not very hard to get people interested in trying a new drink. It could be the first step to getting someone to start thinking about their own consumption habits.

So raise a glass, and, in the words of one of my personal favourite boozehounds, give cheers to alcohol -- the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.

Image flickr/klwatts

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