The town of Burton-on-Trent in England stands in a broad river valley carved out of ancient rock, covered with layers of sand and gravel up to 60 feet deep. Water has trickled through these beds for tens of thousands of years, depositing minerals in the gravel and sandstone.
In terms of quality water, it is hard to think of a better situation than divine intervention. Burton is known as the spiritual home of the United States’ favorite beer style: India Pale Ale. More than a century ago, Burton was the undisputed brewing capital of the world. It was home to more than 30 breweries, and the world’s most famous beer brand. The town’s beers were imitated globally, but never bettered. Why? It was the water.
While the United States still purveys some of the most generic beer in the world (in my humble opinion), it also brews much of the best.
As of March 2016, the United States was home to more than 2,000 craft breweries. The craft-beer explosion was a grass roots movement that has turned into big business. Craft breweries have gone from nowhere to more than 10 percent of a beer market worth more than $100 billion a year.
While beer sales are still dominated by two giant companies, Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors, smaller producers are becoming increasingly well known. Where there was once a limited craft beer frontier, good beer is now colonizing almost every part of the country including the Chesapeake Bay region, where nearly 70 craft breweries operate.
Brewing has traditionally been an activity based on local materials. Agricultural ingredients — barley and hops — might be transported to the brewery from the countryside, and, with improvements in trade, from even farther afield. But the main ingredient of any beer has always been local — water.
For the marketing of Coors, it was the melting snows of the Rocky Mountains; for others, fresh mountain spring water. Brewers pay attention to water and many have become strong advocates for its protection. Clean streams and clean water make better beer and clean local streams are essential to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
Brewers can be anchors in the community — think neighborhood pub — and influential, connected parts of our local and regional culture. Besides the social qualities, breweries are also significant contributors to the region’s economy. But brewers can also be creative messengers for the causes that are important to watershed residents, like clean water and healthy rivers.
One such champion is Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD.
Flying Dog has been pushing the envelope of craft brewing in an authentic, independent and unapologetic way for 25 years. But Flying Dog is also a company that understands the meaning of giving back to the community. For years, they have been creating unique beer products to help support a variety of environmental needs in the Chesapeake watershed.
Since 2011, Flying Dog has produced Pearl Necklace Chesapeake Stout, brewed with Rappahannock River Oysters. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this Stout helps the Oyster Recovery Partnership restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Flying Dog has helped ORP plant upward of 5 million oysters in the Bay and support the Shell Recycling Alliance and the Marylander’s Grow Oysters program.
Flying Dog also supports True Blue, and in turn, Chesapeake watermen. The True Blue program was developed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to raise awareness that only a small number of area restaurants actually use Maryland crab meat instead of importing it from overseas.
Partnering with Old Bay seasoning, Flying Dog brewed a classic Maryland beer, Dead Rise OLD BAY Summer Ale. A portion of the proceeds from Dead Rise helps support True Blue and in turn, more than 5,000 watermen who make their living on the Chesapeake Bay.
Now, with creative brewing and these distinct beers as the platform, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is working with Flying Dog to move upstream and brew a new beer that will highlight the unique beauty of the rivers of the Chesapeake and help address the issues they face. This exciting partnership will be used to support local stream cleanups and river protection and restoration projects in the Chesapeake watershed.
Like its Oyster Stout and OLD BAY Summer Ale, Flying Dog will work with the Alliance to brew a beer built around the general theme of healthy rivers and streams and raising awareness about clean water.
An extension of this project could include Flying Dog working with other talented brewers around the Chesapeake region to highlight local waterways or special places in the watershed.
Working together, local craft breweries and Flying Dog could design and develop unique beers that highlight local waters through the addition of herbs, wildflowers, fruits, trees or other natural flavors linked to a local watershed.
This approach provides the opportunity for unique beers and pairings, as well as opportunities for telling local stories and highlighting local connections and issues.
This is not just about creating delicious beer but about making an impact. Each product would designate a portion of proceeds to be used by the Alliance to support programs like Project Clean Stream or other restoration and protection projects resulting in many groups in communities across the watershed working hard to protect the water.
The Alliance is already working with its many watershed partners to clean up and restore streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and to support local groups to take action. With this initiative and the Alliance, Flying Dog and other area brewers can be a voice for clean water, healthy streams and a sustainable Chesapeake.
An exclusive preview of the beer will be featured at the Alliance’s annual Taste of the Chesapeake on Sept. 15.
Good beer needs clean water! And good people drink good beer!
The views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.