So, after last week’s post on the Iron Horse Brewery, I got to thinking about the troubles Iron Horse may be having. In the comments someone from the brewery says that it’s a size issue and that they’re scrambling to supply the markets they already have. This seems like a good problem in some ways but I remember talking to someone from Ninkasi Brewing last year and having him tell me the same thing; they had a five year business plan that was being met in two years and they were desperately trying to keep up.
Again, this seems like a positive until one takes into account the potential difficulties with scaling up an operation quickly. In addition to having to suddenly build more of the basics: fermenters, chillers, etc, problems like storage and transport start to loom, but I have a guess what the biggest issue would be.
Quality control. The bigger you are, the harder it becomes to ensure that your product is what you expect it to be. Hell, just look at Microsoft: Windows has been plagued with issues for years and will likely never be an entirely smooth operating system. Yes, yes, there are lots and lots of reasons for this but certainly size and demand play into the difficulties of making a rock-solid operating system. So I think a basic question still remains; how do you meet the demand and satisfy the quality (which is the reason for your demand) in a timely fashion?
In the middle of all this I begin to wonder; does Iron Horse have any obligation to ensure their product gets to me?
No, they don’t. Their obligation, as I see it, is to produce the best damn beer they can. If that means that their beer stays local then good. Do I miss out on a tasty beer? Yes and that’s unfortunate. But there’s a silver lining too, in my opinion.
Now I have a reason to travel.
We’re pretty fortunate, as Americans, to have access to almost any kind of food we want, whenever we want. The more research I read about that, however, the more I think that maybe we shouldn’t have that luxury at quite the level we have it at. It’s bad for the environment, bad for your health, and frequently just doesn’t taste as good. Yes, bananas are good for your prostate but do you need them twelve months of the year? Perhaps it’s better to have local things as often as possible, expanding one’s diet based on what’s around wherever you go. Certainly an easy way to appreciate the local culture when you travel, too.
Granted, Ellensburg is a little over 200 miles from Portland so that’s not far. In the US that distance could certainly be called local-but how far does local go? Idaho? Sure. California? I don’t know; San Francisco or San Diego? Montana? Vancouver, BC? I’ve pined for beers from Vancouver and Victoria ever since visiting last year; yes it’s international but could you call it local? Both those cities are closer than San Francisco.
It’s certainly more local than the beers I can get from Japan, England, Belgium or Germany. But what’s the cutoff distance? Is it Kansas? Mexico City? The Atlantic?
I don’t know and I certainly don’t wish ill towards Iron Horse’s attempts to satisfy the markets they are in. I like their beers and would love for nothing more than to find them at my local store. At the same time, if I had to go to Seattle (which I visit regularly) or Tacoma to find their beers, doesn’t that just increase the value of my trip?
Which I’m totally up for. Sure, it would be nice if all their beers were in Portland but if they were then what’s left to make England special?
And yes, I realize that’s a loaded question but I’m trying to ask it in a broader sense; if everything comes to you then why go anywhere?
If your reaction to that question starts with “Because…” then good. This is my point. We go to places to experience them and all they have to offer. On the other hand, if that means that I have to go without some things that I like then there can be positives to that as well. It gives me a chance to look around and see what is right in front of me and unearth the wonders of what’s right here. I doubt I would have found the Natian Brewery at all if I wasn’t in Portland so there are clearly new worlds to explore without having to go far from home.
I can wait for Iron Horse to make its way down to Portland. I believe their success is coming because they make a damn good beer and people like me are exhorting the praises of their efforts. If that means that I have to be patient so that they can grow their business in a smart, positive way that allows them to stay in business because they’ve been focused on making a damn good beer, then I will be patient. They can stay local and make my trips north more prized through their presence there.