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Is this the end of the line for microbreweries?

Is this the end of the line for microbreweries?

Visit any liquor store, and you’ll see beers with funky labels and weird names edging in on territory previously held by Coors Light and Molson Canadian. And if you live in a city on the West Coast, microbreweries are starting to outnumber Starbucks.

Small-scale, locally brewed beer has apparently exploded in popularity over the past ten years, to the point where some experts are predicting a market bubble. But despite the overflow of limited-edition hop-forward session ales and grapefruit-infused whatevers, wine is still going strong.

In fact, wine holds just as much market share as beer. This is new. Beer has always been North America’s favourite alcoholic beverage. But a recent survey shows that vino has caught up. Its biggest fans?

The under-30 set.

This is puzzling at first. For many people, the early stages of adulthood are a time of economic uncertainty, dominated by cheap beer, coolers and liquor. With extended “adultlescence” the norm for post-recession college grads, the world of fine wine seems like a strange choice.

There are a few explanations for this. First, since the 1990s, wine producers have been pushing their marketing in a less formal direction, choosing labels and names, for instance, that are more wacky than refined (think Blasted Church.)

Second, it has become less difficult and less expensive to get your hands on good wine. Two Buck Chuck is holding its own in blind taste tests. And while Trader Joe’s trademark tipple isn’t everyone’s cup of, uh, wine, drinkers are beginning to recognize that you don’t have to dish out half the weekly grocery budget for a bottle of something tasty.

But perhaps one of the most important - and least talked-about - contributors to wine’s under-30 popularity surge is the Hundred Mile Diet.

Or some variation thereof. “Locavore” entered the OED in 2007, and well before then, certain demographics were voting with their dollars in favour of fair trade, organic, and locally-sourced eats. Many Millenials were becoming economically independent just as Michael Pollan was hitting the New York Times Bestseller List. According to industry experts, buyers under thirty are waist-deep in the conscious eating trend.

And what better example of a locally produced beverage than wine from a nearby vineyard? Microbreweries may blend, boil and age their ingredients locally; they might even ascribe a place of origin to their hops; but you’d be hard-pressed to find a beer that sources its barley (the bulk of any beer recipe) from a local farmer.

Meanwhile, you can buy a bottle from Venturi-Schulze or Blue Grouse, and know precisely where the grapes came from and who grew them.

Plus, wine and location have been tied together since ancient times. We find references to place affecting wine’s flavour as far back as Pliny the Elder. In the 17th century, agriculturalist Olivier de Serres prioritized an understanding of terroir as “the fundamental task in agriculture.”

Today, terroir is applied everywhere. Locavores dwell on the terroir of farmer’s market carrots and grass-fed beef. In that light, wine is the natural vehicle for locally-sourced flavour.

The story of wine’s growing popularity isn’t just about market trends. It’s a reflection of how people today are changing their approach to how they choose what to eat, drink, and savour. 

Photo via Reno Tahoe

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