Operating under the slogan “Beer is agriculture,” San Francisco-based Almanac Beer Co. has carved out its own niche in the burgeoning craft brewing industry with its “farm-to-bottle” beer model. The brewery collaborates with select northern California sustainable farms to create artisanal ales using locally sourced seasonal ingredients, such as the organic baby fennel used in its spring release, Biere de Mars.

Almanac Beer Co. presented its local-centric business model with Standing Stone Brewing, Ashland, Ore., and Fullsteam, Durham, N.C., during a “Brew Local! Supporting Local Economies, Farms and Culinary Cultures” panel discussion at the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America, May 2-5 in San Diego. Standing Stone leased a 265-acre parcel of land where it raises chickens and additional animals on land fertilized by natural food and brewing waste from its nearby brewpub. Fullsteam creates products, including Carver sweet potato lager and Hogwash hickory-smoked brown porter, based on its desire to define a “Southern brewery.” For some of its “plow-to-pint” releases, Fullsteam requests that area patrons help collect wild fruits, such as persimmons, to be used in the brewing process.

Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, Boulder, Colo., noted during the Craft Brewers Conference that 1,119 breweries are in planning stages in the United States. Among those, many are focused on their local markets and are developing new definitions of not only brewing, but selling beer by using non-traditional methods such as small tasting rooms, he explained. Summing up the recent microbrewery explosion, Gatza posed the question, “What comes after local?” His response: “Nothing.”

Consumers’ embrace of local has even been adopted by some of the industry’s largest players. In this month’s cover story, Mike Merriman, president of Beer Capitol Distributing Co. LLC, Sussex, Wis., notes that Walmart stores in its Milwaukee-area territory are requesting more Wisconsin-made brands as part of the retailer’s emphasis on homegrown products. This takes advantage of Beer Capitol’s portfolio of state-made craft beers that includes Capitol Brewing, Madison, Wis., Steven’s Point Brewing, Steven’s Point, Wis., and Lakefront Brewing Inc., Milwaukee.

 Coincidentally, last month Lakefront Brewing introduced Wisconsinite, a 100 percent all-local beer. The unfiltered Weiss-style beer is made using a new native Wisconsin yeast strain envisioned by the brewery’s president, Russ Klisch, and developed by home brewing supply distributor Jeremy King of Northern Brewer. The remaining ingredients were sourced from the state, including wheat, hops, water from Lake Michigan and malted barley from Milwaukee’s Malteoup, according to the brewery.  In hopes of creating a new category of beer dubbed “Wisconsin Weiss,” Klisch has made the yeast strain available to other commercial brewers and will forgo any compensation.