Is that elderflower in my pint? Yes it is. Foraging isn’t just for Nordic chefs as craft beer gets hyper-local with brews inspired by nature.

When your plate’s an edible ecosystem of locally grown, foraged or fermented goodies, shouldn’t your glass be as well? Problem is, beer — even of the small-batch artisanal variety — is resolutely global. Your pint (or can or growler) might be filled by a brewery just around the corner, but likely it was made from ingredients shipped in from miles, even hemispheres away. Even when locally made, craft beer’s carbon footprint rarely goes toe to toe with food’s.

This wasn’t always the case, of course. Back when everything was local by necessity, beer was a family’s daily liquid bread, homemade from the community’s grain stores, sweetened with foraged fruit or honey, maybe, and spiced with garden herbs. But, like bread, beer became industrialized almost immediately after its invention — large-scale breweries date to ancient Egypt — and as barrels, ships, rails, and eventually refrigeration revolutionized global trade, beer went speedily along for the ride. Today, even your average microbrewery may order its grain from Canada, hops from South Africa, and yeast from Germany, then ship its beer to Sweden.
But now a few renegade craftsman are bringing beer back to its homegrown past, before thousand-acre barley fields and international freight shipping, when brewers used what grew nearby, not what could be ordered online. As craft beer becomes increasingly popular, growing beyond what was once an insulated micro-industry, its sphere intersects with other professions, welcoming new brewers and new ideas. Many brewers working on foraged beers are former chefs; others just passionate mushroom hunters happy to have a new outlet for their hobby. Todd Boera, one of the principal characters in the foraged beer scene, came to it from farming.

Boera was studying agriculture in North Carolina when, he says, “I had a defining moment. A professor sat me down and asked me, ‘Do you come from money?’ Nope. ‘Do you have land?’ Nope. ‘So why do you want to study sustainable agriculture?’” He had the passion but not the resources to make a living as a small-scale farmer. So he switched to a more lucrative gig: brewing. But, he says, “the two are intertwined: working on farms, growing all sorts of crops, and thinking, how can I incorporate these into my beers?” At his North Carolina brewery Fonta Flora, he started with home-grown hops, then went rogue.