Beer Style

For the monthly Session.

In the eyes of a brewery my preference choices would classify me one of those fickle millennial sorts because I’ve never really had a “go-to” beer that perpetually makes it into my fridge, at least here in the US, the land of beer opportunity. Truthfully I’d probably have a hard time articulating a “favorite” beer because it’s doubtful I’ve had many beers more than once…

With one recent exception: Josephsbrau Bohemian Lager, Trader Joe’s generic answer to a Czech pilsner, brewed by Gordon Biersch. (And yes, pedants, they do also stock the “PLZNR  Czech-Style Lager.”) On my grad school stipend I was determined to find something in the generally expensive embarrassment of riches that is the San Diego gustatory beer shopping experience that was affordable, tasty, and rich. Of course, on a per ounce basis that pretty much leaves you with Costco cases and TJ’s, and the former is simply an expansionary invitation to the waistline. So, I started my way through the many generic offerings at TJ’s, particularly determined to find out why everyone so consistently speaks highly of the decidedly unAmerican tradition of Czech brewing.

The Simpler Times Lager and Pilsener were too flowery/bland and strong/crystal-malt-dense, respectively, the PLZNR just didn’t provide the comfort of something you’d want to come home to, and the Vienna Lager was a bit darker than I regularly prefer. The seasonals–bocks of various sorts, a helles, a kolsch, etc.–well, I’m happy to enjoy seasonally at most. But the Bohemian Lager stands up to that bane of generation: repetition. (I suppose the oldheads out there might call it commitment, but I just celebrated my sixth anniversary, so I think it’s fair to say it’s not a universally applicable failing.)

There’s the unmistakable richness evoked by melanoidins, but the billowy lightness of it all means you don’t get bogged down in it in the density of the flavor. The noble hops aren’t really bitter to my palette, but I see how they might seem that way to someone like my non-beer-loving parents, although I bet my mother would take this with Szechuan food even over her obligatory Tsingtao. Is that mythical “balance”?

And so I find myself with a beer that I buy more than twice a year, although let’s be honest–I still only buy three at a time at most because TJ’s provides the most admirable concession of pro-rata pricing ALL of their beer cans/bottles individually rather than forcing you to commit to a six pack to enjoy any kind of benefit of volume. Take note, TJ’s and others: its little things like this that make me rather happy to come back again and again (and yes, I know they’re owned by Aldi’s).

With any luck, someday I’ll get to visit the Czech Republic and then complain incessantly of the poor imitations available here, but until I become that insufferable blowhard I’m happy to enjoy the generic and delicious $1 bottles of Josephsbrau Bohemian Lager.

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As I was perusing the newly released 2015 BJCP guidelines, I noticed at the very end two Argentine styles were recently added: the Dorada Pampeana and Argentine IPA. I cited Dorada Pampeana back in 2013 as an example when I was writing about the thought process of developing a local Bolivian style, so it’s good to see that Northern brewing groups are paying attention to happenings elsewhere. Here’s the newly minted and cemented (for better and for worse) entry for Dorada Pampeana in Spanish and English:

X1. Dorada Pampeana Suggested style placement: Category 18 (Pale American Beer)

En sus comienzos los cerveceros caseros argentinos estaban muy limitados: no existían los extractos, sólo malta pilsen y lúpulo Cascade. Sólo levaduras secas, comúnmente Nottingham, Windsor o Safale. Con estos ingredientes, los cerveceros argentinos desarrollaron una versión específica de la Blond Ale, llamda Dorada Pampeana.

Impresión general: Fácilmente bebible, accesible, con orientación a malta.

Aroma: aroma dulce maltoso ligero a moderado. Es aceptable el aroma frutal bajo a moderado. Debe tener aroma a lúpulo bajo a medio. Sin diacetilo.

Aspecto: color amarillo claro a dorado profundo. Claro a brillante. Espuma baja a medio con buena retención.

Sabor: Dulzor maltoso inicial suave. Típicamente ausentes los flavors a caramelo. Flavor a lúpulo ligero a moderado (usualmente Cascade), pero no debería ser agresivo. Amargor bajo a moderado, pero el balance tiende a la malta. Final medio-seco o algo dulce. Sin diacetilo.

Sensación en boca: Cuerpo mediano ligero a medio. Carbonatación media a alta. Sensación suave sin amargor áspero o astringencia.

Comentarios: es dificultoso lograr el balance.

Historia: los primeros cerveceros argentinos sólo accedían a malta pilsen y lúpulo cascade y con ellos desarrollaron esta variante de Blond Ale.

Ingredientes: usualmente solo malta pálida o pilsen, aunque puede incluir bajas proporciones de malta caramelizadas. Comúnmente lúpulo Cascade. Levaduras americanas limpias, británicas levemente frutadas o Kölsch, usualmente acondicionada en frío.

Estadísticas vitales: D.I.: 1.042 – 1.054 IBUs: 15 – 22 D.F.: 1.009 – 1.013 SRM: 3 – 5 G.A.: 4,3º – 5,5º

Pampas Golden Ale

Overall impression: easy drinkability, malt-oriented.

Aroma: light to moderate sweet malty aroma. Low to moderate fruity aroma is acceptable. May have a low to medium hop aroma. No diacetyl.

Appearance: light yellow to deep gold color. Clear to brilliant. Low to medium head with good retention.

Flavor: Initial soft malty sweetness. Caramel flavors typically are absent. Mild to moderate hop flavor (usually Cascade), but should not be aggressive. Low to moderate hop bitterness, the balance is normally towards the malt. Half-dry to something sweet finish. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Medium to high carbonation. Smooth without harsh bitterness or astringency.

Comments: it is difficult to achieve the balance.

History: At the beginning argentine homebrewers were very limited: there weren´t extract, they could use only pils malt, Cascade hops and dry yeast, commonly Nottingham, Windsor or Safale. With these ingredients, Argentine brewers developed a specific version of Blond Ale, named Dorada Pampeana.

Ingredients: usually only pale or pils malt, although may include low rates of caramelized malt. Commonly Cascade hops. Clean American yeast, slightly fruity British or Kölsch, usually packaged in cold.

Vital Statistics: OG: 1.042 – 1.054 IBU: 15 – 22 FG: 1.009 – 1.013 SRM: 3 – 5 ABV: 4.3% – 5.5%

Well, I’m not actually returning to America for “good,” i.e. a substantial period of years, until this weekend, so responding to this month’s Session call for thoughts on what a localized mild might look like is a bit hard given my general displacement since January. I don’t have a locale to call my own just yet, being in a six month period of transitions. However, the occasion of this Session is a welcome exercise in thinking about ways to incorporate locale into beer, albeit with a traveler’s perspective.

The American Mild Month’s outline on what a Mild ought to look like are summarized as, “a restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish so that the malt and what hops are present, shine through,” and provide a nice outline to this thought exercise. In the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to experience beer in a number of countries in East Asia, so it seems apt to perhaps reflect on what a localized Mild might look like in some of those places.

DISCLAIMER: This is based, of course, on my very limited and essentially touristic experiences. So, it’s all pithy at best and most certainly deserves to be critiqued by brewers and people hailing from each of those places. Nonetheless, it’s a fun road to think down.

Rioting in Singapore is very loosely defined, but it's punishment isn't. I realize it's harsh and excessively minimalist to highlight this about Singapore, but it was a bit odd to see these signs plastered around the downtown area.

Rioting in Singapore is very loosely defined, but it’s punishment isn’t. I realize it’s harsh and excessively minimalist to highlight this about Singapore, but it was a bit odd to see these signs plastered around the downtown area.

I’ll just take this chronologically and start in Singapore. My impressions of beer in Singapore were decidedly limited to Brewerkz, which operates a couple of brewpubs. Their beer was straightforward, very American in influence, and since Singapore imports basically all foodstuffs, everything was made with imported ingredients. Starting with those cues, I’ll combine it with Singapore’s eerie rigidity and cleanliness, a striving for perfection and having everything in its right place. Those two thrusts combined, I’d say a Singaporean Mild would be brewed exactly to the middle of, say, the BJCP guidelines (this is still in honor of American Mild month, after all)–well within the established framework and structure–with British malts, hops, and yeast. Probably served on cask as well, since Singapore is a former British East India Company trading post and later British territory. This is a strict and by-the-books interpretation.

Angkor beer with Khmer barbecue: the best meal we had in Cambodia. Angkor also produces an extra stout.

Angkor beer with Khmer barbecue: the best meal we had in Cambodia. Angkor also produces an extra stout.

Moving on to Cambodia, I’m not entirely sure what inferences I could draw about Cambodian beer because it’s so dominated by mass producers of light lager and I honestly only tried the Pilsener from a Phnom Phen’s smaller Kingdom Breweries; that doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuance, much like in Singapore. So, I’ll draw on what stood out to me on Cambodian beer shelves: the prevalence of foreign extra stout, be they of the Black Panther, Angkor Extra, or Guinness sort. It’s obviously missing the point of the session to make this about stout, but I’ll already pointed out I’m grasping at straws here, and so I’ll just apply my passing impression onto the notion of a Cambodian Mild: it would be very dark, pushing past the SRM boundary (again, it’s American Mild month, so it’s okay to invoke the American spirit of stretching the rules of tradition, right?), but on the sweeter side.

Truthfully, this sounds like a terrible version of something that quite clearly isn’t mild.

A Bia Hoi corner in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Note the hand dispenser at the bottom off the keg. 5,000 dong per glass = US $0.25.

A Bia Hoi corner in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Note the hand dispenser at the bottom off the keg. 5,000 dong per glass = US $0.25.

The beer culture of Vietnam was by far and away the biggest highlight of my trip, but I’ll save the details of it for a much larger post or two. But for this Session, we’re talking about Mild, whose social role as an accessible, easy-drinking, everyday beer draws many comparisons to the social role of Bia Hoi in Vietnam. And if there’s one thing that really stands out about bia hoi, it’s the freshness. Vietnamese drinking is all about consuming large amounts of fresh, cold, draft beer, often even poured over ice to achieve the cooling effect. The bulk of Vietnamese beers seem to be lagers, but since I’ll keep this imagining as an ale. A Vietnamese Mild would above all, be brewed to be consumed as fresh as possible. You know, served from the keg by day five or six. Being hot and tropical, this would be brewed with just a hint of hops–let’s use Saaz with a light hand because there’s an overwhelmingly direct and stated Czech influence over Vietnamese brewing–and with rice adjuncts so that it can be consumed as cheaply and abundantly as is feasible. Mot…hai…ba…vo!

Snack sellers on the Great Wall at Jinshanling of course carry hot water and beer.

Snack sellers on the Great Wall at Jinshanling of course carry hot water and beer.

Finally, China. There are some generalizations that can fairly be made about Chinese beer, but it’s also fun to take some of the regions we’ve visited and look how you could construct a Mild based on some of their gastronomic tendencies and habits. First, a Chinese Mild writ-large would be take after its many macro lagers: it would have an very low ABV, very pale color and be made entirely with domestic ingredients. We’re talking a Mild brewed with 100% Chinese malts and hops. Specifically, you’d probably use Qingdao Flower (Cluster) hops for the bittering portion, just a tiny bit of Chinese Cascades at 15 minutes, and the SA-1 (a Saaz/Tettnang cross) at knockout. (Yeast-wise, I haven’t been able to track down any locally cultivated ale yeasts, so I’d just go with an appropriately fruity English ale yeast.) At 3.1% ABV, you can polish off a few 22 oz bottles of this by yourself without guilt.

Sichuan peppercorns.

Sichuan peppercorns.

Breaking down this process regionally, how about the widely adored Sichuan cuisine? The infamous peppercorn seems to be the most known contributor beer-wise to anything remotely Chinese, so you can build around that, but keep in mind that Szechuan cuisine is all about balance–the spice comes with a sweetness to hold it up. So a Mild inspired by Sichuan cooking would be aiming for a red color, with a healthy dose of 20L crystal malts involved to balance out the token peppercorns that are added at 5 minutes in the boil and in the keg. Given the pleasantly mouth-searing effect of the peppercorns, this mild would be hopped with Chinese Nugget hops that can further add another dimension to the sweet and spicy interplay, ideally creating a complex balance between the three where no single element overwhelms. Of course, this only represents a Mild inspired by Szechuan cuisine–I sincerely doubt anyone would want to drink this next to Szechuan hot pot, which I would argue generally weakens this example for the sake of this exercise.

And then there’s Fujian province, on the southeastern coast, which is historically the home of many of the Overseas Chinese populations. This means that if you’ve eaten in a Chinatown in North America, there’s a good chance you had food with roots in Fujian. We were able spend a week steeping (pun intended) in the historic tea growing region that is known as the birthplace of both oolong and black teas. And I must say, I leave there a convert to oolong teas. How about a quick detour into tea? China produces the world’s finest and most subtle teas, including Green, Black, White, Oolong, Yellow, and Pu’erh. Note, these are all kinds of Tea–capital T–that are derived from the camellia sinensis bush and differ in how and when they are picked, how much of the bud and leaves are picked, and processing methods. But, they all come from the same bush. (None of this rooibos or mate nonsense.)

A tea plantation producing mainly dark oolongs in the Wuyishan Scenic Reserve.

A tea plantation producing mainly dark oolongs in the Wuyishan Scenic Reserve.

Bringing it back to Fujian, we spent time near the town of Wuyishan, which as mentioned is known as the home of oolong and black teas. Chinese black teas are relatively light, able to hold up to tea and sugar in the English style of tea drinking, but not demanding it like the more astringent Indian or African blends most often do. On the other hand, oolongs lie on the spectrum between green teas, which are not allowed to oxidize, and fully oxidized black teas. However, oolongs do not combine the flavors associated with green and black teas, so much as cherry-pick the best of each. An oolong often takes the subtlety of the lighter flavors in green teas, without the savory notes, and combines it with the dark fruit and honeyed flavors of the black teas, but without the malt and smoke. It’s really quite a mesmerizing combination when you can sit down and tease out the differences when tasting them all side-by-side.

So let’s get back to Mild. Again taking the “inspired-by” route, I think that the Fujian-inspired Mild could try to include an oolong tea, but would need to be on the whole subdued–erm, mild?–in order for it to be expressed. I’d use Wuyishan’s Da Hong Pao tea, which is said to derive from six original bushes that are now insured to the tune of millions of RMB and a destination on one of the lovelier hikes we took in the area. Da Hong Pao is somewhat dark for an oolong, with around 70% oxidation (green tea is unoxidized and black tea is allowed to oxidize fully) and emphasizes flavors notes of dark sugars and peaches–easy to integrate well into a traditional Mild’s overall flavor profile. The Fujian-inspired Mild would not be a bold one, using multiple base malts to develop the subtle complexity demanded by a tea appreciator, a light hand of SA-1 hops for balance, and then with Da Hong Pao tea steeped in 90 C water and added at conditioning for another layer of flavor and aroma.

If you look closely, the tea leaves perched on the ledge midway up the cliff are fabled to be the original six Da Hong Pao tea bushes, and are a destination in their own right in the Wuyishan Scenic Area.

If you look closely, the tea leaves perched on the ledge midway up the cliff are fabled to be the original six Da Hong Pao tea bushes, and are a destination in their own right in the Wuyishan Scenic Area.

I’ll end in Guangdong province (formerly Canton), where we spent most of our time in China. Cantonese food is characterized by two principles: freshness and an emphasis on simplicity–that is, allowing the component ingredients of a dish to shine with as a little intervention by the chef as possible. Hence, Guangdong food is often steamed, incredibly fresh, and tends to use spices and sauces lightly and only to bring out the best of the natural flavors on the plate. The twist to Guangdong food is recounted in the Cantonese saying, “We eat everything on the ground with four legs except tables and chairs. We eat everything in the sky except airplanes.” This lends the freedom to add a “weird” element. Applying these principles, a Guangdong take on Mild would probably use the simplest treatment as possible: one base malt and Qingdao Flower hops, without adjuncts, allowing the primary component parts to shine. And then, because the Cantonese like to shock, perhaps I would throw in just a minimal amount of raw Pu’erh tea steeped in the last minute of the boil.

A typical pu'erh tea block from the highly recommended Yunnan Tea Branch. I'm lucky to have been gifted a (different) 10-year-old block from a family friend that I look forward to trying back in the US.

A typical pu’erh tea block from the highly recommended Yunnan Tea Branch. I’m lucky to have been gifted a (different) 10-year-old block from a family friend that I look forward to trying back in the US.

Pu’erh tea is from Yunnan province (but since Guangzhou is a major area of export and wholesale in China, it seems acceptable to add this in), and is made from green teas that have been pressed into cakes and are then allowed to age up to 20 years. Aspergillus niger mold (the kind that grows on an onion’s skin and turns it a dusty black) is allowed to slowly ferment the cakes into a very distinct and earthy tea. Given the Cantonese love of freshness, this Mild should be consumed sooner rather than later.

These are all basically novelty beers, as with most beers that are “inspired” by something that–you know–isn’t beer. Given that, I’d highlight the general Chinese Mild above as the one that makes sense in this exercise, because it is the closest to actually respecting the parameters above, and would be most likely to find an audience of the everyday drinker that Mild seems to represent historically. And, instead of being a beer “inspired by” Chinese cooking or beer, it’s more of a beer that follows the principles laid out by those trends and represents an adaptation of a beer style to a local context, rather than an attempt to shoehorn exotic ingredients into a beverage and dubiously pass it off as “beer.”

Anyway, returning as I am soon enough to the US, hopefully I’ll have a chance to lift a Mild this May. I’ll certainly try to.

Written this past Sunday, but set aside for some editing and posted in time for Boak & Bailey’s latest call for long reads.

It was raining hard this morning; nice and cool for a usually stifling Santa Cruz this time of year. A good morning to sleep in, watch Man U nick a win away at Arsenal, and do some chores. During the few more dire spells of the game, I zoned out and read Martyn Cornell’s recent talk in Norway, “Place-based beer, a world-wide movement.” An engaging read, albeit mostly familiar.

Scandinavia is a hotbed for the place-based cuisine, with the Nordic Food Lab and others leading the way in a movement to promote a new Nordic approach to food that emphasizes local ingredients and a harmonic embrace of what place can provide on a seasonal basis. (I briefly started a MOOC on the “New Nordic Cuisine” and last a couple weeks before work drowned it out; but it was fascinating while I lasted). The Lab’s understated-but-inspired Family Meal blog is often a source of meal ideas in our home, and the principles of the movement exert a specific influence here in Bolivia, explicitly driving the idea behind Claus Meyer’s Gustu restaurant up in La Paz (which, as far as I can tell, has by far and away the most comprehensive Bolivian beer menu in the country, simply because they’ve put effort towards it). Their ten principles behind the Bolivian Gastronomic movement are worth perusing to see how these are being applied outside of Scandinavia.

Musical terroir

But Cornell’s talk dwells on the connection between geographic place and beer, and yield a number of thoughts about much more than beer. First, this kind of thinking about terroir makes me think a lot about how it might relate to–or was related to–to music. I spent most of high school behind a Middle Eastern firewall, during Audiogalaxy’s heyday. I’d scour the various old metal magazines I’d carried home with me from summers in North America, reading them all at last three times, highlighting and circling the bands I thought had potential. Then I’d have to narrow down the ones that seemed to have the most promise and carefully select which of the few mp3 files available to download. After all, each one of these songs was an hours-long commitment back then.

Evenings were spent with me clogging up our house’s phone lines watching the download percentages creep up at an agonizingly slow pace. Then when my parents would kick me off the dialup, I’d be left with 23% of one file or another, so you’d have just the preview and wonder what comes next, practically salivating in anticipation. I have a distinct memory of the frustrated chills when this song cut out at the 0:53 mark.

It was just getting to the good part. Finally, it’d download and I’d binge-listen for the next couple days until the next song finished. This routine truly taught me to loathe the filler of a throwaway instrumental song.

I swear this eventually has to with beer.

One of the defining marks of the pre-easy file sharing era was that you still had strong schools of distinct geographic musical schools within genres. For example, At the Gates was the pre-eminent example of the Gothenburg school of melodic thrash metal. Groups like Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Sick of it All, and Madball laid the rough contours of a punk-driven, chunky hardcore sound from New York City, while in southern California, thrash exerted a bit of influence over hardcore and it came out with a more riffy, breakdown-focused school of thought. DC had a thriving scene that emphasized what now is often enshrined as “post-hardcore.”

CDs and mail-order made cross-seeding of influences easier, but internet file-sharing was like a proverbial nail in the coffin for the growth of regional sounds as any band could be just as easily influenced by another regardless of location and regular, easy access to their music. I’m not pining for a forgotten old time–I like that I have access to enormous back catalogs of some of my favorite bands and new ones I’ve recently discovered–but some extent, this probably has a homogenizing effect. Or, if not homogenizing, then at least it severs the connection between musical style/influence and geography.

A detour into the globalization of soccer

As an example, in Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski argue that the countries and leagues that have the most cross-pollination in coaching and players from around the world will benefit from the highest levels of play. It’s essentially an argument that in a free market of soccer ideas, the best ideas will win out and yield the best styles of play. So, the ideal in this case is not, say, England sticking to its “traditional style” and lobbing as many crosses as they can at Peter Crouch’s head, but to incorporate the best forms of play available to them. But, this has a broad homogenizing effect. As possession-focused play is demonstrated by Barcelona to be highly effective, the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 is adopted widely and the traditional 4-4-2 is torn apart time and again.

Across the Atlantic, Jurgen Klinsmann takes notice and imposes the 4-3-3 style up and down the US player development pyramid so that in the long term, the US can be competitive with the rest of the world. Thus the homogenizing effect. One might argue that Barcelona’s La Masia academy proves that developing an indigenous school of play is more important than incorporating outside influences, but as a Spurs fan, I’d say that the history of North London EPL teams in general proves that sticking to a rigid ideology of play does not lead to many trophies.

Globalization is great–it allows for a much freer spread of information and ideas. Also, globalization sucks–Starbucks opened this weekend in Bolivia, and you can bet that Pumpkin Spice is one of the options. So what does that mean for beer?

Cornell’s cases

Cornell provides a number of examples in his talk of brewers that are trying to embrace the concept of terroir. But, terroir seems to be more an expression of ingredients, time, weather, climate, etc., in such a way that each vintage is notably different. Thus, Cornell’s examples of the Sierra Nevada and Rogue estate beers make sense as expressing terroir in a way comparable to which wine uses the word. But, as he points out, they’re also prohibitively expensive for most brewers. Likewise, if “local” is the primary delineation for terroir, there are going to be places that just can’t brew a local beer. One of barley or hops will not be available. (And yeah, you opt for a gruit without hops, but pushing that from novelty to something defining a geography is tough.)

Reading through the various style guidelines, taxonomies and typologies that are available, styles are often as much based on process as ingredients. But, as Cornell again points out, these are all easily replicable pretty much anywhere in the world. I could imitate the temperatures of a lagering cave in Germany using refrigeration here in Bolivia and create a Helles.

I thought Lars Marius Garshol’s recently posted rough guide to Lithuanian Beer really quite fascinating in this meditational context on beer styles. He reflects, “I found a whole beer culture, complete with its own frames of reference and styles of beer, effectively developed independently of the rest of the world.” In this usage, “independence” is not exactly a value at present in North America, where everyone scrambles to track down a Heady Topper or Pliny, regardless of where they live. Most of the “white whales” of the beer world hardly deserve the comparison to Moby Dick because mail-order makes them accessible. (Heck, in Cornell’s prior post, he notes that one of the greatest “white whales” of North American beer, 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord, was available on tap in Copenhagen.) Yet Garshol’s point seems to be that what makes Lithuanian beers so fascinating was their relative remoteness from the main currents of brewing.

Isn’t that how the world developed many of its best known styles? Circumstances, technology, history all exerted some kind of isolation or constraint upon brewers that dictated the choices they could make.

So at least from a perspective that wants to emphasize the local and indigenous it’s almost unfortunate that we live in an era of such unprecedented economic wealth and logistical possibilities. The freedom to choose and obtain any ingredient is a detriment to indigenous style, even while it’s equally a boon to provide the flavors and possibilities of another place to their area. I’m certainly not complaining that I could carry some Belgian yeast packets and American hops with me to Bolivia so that I can drink more than chicha (which I enjoy, but I like variety as well). Cornell summarizes this:

The difficulty we have in maintaining that there is such a thing as “beer terroir”, of course, is that all the factors that directly make a beer what it is can be reproduced, today, anywhere in the world. Grains, hops and other ingredients can be transported, if necessary, around the world. Water can now be demineralised and remineralised to match any location you like. Off-the-shelf yeasts to brew any style of beer you desire can be bought via the internet. And you can install a Yorkshire Square in Adelaide, or a Finnish kuurna in Argentina, or any other piece of kit anywhere you like, to imitate the brewing traditions of a land thousands of miles away.

Is it then impossible to expect to find new styles or schools of brewing in particular? I’m not terribly sure. Perhaps if a group of brewers in a particular area were to begin to work together to develop an approach or voluntarily submit themselves to a set of constraints on their choices, you might see something evolve. I’m not entirely sure. The strongest zeitgeist among North American brewing culture seems to be one that wants an abundance of choice, although the Norwegian group that Cornell presented to is obviously looking inward or to their immediate surrounding for inspiration.

If I were to throw an argument into the ring, I think that a terroir-driven beer would be one with the least influence exerted by the brewer as possible. Made with local ingredients (within a particular radius of the brewing site), and fermented at the ambient temperatures–if part of the prevailing definition of terroir is climate, than take the plunge and really let climate exert influence. And of course, local yeasts to ferment it all. This calls for supporting projects like Bootleg Biology so that every “place” has a native yeast (or several) to pitch in.

Learning to value constraint

Something I’ve enjoyed these past few years in Bolivia is, in fact, the constraint. Sure, I could order anything via air mail and get it here, but I’m working under budget limitations, so over time I’ve had work under various constraints. There’s only one maltster in the country, and they provide pilsner malt and chocolate malt–not crystal/caramel malts. This, combined with the abundance of local sugars dictated a general lack of maltiness, drier and lighter-bodied results. (To be fair, I’ve also grown to understand just how much influence a base malt can exert over a final product, and come to miss access to variety of options, but still, this is an exercise in lemonade-making.) Without an easy form of temperature control for fermentation and living in the tropics, managing fermentations is a high-effort challenge, so it ends up favoring beers that express themselves through yeast byproducts. There are currently no hops grown here, so I can only brew with the half and whole pound bags of Palisade, Willamette, and Columbus that I brought with me–if there were a local source, that’s probably the bulk of what I’d brew with.

At least in the Global North, consumer preference dictates that variety is the spice of life. And why not? We have so many options and the world is our oyster, so who wouldn’t want to try as much as you can? I certainly do. But, the pursuit of an identity, style, or approach that is geographically constrained will require some kind of commitment to those constraints. And not purely to the products and ingredients of the place, but to its people. Beer is a social construct, and it takes a society of individuals brewing together and sharing ideas as much as ingredients. Again, this is where Garshol’s work on Norwegian farmhouse brewing is illustrative as to what it might look like for a community to develop a style–in the case of Norway, it’s driven by tradition. In today’s world, tradition tends to die, and while rescuing traditions leads to lovely results like the exploding popularity of Berliner Weisses, beer culture is not static, and I’d hope that there are new styles and movements awaiting us.

Globalization does not favor isolation, but beer styles most often seem to have developed from certain regional isolations–or if not isolations, then regional critical masses of people who are highly conversant with one another. How you develop that kind of locally emphatic character in a world of geographically-unbound social media a question that demands a community organizer.