Place-based beer, a world-wide local movement

I gave a presentation in Denmark to a conference called to discuss “Ny Nordisk Øl” – “New Nordic Beer” – on “Beer and terroir from an international perspective” on Friday November 7. This, slightly tweaked, expanded in a couple of places and cut in a couple more, is that presentation.

The brewers of Denmark, Sweden and Norway are already enthusiastically making beers that reflect the place they are made, using local ingredients: you can read about some of those beers here. But what the Ny Nordisk Øl movement is doing is just part, albeit a tremendous part, of a wider movement to get away from internationally reproducible styles of beer, a movement that is finding expression in North America via campaigns such as “Beers made by walking about” and by brewers such as the Almanac Beer Company in San Francisco, the Mount Pleasant Brewing Company in Michigan, the Scratch microbrewery and farm in Southern Illinois and Plan Bee brewery in New York state, in Italy, in New Zealand, and in Australia, most eloquently by Ashley Huntington of Two Metre Tall brewery in Tasmania.

As I researched for my presentation, it became clear that the “place-based beer” movement is a growing global phenomenon, albeit as yet those engaged in it often seem unaware that others are fighting a similar crusade. This is a long blog but, I hope you’ll agree, fascinating in its implications for the future of craft beer.

Beer and terroir coverBefore I begin talking about beer terroir, it would be best to say exactly what I mean by the term in the context of brewing, what I think you need in order to be able to say that a beer has characteristics that fall under the name “terroir”, and some of the problems of trying to talk about “beer and terroir”.

There are plenty of complicated ways of defining “terroir”, and what it takes for “terroir” to be reflected in a beer. But the one I like best was said by an American craft brewer who said he was attempting to achieve in his beers “the essence of here”.

How do you achieve “the essence of here”? In beer, there are, I hope you will agree, six major variables that affect the “hereness” of a beer: Continue reading

How I helped design a new lager at the White Horse

Václav Berka explains the secrets of brewing Pilsner Urquell in the upper room at the White Horse, Parsons Green

Václav Berka, senior trade brewmaster, explains the secrets of brewing Pilsner Urquell in the upper room at the White Horse, Parsons Green

I’ve taken part in many beer-related events in the upstairs room at the White Horse in Parsons Green, from tasting porter rescued from a 19th-century shipwreck to making a presentation on my historical beer heroes, but I never thought I would one day be helping to brew a lager there. Even more unlikely, this lager was made with genuine Plzeň well water – and it stood a fair chance of going into large-scale production.

The event was organised by Pilsner Urquell, the invitation came from Mark Dredge, to whom I am extremely grateful for such a fun day, it was called the London Brew-Off, and it involved three teams of beer enthusiasts, each put in charge of a 20-litre Speidel Braumeister brewing kit, handed four kilos of ground Czech malt, pointed to bags containing a selection of other speciality malts and eight or ten different hop varieties, and told to think up a recipe for a pilsner that would be good enough to go on public sale, using those ingredients, and then brew it. Our raw, hopped wort would be cooled, then have proper Pilsner Urquell yeast added, and be taken away for fermenting and lagering and, finally, bottling. On Tuesday July 15, that is, just over six weeks later, all the lagers the teams had made will be test-tasted, and the best one will be put into full-scale production – 30 hectolitres, 5,270 pints by Windsor & Eton Brewery, ready for the White Horse’s Euro Beer Fest in September. Continue reading

A brewery trip to Windsor via Limerick

The Windsor & Eton Brewery is relatively “local” to my home in the more western suburbs of London: about 20 minutes’ drive away, if there were absolutely nothing else on the road (that is, only in my dreams). It may be because the brewery’s nearness means I’ve paid more attention to it (and because I signed up to its Facebook page almost as soon as it started, which gave me regular reports of its progress) that I’ve had a distorted view of the W&E’s growth since it started last April. But it seems to have gained a reputation as a solid, consistent performer in a remarkably quick time, with three or four dozen permanent outlets signed up in less than 10 months and another 80 or so pubs and bars as regular customers.

The W&E certainly looks to have grasped the social media idea quickly, gaining more than 2,200 followers on Facebook and keeping its “community” involved with news and competitions – which is how, a little embarrassingly, I came into possession of 10 litres of free Guardsman best bitter. I can’t resist limerick contests, but as a professional writer I probably shouldn’t enter against “civilians”. Still, free beer is free beer, and picking it up was an excellent excuse to visit the brewery, where I managed to blag a quick “tour” from one of the founders, Will Calvert.

“Tour”, of course, with a new small brewery, is almost always an exaggeration: generally you stand in the middle of an enclosed space covering about the same square footage as a semi-detached house and spin round on one heel, and you’ve taken in all there is to see. But every brewery is still different, even though the raw materials and biochemical processes they work with are fundamentally the same, and I never stop enjoying hearing brewers talking about their craft.

The Windsor & Eton Brewery's 'brewing hall'
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