Showing posts with label appellations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label appellations. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Sense of Place

Terroir, as I sure many of you already know, is a term commonly used to describe the interaction between the geological, geographical and climatological aspects of a place and the agricultural produce that grows there. I have to admit that I am not convinced about the use of the term 'terroir' when it comes to beer, given that beer is more of an industrial product than an agricultural one.

Something that is evident though is that beer does have a sense of place. This sense of place has come into sharp relief recently with the Brewers Association announcement that Gr?tzer is now included in the style guidelines used for the Great American Beer Festival, and other competitions. I am not going to get into the wrongness of the defined guidelines, Ron has done a sterling work on that front already, but I have seen a few comments around the name of the beer.

Gr?tzer is the German name for a beer also known as Grodziskie Piwo, which is the Polish equivalent. As the town from which the beer sprang is in modern day Poland, Grodzisk Wielkopolski since you ask, quite why the German name was chosen is beyond me, perhaps the committee were intimidated by the Polish name? Either way the name means exactly the same in both languages, 'beer from Gr?tz/Grodzisk'.

Beer's sense of place comes not just from the climate, geography and geology of the place where the raw materials are grown, but from the people and place that convert raw materials into something drinkable, raw materials that have an infinitely small chance of becoming useful to a brewer through the course of nature (quite how chocolate malt would occur in nature is beyond me). As such, the historic beer styles which come with an appellation are mostly the products of urban life - Pilsner, Burton Ale, London Porter, K?lsch, even the new/old stlye of Adambier was once known as Dortmunder Altbier.

In defining the styles that are named for these urban centres of brewing excellence, I tend to think that the final word should always belong to the practices, ingredients and methods used in that place. Would a brewer from Grodzisk recognise the Brewers Association 'Gr?tzer' style as being something like that which was made in his town?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Authenticity Important?

This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately, is the authenticity of a beer really that important? Does it matter much that a golden lager from Germany bears the label "pils"? Are the methods and ingredients used in producing a particular beer as important as the taste of the end product? Where is the line between making a genuine artisan beer and being innovative just for the hell of it?

The spur for this train of thought over the last couple of weeks was a short clip on TV about how Samuel Adams Boston Lager is made. Part of the process used, according to the clip, was the use of a decoction mash - in particular a double decoction. I was thrilled to be honest to see that at least one of my favourite American lagers (and that is a very, very short list) is made with a decoction mash, as well as 5 weeks of lagering, not to mention being krausened. Of course, strictly speaking, the word lager comes from "lagern" meaning "to store" in that most wonderful of languages, German. Lagering as a process not only takes place in the bottom fermented beers we, in the English speaking world, term "lagers", but also styles such as Altbier and K?lsch - some labels for which carry the phrase "oberg?rige lagerbier" or "top-fermented lagered beer", yet we label it an ale, when it is just as much a "lager", being the product of a decoction mash and a period of cold conditioning.

This got me to thinking about Shakespeare's maxim that "what's in name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", and while I think that is generally true, it is also true that the elements which compose a rose come together in such a unique way as to make calling a rose a daisy, pointless. If you see what I mean. It is ridiculous to call Altbier an "ale" when the only difference between it and "lager" is the yeast employed to make the alcohol, and the only thing it shares with what the English speaking world calls "ale" is the very same yeast. So, in a long round about way, we come to why I think authenticity is important - simply because we insist on using styles in order to categorise the beers we drink.

Let's look at the overused term "pilsner", one which has led me to be deeply disappointed with many of the beers I have tried which proudly display the term on their label. While I see the value of the appellation "pilsner", I also think that Pilsner Urquell forfeit the right to use that name on their products made in Poland and Russia. But is it just a case of where the beer is made that is important? Are not the accepted process of production and ingredients used by the brewers in that place equally as important? I would argue that is exactly the case; thus a "pilsner" for me is made of 4 ingredients; pale moravian malt, Saaz hops, soft water and bottom fermenting yeast stolen from Bavaria by a dodgy monk. Just as important is a triple decoction mash and a lengthy lagering period. For breweries to make a "pilsner style lager" whilst ignoring the very things that made Pilsner Urquell the wonder beer it was, is gross misrepresentation.

Such a strict view of the term "pilsner" begs then the question, can an India Pale Ale be thus called if it hasn't spent 6 months bobbing around on the ocean? Not to mention the difference between a style and an appellation, and where those two monstrosities overlap. This is perhaps where I depart from the fans of "extreme" beers - I would rather drink a well made, traditional, pilsner, for example, than a pure alcohol, 6 trillion IBU, double, imperial IPA or some such. I guess what I am saying is that authenticity is vital when using a beer which has an appellation, but of course innovation when interpreting a style is acceptable.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...