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Terrior and beer

Have been following a conversation about the proposition that beers from certain areas have a style which results from the soil the grains are raised in, the part of the world or country and the climate in which they are brewed, that beers are subject to the same terrior effect that wines are.

In the discussion one party claims that a German or Belgian beer brewed elsewhere, cannot be authentic to style because of the terrior factor. Another party says that brewers can brew to style in any country if they brew using the same grains even if, climate, country and soil are not the same.

In other words A Belgian brewer can brew an American IPA that will be exactly the same as one from the US and an American brewer can do the same with an Belgian abbey style.

I tend to believe that the terrior argument is closer to the truth because to my taste, a Belgian hopped ale, and there are some being produced which are labeled as IPA's, fall far from the style of those brewed here.

By the same token the American Begian brewed ales, though close, don't match up against those from Belgium.

Your take?

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  1. I think this could apply in certain instances, e.g., beers inoculated by airborne microflora. Climate could sometimes come into play, but I have a hard time believing that it is going to make much difference if, for example, a beer is fermented in a unitank. Whatever air there is, it won't be there for long. Some of the differences from country to country might come from technique more than terroir. This question would seem to involve splitting hairs in many cases. A beer might vary in some really minor way that no one can detect, for example.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Jim Dorsch

      I was at Brewers plate in Philadelphia last week where the issue of Terroir in beer was discussed. The best proof of terroir was two pilsners presented by Victory Brewing, identicially brewed same time, same malts, same water, only difference were the hops that were grown on two different fields. Tasting both, you definitely noticed the difference... so terroir definitely exists.

      1. re: cwdonald

        " only difference were the hops that were grown on two different fields"

        Same hop varietal grown in two different fields?

        1. re: Chinon00

          Chinon.. yes exact same variety of Tettnanger grown in two different fields, and harvested on the same day.

          With regard to the issue of water, it is easy to adjust water to be any characteristic, so I find that the least convincing aspect of terroir.

        2. re: cwdonald

          Several years ago at GABF, John Mallett, now with Bell's Brewery, took me to two booths from the same brewpub chain. Their IPAs tasted markedly different, the only essential difference being the water supplies at the two locations.

      2. Since malt and hops can be purchased from anywhere and shipped to anywhere, certain yeasts from around the world are easily available (with exception to house yeasts that mutate/change over time), and water can be recreated with the profile from any region, all it takes is desire, skill, and a good palate to recreate any of the world's styles.

        As far as Belgium not making IPA's like we do, I don't think anyone has set out to do it exactly like US brewers, but use US IPA's and US hops as inspiration. Most still seem to use their house yeasts and although use american hops, use them in a different way. IMO "belgian" ipa (US and Belgian made) is a weird "style" since most belgian beers rely on yeast profile and US IPA's rely heavy hopping rates for flavor - add too many hops and it covers up the yeast profile - let the yeast shine and its not quite IPA-like.

        As far as US takes on belgian styles, there are some that hit the mark these days, but I find most either don't get the right yeast profile balance and tip heavily to phenolic/spicy flavors, are too heavy or sweet and don't have the drinkability, or use too many spices. I have heard some Belgian brewers describe US attempts as "cartoonish" due to heavy handedness of flavor.

        1 Reply
        1. re: LStaff

          Which american breweries do you think do a good job brewing belgian style beers? Ommegang comes to mind but I agree that most go too overboard on the spice aspect thinking perhaps that BELGIAN = LOTS OF CLOVE AND CORIANDER. Bleh...

        2. The word you're seeking here is "terroir." I think of a breed of dog when I see "terrior."

          The best way to gauge the effects of terroir on beer is with spontaneous fermentation experiments. There are differences in base malts and hops as well, and when it comes to yeast behavior, location is one of many variables that has some sort of intangible effect.

          Most modern brewers attempt to eliminate terroir effects. The big industrial brewers want a consistent product no matter where it's made, and so strive to keep not just base ingredients, but brewhouse layout, sanitization conditions, even equipment geometry as consistent as possible.

          But when you get to souring and spontaneous fermentation, whether traditional lambic or experimental styles, you'll get the closest thing to terroir that you'll see in beer brewing. You might also get terroir-like effects from things like a breed of hop grown outside of its traditional region. Good example here: Soriachi Ace. The versions grown in the Yakima Valley are more aggressive in flavor and aroma than the originals bred in Japan. Now, that's terroir.

          1. I think beers from a certain area have a certain style largely because of techniques, preferences, and a certain amount of shared experiences of the brewers. The price and availability of materials will also affect the beers being produced. This is also true of wines.

            That being said, it is undeniable that terroir is a factor in the flavor of, for example, hops, just like it is for coffee, tea, or wine. Discerning the terroir effect on a beer, however, is much more difficult for the average palate because beer is not a single ingredient drink. The use of multiple "local" ingredients in making a beer would have a greater impact on making the brew unique to that place (and time) and I'm not sure if it could be recreated elsewhere with similar grains grown in that other area.

            1. It's not so much the soil as it is the water. Think about proprietary beers like Pilsner, named for the town, Pilsen, which sits among the lovely waters that create the beer. I've read about brewers who had the local waters shipped to a temporary or new facility so that the taste of the beer would be the same - it is mostly water.

              The other factor is wild yeast. Now only the Lambics of Belgium rely on these, but you won't find these exact yeasts in the air anywhere else but in these Belgian towns. The beers ferment spontaneously.

              As much as I believe in terroir, I also recognize how a great brewer (or winemaker, or cheesemaker, etc) can create something wonderful no matter where they are.

              2 Replies
              1. re: BelgianBeerMistress

                >The other factor is wild yeast. Now only the Lambics of Belgium rely on these,

                You may want to read up on Allagash's koelschip series - and i think there is at least one other brewery in the PNW doing it as well (not sure of who though).

                1. re: BelgianBeerMistress

                  check Russian River Brewing, among others. spontaneous fermentation is no longer confined to beers brewed in Belgium.

                2. I'm a brewer, so I'll cover the basics of what terroir means for beer and try not to get too in depth
                  Hops have different flavors based off of growing conditions just like grapes. The same hop grown in Oregon will taste and smell different than one grown in the UK or the Czech Republic.
                  Grains differ based on the maltster, the variety and the growing conditions. The same malt on paper will differ sometimes dramatically if it comes from a different provider, the growing conditions are somewhat harder to compare because not many varieties are really grown. You have various heritage ones from the UK and continental growers and the US crop is mostly the same
                  Yeast strains are carefully controlled and breweries sometimes have proprietary ones, the same strain over time will change depending on conditions. The size and shape of fermenters, the pitching temperature, the inoculation rate, the speed of change of temperature all effect yeast character. In certain styles you can alter the final character by changing the availability of precursor chemicals.
                  Water has a good deal to do with the character of the final beer. The pH of the mash is altered by interactions between the malt and certain ions found in water. Carbonates buffer these reactions, harder water requires darker malt or acidification of the mash. Then there are flavor ions: chloride, magnesium, and sulfate alter the perception of bitterness from hops and the fullness of malt.

                  23 Replies
                  1. re: rockfish42

                    Thanks for that informed response but may I ask in your second paragraph other than water what's it have to do with terroir?

                    1. re: Chinon00

                      I'm not sure I understand the question. Do you want more information on water terroir, or are you asking why I consider the other things I mentioned to influence terroir?

                      1. re: rockfish42

                        Yeah you seem to be getting into how the brewing process effects flavor and not simply how the environment does; as you did in your first paragraph.

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          Historically you had to use what water was available. the reason Ireland is famous for stouts is that Dublin has hard water. The reason Burton on Trent was famous for IPA is that the sulfate content was quite high. Munich is suited to amber beers because of a moderate carbonate content, hence marzen, Pilsen has very soft water which allows for a very pale beer.
                          Beers were made to match the water characteristics of the area, the Trappist breweries have dramatically differing water profiles and it shows up in the variety of different interpretations of say dubbels that they produce.

                          1. re: rockfish42

                            But Munich was famous for dark beers, not amber ones. Oktoberfest aside, Märzen has never been very popular in Munich. And come to think of it, the original Märzens wer dark, not amber.

                            Burton-on-Trent was also equally famous for strong Burton Ales, both before and after the birth of IPA.

                            1. re: patto1ro

                              Where did you get your information on the original Maerzens being dark? I'd like to look into that. Thanks.

                              1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                An 18th-century German encylopedia. It's available online. I'll post a link later.

                                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                  Jim, start with this article:
                                  The whole notion of Märzenbier goes back a few centuries, well before pale malts came into use. Credit Dreher and Sedlmayr with the 19th century innovations that resulted in the paler amber-colored Märzenbier.

                                  1. re: dgs1300

                                    The assumption that Märzen is amber an example of a phenomenon with beer styles. A term that covers a wide range of beers is used is used to refer to one specific subset. Often based on a single beer. Like say, Georgenbräu Keller bier.

                                    It happens when people from outside misunderstand a foreign beer culture. German and Czech beer styles have been particular victims.

                                  2. re: Jim Dorsch

                                    It's Oeconomische Encyclopädie:


                                    Lots of interesting stuff about beer, like explaining the difference between Weissbier and Braunbier and catalogiung lots of different types of beer. Great source.

                                    1. re: patto1ro

                                      Thanks. I read the first link. Have to figure out how to navigate the second. At least Google translates it for me. Isn't the internet amazing?

                            2. re: rockfish42

                              Nevermind I see what you are saying.

                          2. re: rockfish42

                            But brewers all over the country (and, for that matter, the world) brew beers using those same Oregon or UK or Czech hops, using the same barley grown in the US Plains states and then malted by the same mid-Western malting companies. Many US craft brewers buy yeast from the yeast companies rather than maintain their own unique strains, and many big brewers obviously use the same yeast in their coast-to-coast chains of breweries. They would also adjust water to meet their requirements.

                            So, while some beers *might* have terrior, most don't. There's nothing uniquely Mexican about Corona and nothing uniquely Hawaiian about Kona (as even CBA knows, seeing as they brew those beers in NH and OR). Olympia's label might still proclaim "It's the Water" but the brand's owner has had in brewed in multiple locations of the Pabst and now MillerCoors breweries.

                            Samuel Adams Boston Lager is "Boston" because that's where their corporate headquarters is- much of the beer has been brewed in Pennsylvania in the last quarter century of its existence, by four different companies at 3 breweries (not to mention other states). The "Colorado" Flying Dog brewing company moved to Maryland.

                            The most notable example, as noted elsewhere in the thread, are the wild yeast-fermented Belgian beers, but they are a tiny percentage of the overall market.

                            1. re: JessKidden

                              Fundamentally, what you're saying is that brewers intentionally mitigate any effects of terroir on the ultimate product. Though I agree, in a way that assertion makes the point that there would otherwise be a significant impact made on the respective brews if homogenization were not such a driving force. Beers clearly exhibiting terroir are quite possible, but it seems there is fear as to their marketability.*

                              I also question any elevated impact of the water over the other ingredients, particularly in the US or more urban areas of Europe as water treatment over the past several decades has led to significant reductions in differences from one place to another. Nevertheless, like any other ingredient, a brewer can intentionally find water sources besides municipal taps.

                              *I seem to recall a West Coast brewery experimenting with all "local" ingredients in a beer when I was at Toronado in SF last fall, but the name escapes me. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

                              1. re: MGZ

                                > "Fundamentally, what you're saying is that brewers intentionally mitigate any effects of terroir on the ultimate product."

                                No, I don't think I am - I'd put it that beer is not wine, it's more "manufactured" than wine. While both are made from agricultural products, beer has more ingredients (at a minimum, usually barley/other grains, hops, water vs. grapes) and barley in particular undergoes a critical "middle" step between the field and the brewery- malting. Few brewers do their own malting today- and even fewer "craft" breweries. Hops, additionally, usually are also "processed" before use - dried, at least, but also often pelletized, as well.

                                Both malting barley and hops are primarily grown in specific regions of the country- hops in the Pacific Northwest and malting barley in the upper Mid-West-Great Plains and, with the destruction of most of the large regional breweries, most of malting is done there, too.

                                There are some very small scale attempts to grow hops outside the PNW, but they're so far pretty insignificant. Ditto for small scale barley growing and malting. The most notable "all local" beers have been single brands from Rogue and Sierra Nevada. In the latter case, SN had to send the barley they grew to an outside maltster. I believe Rogue is doing some of their own malting- but, again, on a very small scale. Rogue also has their hopyard, but it's an established yard that they bought. Not historically unknown, A-B has their own Idaho hopyard and in the past other brewers have done it (Brooklyn's Edelbrew owned a post-Repeal NYS yard for a few years), but it's much more common to have brewers contract with indie growers, than own the farms themselves.

                                1. re: JessKidden

                                  I made the same point about the number of ingredients in beer above, which makes it must closer to blended wines, coffees, or teas then single vintage "varietals." That is why the former can be created to not exhibit terroir.

                                  Regardless, I don't think you're making a very different point (and I realize we are diverging a bit from the OP). Either through an accepted lack of availability or a deliberate decision, brewers are using ingredients that will not exhibit terroir. That does not mean it does not, or cannot, exist.

                                  It is interesting to consider, given the growth of the craft beer market and the curious nature of many of those who are profiting from it, whether there will be interest in consciously trying to explore this concept. Your examples alone suggest some movement towards such a goal. In fact, this fall I was able to get some fresh hops harvested from a PA farm while visiting Stoudt's, illustrating a widening interest in focusing on ingredients. The trend has clearly been growing in other forms of cooking - and craft beer's "path" has not been too dissimilar.

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    > "Regardless, I don't think you're making a very different point..."

                                    No, my biggest disagreement with you would be with the concept that "...brewers intentionally mitigate any effects of terroir on the ultimate product".

                                    I'd say it was more that, as the industry matured and evolved from the mid-19th century to today, that is also how the supplier industries (barley farming, malting, hop growing) changed. Brewers were obviously more interested in "the best" (or, conversely, the cheapest/easiest) ingredients, not necessarily the most local. It was easier, faster and more economical to ship, say, hops from region to region, than finished product. US brewers used UK and European hops for some beers, and US hops were shipped to the UK and elsewhere around the world. The growers became concentrated in regions where their crops grew the best and the most economically.

                                    Very little of it can be attributed to brewers intentionally trying to eliminate "terroir" although brewers did attempt to duplicate the beer styles of other regions. Thus, besides the use of imported hops, the techniques of "Burtonizing" water, the use of adjuncts in the US to try to duplicate pilsner style beers using 6-row barley, etc.

                                    1. re: JessKidden

                                      Good points.
                                      Going along with the idea that brewers didn't always necessarily strive to "go local" with their ingredients, it is also very interesting to note that even back in the 1800's, the British brewers frequently made use of American grown hops and American grown barley.

                                      1. re: The Professor

                                        That had more to do with the fact that the UK was drinking more beer than their output of raw materials could support. I've seen recipes with Czech hops and American Malt for producing what could only be called an English beer.
                                        There's a great blog on historical brewing called Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

                                        1. re: The Professor

                                          From about 1840 onwards British agriculture just couldn't produce sufficient quantities of raw materials for brewing. It wasn't just US hops, but Bohemian, Belgian, Dutch, German and French hops. And barley from Denmark, Germany, the USA, the Middle East, Chile, India, etc. Though the malting was always done in Britain.

                                    2. re: JessKidden

                                      Sadly Rogue's hopyard and barley growing operation were severely flooded this year.

                                    3. re: MGZ

                                      MGZ, maybe you're thinking of Moonlight Brewing in Santa Rosa

                                      1. re: chuckl

                                        Thank you. I'm pretty sure that was it.

                                2. The only loose analogy with beer that I can think of when it comes to terroir is maybe tradition effecting the outcome of the same style. So take for example American and English IPA. Each are different expressions of apparently the sane style. But the cultural legacy of each country playing a role in the outcome.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                    I don't think that's terroir, but rather "localism" or "regionalism." In other words, it's the result of the actions of the brewers not the innate characteristics of the ingredients. Nevertheless, I think you are correct about the impact of culture.

                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      That's more like it. Each brewing country has a unique environment formed from a variety of factors - cultural, political, legislative, financial , agricultural. This explains why when a beer style moves from one country to another it inevtably evolves to suit its new environment. And of course the original in its home country will continue to evolve itself, leading to increasing divergence.

                                    2. Since posting this subject, I've seen the same topic being discussed in several other places. Seems a lot of people are giving the terroir argument thought.
                                      To go a little further out there, couldn't you say that if you drink a Bud in London brewed in England you're drinking an English beer? Or similarly if you eat a McDonalds burger in France you're eating French food? Could you argue that location changes the flavor?

                                      17 Replies
                                        1. re: chimay5

                                          If you're drinking Bud (the A-B Inbev product) brewed in the UK, you're drinking a beer formulated to a corporate recipe that originated in the USA, perhaps mildly modified for local tastes, but brewed in the UK with a mix of local and non-local ingredients.

                                          If you're eating a McDo burger in France, you're eating a burger formulated to a corporate recipe that originated in the USA, perhaps mildly modified for local tastes, but cooked in France with a mix of local and possibly non-local ingredients.

                                          Location may or may not change flavor, but localization of preparation methods can and often does. Have you ever compared a St-Louis (or other American) Bud with a UK Bud? They aren't exactly the same. Same for Bud brewed for the European continental market (it's brewed under license/contract in Spain, IIRC).

                                          1. re: chimay5

                                            No. British beer doesn't have adjuncts like rice added to it and British brewers often use English hop varieties like Fuggle, Golding, etc. instead of some variation of American hops. Also, English beers are typically ales, whereas Budweiser technically speaking is a lager. A better analogy might be an American lager brewed in Germany, but it would still be an American beer that happens to be brewed and bottled somewhere else. It's what's inside the beer that counts, not where it's made, in my opinion

                                            1. re: chuckl

                                              I agree that its whats in the beer that counts more than where it is made.

                                              But just to be clear (since you mentioned adjuncts), it would be very inaccurate to say that British beer doesn't have adjuncts added. While British brewers may not use much rice adjunct, many (including great brands like Fuller's) certainly do use other adjuncts... most especially corn as well as various forms of sugar, and they have done so for a very long time (in some cases, more than a century).

                                              1. re: The Professor

                                                British brewers have used rice in the past, but maize was much more common.

                                                Fuller's used to use flaked maize but have been all-malt for several years.

                                                1. re: patto1ro

                                                  Thanks Ron...didn't know that Fuller's went all malt. "Twas a good beer then, and is a good beer now!

                                              2. re: chuckl

                                                thanks for the info. Are any British ales currently using adjuncts that you know of?

                                                1. re: chuckl

                                                  If you count sugar as an adjunct, loads.

                                                2. re: chuckl

                                                  "... English beers are typically ales, whereas Budweiser technically speaking is a lager."

                                                  Pretty sure lagers have been outselling ales in the UK for the past couple of decades- accounting for about 2/3 of the market. The domestically brewed UK Budweiser is among the top selling bottled lagers.

                                                  Tho' much discussed in the beer corners of the internet, cask ale is only about 15% of the UK "on trade" market. http://www.caskreport.co.uk/

                                                  Also, the UK is the third largest export market for US hops (after Mexico and Belgium), buying a total of almost 7 million pounds last year, according to the 2012 Hop Report. http://usahops.org/index.cfm

                                                  1. re: JessKidden

                                                    That's a good comparison since craft beer in the US was 4.3% by volume and 6.9% by dollars in 2010 according to these guys

                                                    1. re: rockfish42

                                                      Well, it's not that good a comparison- very different beer cultures and markets. That figure is for the percentage of cask beer sold "on trade" - what in the US is usually referred to as "on premise" - in bars and restaurants. Since that's the only way to buy cask ale, it's not exactly the equivalent of "craft beer's" market in the US, which depends on the "off premise" trade as well.

                                                      Don't have stats handy on craft beer but it's usually considered that the vast majority of total beer sales in the US are off-premise. Kegged beer makes up under 10% of total sales, but of course, some bottles are purchased on-premise and a small percentage of kegs are purchased by consumers. It's safe to say a much larger percentage of UK beer sales are on-trade in pubs.

                                                      The Beer Institute's Brewers Almanac tracks dollars spent off- and on-premise on all alcoholic beverages, and that's about 45%-55% respectively but that figure is skewed by the much higher prices at bars and the include of wine and spirits.

                                                      1. re: JessKidden

                                                        my understanding is that the pub trade in England declined quite a bit when lagers became so popular there. I believe Carslberg was the first big lager there some time ago but now there are lots of others as well, especially inBev products. Pub culture historically was quite important in England compared with the U.S. Not sure if it's coming back at all. I know CAMRA has been making a lot of noise, I'm not sure how much of an actual impact they've had.

                                                        1. re: chuckl

                                                          I think part of the decline of pubs is related to drunk driving laws, and also to cheap alcohol at big stores, plus some issues with people bootlegging carloads of alcohol from France because of the low tax there.

                                                          1. re: chuckl

                                                            We had a bar/pub/tavern culture here, prohibition sort of murdered it.

                                                            1. re: rockfish42

                                                              Suburban sprawl was a factor too. Its hard to maintain a neighbor taproom when you've gotta drive to the pub.

                                                              1. re: Chinon00

                                                                so much for the neighborhood "local."

                                                                1. re: chuckl

                                                                  Honest to God proximity to both my job AND PUB were factors in selecting the home I purchased.

                                                3. An interesting article related to this topic, focusing on small malters:


                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                    Thanks for posting that, helps make the point about terroir,