Friday, March 2, 2012
One of my infrequent jaunts into the world of The Session today, the theme for which is "local beer" and is hosted by Matt over at Hoosier Beer Geek.
I like to support my local breweries, especially people such as Devils Backbone, Starr Hill and Blue Mountain Brewery. I am not a fan of South Street Brewery in the centre of Charlottesville, and I am yet to get out to Wild Wolf. However, is there a distinction between local breweries and local beer?
My problem with the term "local beer" is that so often the ingredients being used by "local breweries" are anything but local. Malts come from Canada, the UK, Belgium and sometimes Germany, hops likewise come from a raft of countries, including the latest craze for Antipodean hops. Yeast is sourced from multinational companies with libraries of strains again spanning the globe. Want to brew a witbier? No problem, order a Belgian yeast specifically for use in witbiers, use the Weihenstephan strain for making a German hefeweizen, Nottingham for an English ale, or even Prague's Staropramen for making that Bohemian pilsner you've been dreaming about.
That pretty much leaves the water as the only genuinely local element of a beer, but how many breweries strip their water of all the minerals and salts which make regional water a driving force in the history of developing beer styles and then add back the required minerals for a particular style? Imagine London and Dublin had soft water instead of hard, porter and it's offspring, stout, would likely be very different beers. For decades after Josef Groll developed the Pilsner style of pale lager, the brewers of Munich struggled to create a pale beer using the Munich water, until Spaten cracked it in the 1890s.
So when a brewery adds foreign malts and foreign hops to a stripped out water source, modified to mimic the water from Burton, Dublin or Plzeň, and ferments the resultant wort with a foreign yeast strain, can you in all honesty call that beer "local"? Sure it might be "craft", whatever that pointless term means, but let's not get misty eyed and romantic and think of it as local beer.