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 Grätzer 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.

Grätzer 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 Grätz/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, Kölsch, 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 'Grätzer' style as being something like that which was made in his town?


  1. As you say beer is an industrial product (and a lovely one) and the concept of terroir is hardly relevent to brewing unlike oenology where it is fundamentally important. It's all part of the attempts from some areas of the trade (?marketing departments) to sell up beer and make it a luxury (and more expensive) product. I think it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of beery culture and these people should eff off and leave beer alone. Thank you.

  2. Terroir, as applied to beer, is never going to have the same meaning as it does for wine because wine is (or ought to be) made from just one agricultural ingredient grown in one place where the climate and soil conditions have a profound effect on the product.

    If a beer is brewed with water, malt, hops and yeast those four ingredients can come from four different places so all idea of terroir is lost, but if any one type of beer can be said to have at least a sense of terroir it has to be Belgian lambics and any beer brewed with local wild yeasts, which is starting to catch on here and there. The local yeasts that inoculate a lambic in the Senne Valley play a fundamental part in the character and flavour of the beer, as do the flora that inhabits the wooden fermenters where the beer sits for the duration. A beer brewed with wild yeasts from anywhere else is likely to have a different flavour profile, so I'd say that some aspect of the word terroir has been satisfied.

    As for the Brewers Association using the German name for Grodziskie rather than the Polish, I think that's probably because of the strong German influence on the US beer industry and US beer culture, far greater than that of Poland, and perhaps because the name Gratzer simply stuck around outside Poland (where it's still called Grodziskie) even after Grodzisk Wielkopolski was no longer part of the German Empire and became Polish again.

  3. Thanks for your concern about name of our beer :)

    Naming Grodziskie as a Gratzer and class it as a German style - that’s how colonialism works. This fits a UN definition of cultural genocide. Behind the name of Gratzer is history of violence and century-long history of Polish resistance against German occupation and eradication of Polish language. Grodzisk from its beginning in 1303 was Polish town located in the cradle of Polish nationality - region called Greater Poland. First mentions about brewing beer in Grodzisk came from middle ages. More detailed documents are available in Polish and mention Grodziskie beer as a very popular in Poland in 17th and 18th century (it was a custom to Polish nobleman to have Grodziskie in his estate. Otherwise was called a cheap or a poor) and next we started to export it to Germanic countries of Prussia, Silesia and Brandenburg.

    Grodzisk became Gratz and Grodziskie become Gratzer only during 19th century occupation of Western Poland by Germans/Prussians and during Hitler seizure of Poland. That times we observe severe atrocities from German side against Poles including eradication of Polish language and seizure of Polish businesses by Germans.

    Grodziskie is our Polish beer. It was produced only in Grodzisk and we treat this style as our national pearl. Next years will be produced again in Grodzisk.

    Currently I'm working with my friends to create petition letter to ABA and several breweries that use colonial name of our beer and town is totally inappropriate.
    We will publish also detailed history of Grodzisk and Grodziskie beer in English.


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