There's a lot of resistance in the beer world to the idea of terroir. The concept that certain beers belong to a specific location. And it's not just from big brewers, wanting to shift production around as it suits them. New brewers like to think they can brew any style in world, no matter where their brewery happens to be located.
EU attempts to protect certain beer types have been met with derision in the US. Why can't you brew a Kölsch in Colorado, a Münchner in Minnesota, a lambic in Los Angeles? Ignoring the fact that a microbrewery may well lack the necessary equipment to brew an authentic version, some styles are about more than the chemical composition of the liquid in your glass. There's a social context, too. That can be just as important to the drinking experience - and enjoyment - as the beer itself.
Stephen Beaumont said something very telling to me at the weekend: "I never got Kölsch until I went to Cologne." I know exactly what he means. Looked at in isolation, Kölsch isn't of itself particularly exciting. Yet who fails to succumb to its charms when sitting in Früh or Malzmühle, as the Köbes, rings of foaming glasses held aloft, dance through the crowds of merry tipplers? The tiny glasses, jam-packed pubs and blue-clad waiters are an essential part of the experience. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, they're a liar or an idiot.
Looking back, I can think of many similar experiences. At 9:30 on a Monday morning, sitting in the brewery tap surrounded by weirdoes, Hebendanz Export is the nectar of the gods. At home, alone, on a wet and windy Wednesday, it's just a well-made lager.
Beer is about a lot more than just beer. It's about people and places, too. That's why the concept of terroir does apply to beer. We should all rejoice in and respect that.
Photos of the Year - Each year since 1978, Alan McLeod has hosted a beer photo contest for the holidays. The past two years I had scads of European brewery photos and cashed i...
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