Beer is a product that the average consumer is today unable to assimilate to the terroir in France. However, our country has always been a massive producer of beer and its raw materials. So how could beer be so far removed from the notion of terroir? What can a local beer be today?
First of all, the terroir has a strong geographical connotation and refers to everything that can originate from a given territory, to the products that are naturally or traditionally present there. We thus naturally bring taste closer together: in fact, we very often associate flavors with geographical areas, such as spices reminding us of their regions of origin or the markers of wines reminding us of their terroirs. And even though the sourcing of raw materials is no longer as obvious and segmented as it was before the Industrial Revolutions, we still have reference regions for almost every product.
However, this blocks for some products. Beer is one of those that is difficult to assimilate to a region. If you ask random people, they will probably attribute the beer to Germany, Eastern Europe, Belgium, the United Kingdom… And this without knowing why. Now serve them a Heineken, a Corona or a Bud and they won't understand the meaning of your question.
However, we are witnessing in France a revival of the craft brewery with no less than 2300 breweries throughout the territory, a dazzling evolution over the last ten years which has propelled us to the first place in Europe in number of breweries. This clearly shows the overall desire to give beer its letters of nobility and why not to inscribe it in the terroir.
Thus, local beer is targeted by a number of breweries in France as elsewhere, even though the term is rarely used for fear of offending or having to be confused in stammering explanations. Except of course when a wine producer like Armand Heitz starts making beer, it then becomes crucial to make beer and terroir rhyme.
Before wondering what a local beer is and citing a few examples, it is necessary to understand what is absolutely not a local beer but rather a lack of consistency that is increasingly unacceptable in view of the circumstances of our time.
Two main types of beer go completely against this notion: the first is standardized beer, industrialized on a large scale. They are in no way the result of a process in accordance with natural dogmas but rather of a productivist logic where advanced chemistry and mechanization are intertwined in order to produce more all year round in defiance of natural cycles and a fair match between supply and demand. This causes ecological scandals of waste disposal, waste water, and a monopolization of sources of raw materials and in particular of water as was the case throughout the 20th century in Alsace. And I do not even mention the final quality of the product which is soulless, devoid of taste and often re-sweetened with glucose-fructose to make the consumer addicted (a little nod to industrial "abbey" beers and “Belgian tradition”).
The second turns out to be beer that borrows the codes of other regions without any logic of proximity. The big fashion for juicy IPAs, heavily loaded with hops imported from the United States, Australia or New Zealand is the perfect example. Inherited from the craft movement and having greatly appealed to the consumer, these styles are over-represented worldwide but are 100% dependent on imported hops and imply that the style preferred by many consumers has a carbon footprint far greater than any other style. of beer.
These two past counter-examples, there remain many examples of terroir in beer. First via water, the vast majority and oh so important ingredient in the brewing process. Indeed, regions rich in diverse and atypical sources will provide special waters that breweries can sublimate if they feel like it. Simon Lecomte's Ammonite brewery is a good example of this philosophy, which encourages you to start with water and then work with adapted styles rather than modifying your water according to the styles you want to work with.
Then, of course, all the other raw materials must be sourced and identifiable in order to fit into a defined terroir: the cereals used, the hops, the fruits or other inputs, the potential barrels used and finally the yeast. The latter is now the subject of major claims in the tendency to speak of local beer. This comes mainly from lambic, this style brewed exclusively in the Pajottenland valley in Belgium, based on two-thirds malted barley and one-third raw wheat as well as outdated hops. Its particularity lies in its fermentation resulting from wild yeasts and in particular from the famous Brettanomyces bruxellensis (or lambicus). This typicity stemming from a six-century-old tradition propels it to the status of “terroir beer” of excellence.
The terroir and its use ultimately come under a philosophy and a simple, logical, coherent and inherent way of thinking. It departs from classic market logic and starts from what we have under our feet, around us, in the air. Now, many breweries are returning to this consistency after following the craft fashion for a few years by copying the American terroir. At the same time, however gifted they may be in brewing, no one wants to drink exclusively American beers produced in France, just as no one in their right mind would want to eat exclusively burgers.
The Canadians, close neighbors of the Americans and their brewing culture have understood this well and have seen the emergence throughout their territory of breweries of local enthusiasts capable of harvesting all the knowledge from all regions of the world and adapting them to their raw materials. . It is this terroir that we must develop in beer, a new terroir dictated by our environment and the infinite know-how that humanity has acquired all around the globe in all fields of knowledge.
However, the terroir is a key concept in both oenology and the domain and the beers of the Armand Heitz domain have this theme as their key word in the form of two distinct ranges: one centered on local cereals and their specificities and the the other on wine-beer hybrids enhanced by aging in ex-barrels of wines from the estate. But if it can be very interesting to draw inspiration from the sphere of wine for beer, it would be a shame to copy the oenological culture of the region to establish the legitimacy of beer and that is all the work that has to be done. accomplish the artisan brewers who want to work the land: acquire their own codes, adapt to their environment while keeping the personality of their product.
PS: To go deeper into the subject, I refer you to Arthur Farina's superb conference at the Paris Beer Festival 2021
Thanks to Carol-Ann Cailly, founder of the Hoppy Hours blog, president of the Beer Drinkers association and Arthur Farina brewer at Le Soupir for the inspiration.
A lambic beer, what is it? (2021, May 24). My Little Hop .
The Pod'capsulator (2022, March 11). Conference: Does craft beer have a terroir?
Wikipedia contributors. (2022, June 24). Dekkera bruxellensis.