Tweet Joe, the Thirsty Pilgrim, is again talking about this terroir and beer thing, something I'm not a fan of, really.
At first I saw in it just another nonsensical parallel forcibly drawn between beer and wine, but after reading a bit more about it, I realised that the thing goes further than that. However, and although some of their arguments are quite solid, I get the impression that the "terroirists" (the similarity with "terrorist" is entirely casual) are not taking into account some of the fundamental aspects of the very nature of beer, and they are nothing new, they've always been there.
It is true that wine and beer have many things in common, but at the same time, they are enormously different (and no, I'm not talking about the bollocks of wine = pretentious+snobbish, beer=the everyman's drink. Beer can be as pretentious and snobbish as wine, and wine can be as much the everyman's drink as beer, if the people that sell and talk about it so want).
To begin with, beer doesn't suffer the geographical and seasonal limitations of wine, its fermentables can be grown almost anywhere, can also be stored for relatively long and transported great distances. Beer is also very flexible, if there isn't enough barley, another grain can be used, no hops? no problem.
Another big difference is that beer isn't the result of a mostly natural process, it has always been an "industrial" product resulting from human ingenuity. Thanks to this, and the flexibility I mention above, beer, in many ways, has been a sort of mirror of the evolution of our civilisation, and if Patrick McGovern is right, and people did start practicing agriculture so they could have a reliable source of grain to make beer, our favourite beverage might have even triggered it.
What I want to say with all this is that those "traditional" styles that the terroirists use as example of their arguments weren't only the product of the available raw materials and indigenous yeast strains of a given place and age, but also a product of their times.
During most of history, brewers, just like every other average person, didn't leave the small worlds they lived very often, and knew very little about what happened beyond them. They also learnt their trade from Master Brewers who lived in those very same small worlds. It is tempting to assume that there wasn't much room for innovation, let alone experimentation, specially in a commercial activity like brewing. And yet, some of those very same brewers had no problem with adopting new ingredients or processes introduced from abroad, if they considered them convenient. A great example of this is the introduction of hops in England.
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but our world is very, very different now. It's a world where an American company can outsource their call centre to India, a Graphic Designer can take jobs from a Spanish agency without leaving his or her home in suburban Buenos Aires, an English chef can open a restaurant in Prague where he serves perhaps the best Asian food in the country and someone from Norway, Australia or Chile can be reading this post, which is a response to another one written by a gringo living in Costa Rica, during their commute, while sipping a beer at a pub or while enjoying their Italian holiday. And just like they have done throughout history, beer and brewing are reflecting this new reality.
Today anyone can learn the trade by trial and error in their garage or cellar using recipes downloaded from the internet and setting up a brewery isn't a lot more difficult than setting up any other sort of company. Once done with the beaurocracy, the technology can be bought in the Czech Republic, the malts can be sourced from Germany, the hops from New Zealand, a strain of Belgian yeasts can be ordered and, eventually, a collaboration with an English brewer can be arranged.
So, that Saison from Denmark, that IPA from Belgium, that Trippel from the US or the Czech Stout that I'm drinking now aren't "...beer without a home, an orphan, a delicious flavor without roots, trapped in a glass...", as Don Feinberg says in one of the excerpts from his essay reproduced in Joe's blog. Just like the first hopped beers in England, these are also a product of their time. Yes, their history is still very young, and it's yet to be seen how long it'll last, but the same could have been said about the Pilsner Lager 150 years ago. As for home, they do have one, you can call it "The Global Terroir", if you wish.
Choose a Hotel in Prague in the city centre.