Beer and Terroir: Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch


Everything about beer fascinates me, but my lastest story, exploring beer and terroir for The Globe & Mail recently, has my head spinning.

The subject is only beginning to be explored by craft brewers, and I think that brewers are in the midst of redefining terroir in beer — as such, there are a lot of ideas, disagreements and some serious philosophising happening among beer drinkers, makers and marketers.

I tried to touch on the thrust of the debate in my story, but inevitably most of the indepth commentary from the people I spoke to had to be left out. So I am going to share the interviews here, beginning with a question I posed to Jim Koch on a visit to Samuel Adams brewery in Boston last week. (Note: I asked Koch this question after the story came out as it’s just so damn interesting).

Koch has a compelling take on the subject, with his outer hippie on full display.

The question: “Do you think that beer has terroir, and if so, does Samuel Adams have a particular terroir and what would that be?”

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Beer and Terroir: Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch

  1. Craig@drinkdrank1

    So here’s my take on this whole terroir thing. Sure I get that beer can be of a place, and even that ingredients from a specific place can influence a beer. However, is ” beer terroir” really that, or are we—yet again—on the precipice of an another gimmicky, buzz word-y, bandwagon to sell beer. Not that I’m against that, but don’t think (you breweries out there) that the soft-minded consumer doesn’t know that. Go ahead, promote the fact that ingredients from one place can give a beer a certain quality—hell, go as far as to say that beer is of the place it’s born. Just don’t promote terroir like breweries did 20 years ago with Ice beer—and “karmic terroir” is getting pretty close to that edge.

  2. Ben

    I feel like beer terroir will never be as much of a “thing” as it is with wine.

    You can’t dispute the fact that soil, region, vine et.al. impart certain characteristics with wine; but there are too many variables with beer. That is, with so many ingredients making up a beer and the ability to vary the quantities of those ingredients, one might easily produce two beers from the very same region–even the same patch of dirt–that would share very little in terms of taste.

    As an example, Black Creek Historical Brewery here in Toronto released their Rifleman’s Ration to mark the anniversary of the war of 1812 and that beer was made entirely of ingredients grown in Ontario. It was a great gimmick, and I happily bought it for the novelty, but I didn’t get anything essentially “Ontarian” from it that set it apart from other beers.

    I like the idea of regional beer because it supports local business and by definition means beer’s being made with fresher ingredients, but I don’t think it will ever define the taste of a beer.

  3. Craig@drinkdrank1

    I think some beers are more prone to “beer from here” than others, like Williams Bros. of Alloa in Scotland. They really nail the scottish coast feel with Kelpie—but those places are far and few between. In any case, I keep seeing the phrase “terroir” popping up, and it concerns me a bit. Okay, maybe not so much concerns, but annoys me. It seems to me someone, somewhere, decided they’ve found a new word to exploit—or, even worse—someone, somewhere, has decided that once again we need to associate beer with wine to justify it as a sophisticated drink.

    • Thanks for these comments, I think that the fact that beer makers are having this discussion at all is a great thing, and there are certainly people like Jim who see “terroir” as quite broad, and other brewers and experts who think that beer does not have terroir at all because unlike winemakers, who stick to their soil narrative quite closley, brewers have embraced the science of beer, which makes any kind of attempt at terroir mute as you can replicate a recipe around the world.

      Anyway, I’ll be posting some interviews from those who are more in your camps later this week. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Pingback: Beer and Terroir: Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch | BeerMe

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