The latest book from Brewers Publications, Brewing Local: American-Grown Beer, examines the increased demand for locally brewed beers as well as beers made with “non-traditional” ingredients. Author Stan Hieronymus chronicles the history of how distinctly American beers came about, visits farm breweries, and forages for both plants and yeast to discover how brewers are using novel ingredients to create distinctive beers.
Americans have brewed beers using native ingredients since pre-Columbian times, and a new wave of brewers is now at the forefront of the locavore movement. Innovative brewers are using locally grown, traditional ingredients as well as cultivated and foraged ingredients to produce beers that are capturing the essence of the place they were made.
Brewing Local is both entertaining and informative. It’s also a practical guide for making beers with grains, fruits, herbs, spices, flowers, trees, nuts, pumpkins and more, with descriptions, recommendations and warnings. Beer enthusiasts will enjoy reading about the stories and historical accounts. Pro brewers and home brewers alike can use it as a resource for information and inspiration, and they’ll appreciate the nearly two dozen beer recipes inside, including Beet Berliner Weisse, Pecan Porter, Birch Sap Black Biere de Garde, Sweet Potato Ale, and Kentucky Common.
“You could be happy just buying Brewing Local for the valuable information on a wide range of unusual botanicals and how to use them in beer. But once you start reading, you get swept away on an unexpected journey, ultimately ending up deep inside the minds of people doing some of the most exciting things in beer today.” – Randy Mosher, author of Tasting Beer.
In recent years we’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of breweries in America and, overwhelmingly, most of them are small, neighborhood breweries that are answering the demand for locally made beer. Whether driven by freshness, flavor, uniqueness or the locavore movement, these breweries are changing the way we think about beer. In turn, it’s being viewed more as an agricultural product that is made with ingredients that are no longer thought of as just commodities.
Brewing Local is not only about locally brewed beers made with local ingredients. It delves deeper into the concept of terroir. In one description, Hieronymus writes, “
“Terroir is character. It is the triumph of diversity over homogeneity.” – Mark Davis, New England Culinary Institute
Beyond the ingredients used, a beer’s terroir can be influenced by a number of factors, including equipment, techniques, and local traditions and philosophies on flavor and style.
Where an ingredient is grown can also affect its flavor. The same variety of hop grown in different parts of the world will taste differently, for example, because it is influenced by differing climates, soils, latitudes, ages of the bines, how high they are hung, when the hops are harvested, etc.
BREWING LOCAL IN BELLINGHAM
As far as I know, all of Bellingham’s breweries have brewed beers using local, non-traditional ingredients at one time or another, including locally roasted coffee, honey, chocolate, fruit, malt, hops and yeast. Kulshan even brewed a Christmas ale with four different types of actual trees from the Fullner Christmas Tree Farm. Recently, many fresh hop ales have been made, including a FemALES collaboration beer that was made with donated hops from area backyards.
Last year, four Bellingham breweries (Aslan, Boundary Bay, Kulshan, and Stones Throw) participated in the Beers Made By Walking (BMBW) program and brewed special beers tied to local places. BMBW invites brewers to make beers inspired by nature hikes and urban walks. Each walk is different, and each beer is a portrait of the landscape that is hiked or walked. The program runs in many different cities each year, and Bellingham was one of the chosen cities last year.
Probably the most natural and connected-to-a-place beer you can make would be a spontaneously fermented one, and at least three of our local breweries (North Fork, Wander, and Aslan) have made or are planning to make this type of beer. Earlier this year, Wander procured a coolship (possibly the first one of its kind in the state), which should see its maiden voyage sometime this fall.
Also of note, the local homebrew club, Bellingham Homebrewers Guild, has many members who actively brew with local ingredients, including myself. I’m currently aging one of my sour ales on 4 pounds of wild huckleberries that I handpicked on hikes in the North Cascades, just east of Bellingham.
Beyond the economic and environmental benefits of brewing locally, there are cultural and community benefits as well. Bellingham’s breweries have formed countless partnerships with local businesses, farms and charities, and these relationships have strengthened our community and resulted in some great new beers that we might not have had otherwise.
What I found most interesting in Brewing Local was the part about Mark Jilg of Craftsman Brewing Company and his take on the symbiotic relationship that develops when beer is consumed locally. Hieronymus writes: The brewers care about what their friends will be drinking, and consumers take pride in consuming beer made by people they know. “It’s all about being genuine, tied to a place …” Jilg says. “Once you have that genuineness, it fends off the evils of the twentieth century.”
“This came from the world that is mine.” – Mark Jilg, Craftsman Brewing Co.
“I’m totally in tune with the way Mark Jilg thinks about this,” Hieronymus tells me via email. “This is true at another level as well, when hop farmers get to know brewers, which used to not happen.”
“By connecting beer to place and time, Hieronymus reintroduces us to this beverage we think we know so well. It’s one of the few books with the capacity to make you think anew about beer.” – Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible
Hieronymus explains that the intention of the book is not to imply that beers made with non-traditional ingredients will become the new IPA, or that they will occupy more than a niche, but to expand our understanding of what beer can be.
ABOUT STAN HIERONYMUS
Hieronymus is a professional journalist and amateur brewer who has made beer his beat since 1993. The author of hundreds of articles for periodicals and editor at Realbeer.com, Hieronymus wrote Brew like a Monk (2005), Brewing with Wheat (2010) and For the Love of Hops (2012) for Brewers Publications and has contributed to several other publications, including 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die. His travels have taken him to breweries in every state in the U.S. as well as behind the scenes in internationally famous breweries such as De Sint-Sixtusadij Westvleterten and Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn.