Developing Your Own Terroir (Style) for Your Beer

Posted by Immaculate on 10/08/2014 at 02:39:53 PM


I'm assuming if you're reading this, you like beer.  You probably have a particular beer or style you enjoy more than others.  Have you ever stopped to think how that beer style came to be?  While it may be hard to believe in the age of overnight shipping, hops available from around the globe, and hundreds of cultured yeast strains available, most styles were born out of limitations and necessity.  People were forced to make the most of the malt, water, and hops they had available in their town or village.  Their beer fermented with whatever happened to be floating around in the air or lining their barrels.  This hyperlocality of source materials gave the beers they produced a certain terroir unique to that beer.  Over time, refinements and industrialization shaped these local products into the beer styles you love today.  While it's fun to make and consume these established beers, we have lost something along the way.  We don't challenge ourselves anymore because the necessity to do so has gone.  The aforementioned convenience and abundance of ingredients have given brewers possibly too much freedom to create.  Instead of developing beers based on terroir, they're based on ever escalating gimmickry.  What does a Triple Imperial Habanero-Pineapple-Peanut Butter IPA made with 5 strains of Brett and aged in Birch barrels tell you about the brewer, the place it was made, or the locals that drink it other than the possibility of a high prevalence of head injuries?  If you're reading this and you make beer, I challenge you to become more creative in your brewing by purposefully limiting yourself to local ingredients.  Develop your beer to reflect not just who you are individually, but what the experience of your locality is like. 

"So, that's all very high minded stuff" you're probably thinking "but how do I do that?".  Well, beer is mostly water, so start with that.  Get a current water test done someplace like Ward Labs or get a report from your local municipal water supplier.  Dig into it and really understand what you're working with.  Not everyone is blessed with soft, Pilzen-like water, so maybe light lagers are off the list.  Alternatively, not everyone has Burton water, so an IPA won't necessarily hold the same punch. Understand the pros and cons of your most prevalent ingredient and try to alter it as little as possible.

What about malt?  You could take the hardline approach and grow grain yourself.  If this is a feat you can pull off, then I applaud you.  However, this isn't feasible for most brewers.  Not to fear though, with the rise of craft brew, the craft maltster has come into fashion as well.  You have Valley Malt in Massachusetts, Riverbend Malt in North Carolina, FarmHouse Malt in New York, Rebel Malt in Nevada, Pilot Malt House in Michigan, Colorado Malt in Colorado, and probably more mircomaltsters that I missed or that are opening up soon.  Most of these maltsters are contracting with local and regional farmers.  That gives you terroir with a whole lot less work than trying to malt it yourself.  That's not to say malting it yourself is out of the question.  Even if you use the same grain as a micro or macro maltster, your process can yield a slightly different product.  Let's take a far flung place such as Hawaii.  Barley production isn't really a staple crop and I don't think there's any local maltsters there (yet), but Hawaii does have a tradition of using hot volcanic rocks in cooking.  What would malt kilned over lava be like?  There's only one way to find out.  The point is that even if you can't find a local maltster, you can find a way to make the malt your own.

Why stop at malt? Every place has some form of fermentable product. Go to a local farmers market, not Whole Foods, but an honest to goodness farmers market and get local produce. Maybe that means some kind of fruit particular to your area. Almost every state has an apiary that products local honey. The south has sorghum syrup. The southwest has agave. The Midwest grows sugar beets, so that may be an option. New England has maple syrup. The produce doesn't even have to be sweet. Any locally grown starch could be added to your mash for conversion. You should keep an open mind and think "How can I use this to get drunk?"

One of the easiest ways to incorporate terroir is growing your own hops. Despite what you may have heard, anyone, anywhere can grow hops as long as you have access to water, fertilizer, and southern exposure. Your yield might not be as high as commercial growers, but it can be done.  I container grow my hops and I live "too far South" for it to be possible, yet I manage to take in about a pound of dried hops per year per plant. The same hop grown in different places can develop wildly different traits, so even if you have to import rootstock, it'll have a local flair after a season or two.  Remember that hops aren't the only botanical used in brewing.  For hundreds of years, ale was supplemented with herbs or they even replaced hops entirely.

Next to water, yeast might be the easiest ingredient to come by.  Yeast is literally everywhere.  If you leave your wort exposed to the environment, I promise  you that something will start to ferment it.  Now, whether or not that something produces that you'd want to drink is another story.  You can increase your chances by swabbing local fruits, but there are some other options to consider.  You could ask a local brewery for yeast.  While most breweries will get their yeast from a lab, if you catch them after the 7th or 8th generation of the pitch, you might get some minor variations from the strain.  If you happen to be local to Arcadia Brewing, it's not the 7th or 8th, but the 800th+ generation they've been pitching the same yeast.  Although it may have started out as Ringwood, I doubt it's the exact same thing now.  So that could provide some local variations to your yeast.  There's nothing to say you couldn't pull off such a feat a home.  Start with a yeast you know and love and select for traits you like over many generations.  It may end up completely different than the yeast you started out with!

That pretty much covers aspects of terroir you can get out of your ingredients, but there are more aspects to consider.  Since terroir is about the place, think about the place you're in.  Perhaps it has some particular culture or cuisine that you could incorporate into your brewday.  How would a brewer in New Orleans best capture Creole culture in a beverage?  What would make a beer a "New York beer" or a "San Francisco beer"?  Maybe the land itself will have an influence.  If you live in Alaska or northern Canada, maybe you'd want to work on developing "natural lagers" by finding a place to store your beer outside.  More southern regions could explore how far one could push the concept of saisons and other warm weather yeast beers.  Is your state rich in granite?  Maybe you can use some of your local stone for a variation on steinbier.  Look at anything that defines the place you live in and think "how can this help me make beer"?

Hopefully by now, the message is clear: Brewing inspiration is all around you!  You don't have to go to only making estate beers to make a beer your own, but I hope you consider all the possibilities out there and explore some of them.  Who knows, your next brewing experiment could end up being the next hot beer style!

Known by a few as the Immaculate Brewer, most people know him as /u/uberg33k, the guy giving a constant stream of unsolicited advice on reddit's /r/homebrewing. When he's not busy yelling at kids to get off his lawn, he's making beers, meads, and ciders with a local flare, cooking insanely complex dishes, or getting way in over his head on some woodworking project. If you'd like to contact him or hurl insults in his general direction, you can email him at admin at immaculatebrewery period com or on Twitter @immaculatebrew. And of course, be sure to check him out at Immaculate Brewery.

Tags for this post: terroir, style, local, beer, ingredients, homebrew

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Tags for this post: terroir, style, local, beer, ingredients, homebrew

Reviewing the Omega PHH-7011 pH Meter for Homebrewing

Posted by Olan on 10/03/2014 at 02:33:55 PM

Disclaimer - this is not a paid review. This post is an honest assessment of the Omega PHH-7011 pH meter, which I received as a gift and have now used multiple times in my own brewing. I have not received one penny for this post, nor do I expect to do so.

One topic I regularly see discussed among more experienced brewers is the question of which pH meter is worth buying. A pH meter is invaluable to brewers who are interested in getting into (or perhaps are already well versed in) water chemistry for their brewing. Sure, pH test strips can get you in the ballpark, but precise control over your mash requires a good pH meter.

There are, of course, quite a few really inexpensive pH meters for sale, but I'm a believer in investing in good tools. As the old saying so succinctly puts it, "the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten." Inexpensive pH meters are typically not very precise, not very accurate, and don't feature replaceable electrodes - which means that they have a limited useful life.

Now, understand, I have no desire to spend a vast amount of money on a tool that admittedly is more useful for fine tuning your beer than for making good beer to begin with. If you aren't already controlling your fermentation temperatures, if you aren't already pitching enough healthy yeast (by way of properly sized yeast starters), if you aren't...
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Tags for this post: pH, meter, tester, homebrew, homebrewing

Murphy Visits Again When I Bottle the Roggenbier

Posted by Olan on 9/10/2014 at 08:16:23 PM

This weekend, I finally got around to bottling my roggenbier. I had planned to do so two weeks after pitching yeast (provided that gravity was stable), but then, I discovered that my old friend Bottle Infection was still hanging around, so I put it off.

I won't go into everything I have done in the past (read my last post if you want the gory details), but I did purchase a brand new bottling bucket (with lid), a new spigot, and a new autosiphon. I had planned to purchase new silicone tubing, but my LHBS only had vinyl... and I just can't see going back to vinyl. Instead, I rinsed that tubing very well, then boiled it for a little over fifteen minutes. Theoretially, that should have come very close to actually sterilizing it (not just sanitizing). I purchased a bottle washer, so prior to sanitizing the bottles, I gave them all a liberal jet rinsing of hot water.

Furthermore, I have decided to add in a couple of extra precautions to my bottling - namely, I am keeping a lid on my bucket the entire time, and am placing a sanitized bottle cap down onto the beer bottles the moment they are filled (in the past, I would fill them in one pass, then cap in another pass).

Saturday night, I started the process. In the past, I have always boiled my priming solution first, then racked the beer on...
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Tags for this post: bottling, roggenbier, rye, screw-ups

I'm Discouraged - Bottle Infections Suck

Posted by Olan on 9/02/2014 at 03:34:09 PM

As I look back over my time in the hobby, I realize that I have come a long way - if you'd like to confirm, I dare you to jump back to my first few posts on this blog (man, they hurt to read). Back then, I was as green as any newbie brewer, but I immersed myself in the craft, and I have learned a lot.

If I objectively consider my beer, I can state without a bit of exaggeration that it is consistently quite good. It's been more than a year since I've brewed a beer that I felt was anything less than very good, and that one was a freebie kit with some suspect ingredients (apparently expired dry yeast, for one).

Recipe design is one of my absolute favorite aspects of brewing, and I feel like I have a real knack for it - by and large, the beers I create seem to flirt with excellence; even my failures seem to turn out to be pretty tasty, though they may be not quite the beer that I intended to brew. My flaws seem to be in small details; maybe a beer has a bit of a chill haze or a head rentention issue, but by and large, I can find and correct the causes behind these flaws pretty easily.

When I share beer (and I give away a good bit more beer than I drink), the reviews are consistently extremely positive. I've had multiple...
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Tags for this post: infection, infections, bottle, beer, brewing

Friday Fluff Post: Video of a WLP037 Yeast Starter

Posted by Olan on 8/29/2014 at 02:37:52 PM

I know, I know. It's just a yeast starter. It's hardly a unique sight in and of itself. Still, I thought that the WLP037 (Yorkshire Square Ale) yeast was pretty mesmerizing to look at.

After my recent experiences with Conan yeast - which apparently views flocculation as a cardinal sin - the 037 is absolutely miraculous in this department.

As you can see in the video, even while being fairly vigorously stirred in my erlenmeyer flask, the yeast continues to form visible chunks that result in a cool "stormy" effect.

If you bump the Conan starter, the yeast will jump back up into solution even after more than a week in the fridge; this makes it a pain to harvest.

On the other hand, after just eight hours in the fridge, the 037 flocced out into an almost concrete like substance on the bottom. I was able to decant my 3 liter starter down to a half liter, and even after vigorous shaking, I had massive chunks of solid yeast left (it took effort to get my stirbar to unstick from the bottom of the flask). I did have to use a little plain water to rinse all of the chunks out, but to me, that's way easier to work with than being afraid to decant almost any liquid for concern over losing yeast.

At any rate, enjoy this short, grainy video of a yeast starter. If you're a homebrewer, this may appeal to you on...
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Tags for this post: fluff post, yeast, starter, wlp037, Yorkshire square

A Big Day - I've Been Asked to Brew for my Company

Posted by Olan on 8/20/2014 at 03:36:13 PM


As you probably know if you read much of my blog, I love to brew but don't actually drink that much.  I'll have a single beer on most evenings, though there are often days that I don't drink even that.  As a result, I end up sharing a lot of my beer.

Presentation is important to me; I feel like if I'm going to spend hours researching and brewing a beer, I want it to be impressive from the moment the bottle is in someone's hand.  To this end, I purchase custom bottle caps from, and an artist friend of mine creates custom labels for me.  People seem to appreciate the effort; they are usually surprised to get what is darned close to commercial quality packaging in their hands.

Of course, that wouldn't matter if the beer wasn't good.., but I digress. 

At any rate, I have been sharing bottles with my company's owner for some time, now.  While not a homebrewer, he does enjoy craft beer - so much so that he apparently came very close to opening his own brewpub a little over a decade ago.  He doesn't give me deep analysis of my beers, but he's always appreciative of them, and will politely let me know what he enjoys and what isn't his favorite. 

Yesterday, I mentioned to him that I would probably be bottling my roggenbier this weekend, and that I would be bringing him some soon after.  It was at this point that...
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Tags for this post: company, event, brewing, boss, homebrew, craft special

Brewing with My Pal, Murphy

Posted by Olan on 8/11/2014 at 04:48:07 PM

Yesterday was a much anticipated brewday for me - I would be tackling my roggenbier. I had done my homework, had listened to multiple horror stories about how sticky rye is, and had (I hoped) prepared for that.

And so, yesterday morning arrived. I had planned for this to be a solo brewday, but my good friend Murphy dropped by unannounced and decided to hang with me for the duration. If you are the sort of person who enjoys gawking at a train wreck as you drive past one, then by all means, please read on.

10:15 AM: It has become a weekly tradition that I fry bacon and my wife bakes blueberry muffins on Sunday morning. I usually heat my strike water on the stovetop to save on propane, but I figured it would be no issue to do so while cooking breakfast. However, my wife also decided to do hash browns this week, so I sat my pot to the side (there wouldn't be enough room for three large items on the stove). Minor delay here, no big deal.

11:10 AM: Breakfast is done. I take the lid off my six gallon stainless steel pot that serves as my HLT - and also does dual duty as storage for various brewing chemicals, smaller pieces of gear, etc. Why, hello there, disaster!

The bottom of the pot is covered in a sticky liquid. Plastic on my scale is discolored, a couple of baggies of brewing salts are essentially...
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Tags for this post: roggenbier, brewday, decoction, mash, homebrew, beer, mistakes, issues, errors

Musings on Creativity and Brewing

Posted by Olan on 8/10/2014 at 03:27:32 PM


I've always been a bit envious of creative people.  Some people can take a blank canvas and a brush and bring a portrait to life.  Others can put pen to paper and spin a witty tale or clever verse.  Some can pick up a musical instrument and speak to your very soul with the songs they conjure.  Creative people can be found in so many different areas, bringing art and enrichment to lives of those around them.

I have never really been one of these people.

I, on the other hand, am more of a "logic guy".  I tend to be task based, compartmentalizing life in an effort to get from point A to point B.  That's not to say that I don't have certain skills; when dealing with a subject that interests me, I am thorough in preparation, I work to learn from the advice and experience of others, and I do diligently try to apply that knowledge to the job at hand.  That being said, I've always been the sort of person to follow a blueprint, to apply known techniques to a problem.  I can often see the big picture, and have been known to apply unique approaches to problem solving... but when push comes to shove, I have always been more analytical than creative.

Interestingly enough, brewing is one area in my life that I find this to not be the case.  Oh, to be sure, I am still very analytical in my approach; I take precise measurements, I...
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Tags for this post: creativity, brewing, homebrewing, beer, roggenbier, recipes

Conan Yeast Giveaway Winners

Posted by Olan on 8/05/2014 at 03:01:20 PM

After much adieu, I am happy to announce the winners of the Homebrew Dad ECY29 (Conan) yeast giveaway.

First off, please do allow me to thank everyone who entered. I said this before, but there were quite a few entries that legitimately deserved to win. Pruning the seventy-six entries down to the seven finalists was extremely difficult; further pruning those down to three winners was even harder.   If you'd like to see, there is a map representing all of the entries

Thank you to everyone who voted. All told, we ended up with a truly impressive total of one hundred and seventy-six votes cast, which is about twice what I was expecting given the number of participants.

To recap, my plan was to select one winner on my own, to allow the votes to select one winner, and to then compare the two lists to come up with a third winner. As it so happens, one winner not only jumped out as the most deserving to my way of thinking, but also happend to win the largest percentage of the votes - by quite a fair margin. That winner is Bret of Warsaw, Poland.

Bret did not submit a recipe idea; instead, his submission was that he would like to pick up the yeast when he returns to the US in a couple of weeks. He will then take the yeast back with him to Poland, where he will share it with other homebrewers there. According to...
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Tags for this post: yeast, giveaway, winners, contest, conan

Conan Yeast Giveaway Finalists

Posted by Olan on 8/01/2014 at 02:53:13 PM

After a week, we have received a whopping seventy-six entries to the ECY29 (Conan yeast) contest! If you'd like to see, there is a map representing all of the entries. I've done a lot of deliberating, and let me tell you - there were a *ton* of great ideas.

I pared down the list once, then pared it down again, and am now down to seven finalists.

If you did not make the list, please don't take it personally - I had a really difficult time narrowing down the finalists, and I had to leave out several entries that I feel that would have been worthy winners. It might sound cheesy or fake, but it's absolutely true that I would like to have given away even more vials. However, I had to draw a line somewhere; I simply can't afford to ship tons of yeast all around the continent.

Homebrewers, here is where you come in. Please cast your vote for your favorite idea of the finalists from the table below. Click the button next to their name, then click the "Process Vote" button at the bottom of the entry. No stuffing the ballot box, folks - one vote per person, please!  Also, please do note that comments to this blog post will not count as official votes - you must use the voting mechanism below.

I will personally select one winner from these finalists, and a second winner will come from the top vote getter. A combined method will...
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Tags for this post: finalists, homebrew, contest, yeast, Conan, ecy29, recipes, ideas

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