Fumbling for Terroir

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Pewterware beer mug.

Volker Bach examines what Renaissance German beer culture can teach us about an elusive concept

In 1575, the German lawyer and beer connoisseur Heinrich Knaust published Five Books on the Divine and Noble Gift, the Philosophical, Precious and Wonderful Art of Brewing Beer [1]. In it, he writes:

“Regarding flavour, there is very great difference among beers, for above the common flavour of all beers, some are sweet, some slightly bitter, some partly sharp, some have a wine-like (weinlich) taste, …” (p. 67)

This book comes from a beer culture that thought of the origin of beers in terms very similar to the modern idea of terroir. Beers were traded as distinctive local products that connoisseurs understood intimately, certain varieties were chosen for specific occasions, and even illicit copying was a problem.
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