Each regions has its own brew to offer. And now, with Reuben's brews new Kolsch, Ballard will have their very own.
The localization of brewing
This column is by Adam and Grace Robbings, founders of Reuben’s Brews
Brewing is a local industry at its heart. Before the advent of the automobile, breweries used locally available ingredients to make beers for their local customers, and regional brews were the norm.
Stout was brewed in Dublin because the hard water in the city provided the right water profile to brew a roasty ale. The soft water of Pilsen in the Czech Republic was best suited for brewing lighter beers. Without the ability to transport beer easily, most communities were close to a brewery -- there were 4,000 breweries in the United States in 1870, double what we have today and with one eighth of the population at the time!
The advent of industrialization and refrigeration changed the brewing industry -- breweries were able to produce more beer at a cheaper cost and ship to farther destinations. As a result of prohibition and industrialization, by 1980 there were only 82 breweries in the country. Beer became a largely homogenized product that had significantly moved away from the localized essence of brewing. Arguably fueled by the legalization of homebrewing in 1978, a renaissance in craft brewing has been hitting the US since the 1980s, and is now spreading to the rest of the world - including the UK where I was born.
Despite the industrialization of the industry over most of the 1900s, the locally initiated traditions of beer still held strong. The beer styles and celebrations that we know and love are many centuries old. For example, Oktoberfest is a 200-year-old tradition which was originally a royal wedding celebration. The rigid brewing restrictions at the time only allowed beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law. That still holds true today for the beer at Oktoberfest.
Europeans have strong regional affinity, and regional alliances are nowhere more apparent than in the world of beer. Take Cologne and Dusseldorf, for example. These are two large German cities, both situated on the Rhine and only 28 miles apart, yet they each have their own distinct local brew. Cologne is home to the Kolsch, and Dusseldorf to the Alt Bier. Both beers are hybrid lager/ales, meaning the yeast ferments in a temperature range between ale and lager yeasts. Kolsch is a lighter beer that highlights the delicate yeast flavor and aroma of a true Kolsch strain, a traditional yeast strain which provides a fruity esters and is sometimes even wine-like. An Alt Bier, on the other hand, is a clean, bitter, malty, amber brew.
People from Cologne will generally not drink Alt Bier, and vice versa. One fable I heard from a Cologne native explains why the Alt Bier is darker than Kolsch: Dusseldorf is downstream from Cologne and pollution from large chemical companies situated downstream on the Rhine makes the Alt beer darker.
The word Kolsch itself uses the first three letters of the city it’s from -- Koln in German -- as the basis of its name, further underlining the localization of the beer. Similar to the way Champagne can only really be made in that region of France, you have to be able see the cathedral towers from your brewery to call your beer a Kolsch!
We have begun pouring our own Kolsch style ale at our little brewery, recognizing and respecting the tradition of the brew -- from its yeast, to its glassware, to its name. At the same time we want to make the brew specific to Ballard, make Ballard proud, and have fun doing it. (Ed's note: You can find details on the brew, called the Balsch, at the owner's blog)