For those who aren’t aware, my position in the store changed recently, I moved to a new role as the craft beer buyer. Of course, Tim remains very involved with the beer department that he essentially constructed, but there’s a new set of eyes looking at everything we do with beer now.
Of course, my background in wine is fairly extensive, while my knowledge of beer is still being developed, and so I’m taking great care to think about the beers that I drink in order to better understand their character and use. The great difference that I have observed is that the world of wine is governed by terroir, the concept of a wine’s “sense of place”, but this is not the case with beer, where everything is governed by process.
Interventionist winemaking is frowned upon in the oeno-snob world, the belief is that a wine is “guided” into existence, rather than “made.” Beer, on the other hand, is the result of a singular vision, an idea about the exact taste the brewer is seeking. How the barley is roasted, the specific hops, the length of the mash and the brew, all of these factors stop and start at the whim of a person. With that said, I don’t know the names of any rock star brewers on a par with Robert Mondavi, a famous wine “maker”. The cult of personality seems to have gripped the wine world much tighter than it has the world of beer.
Perhaps this comes down to the fact that anyone, given the inclination, can brew a beer. The romance of the winemaker is easily conjured in our minds by the things that we don’t have, like sunshine or grapevines, whereas the identity of a brewer is truly within our grasp, and anyone can bring their vision of a good beer to fruition. The change in focus for me is fascinating, and the excuse to try some new beers doesn’t hurt, either.