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Comment about indigenous beer; win a book

Earlier this week, Boak & Bailey pointed to a couple of other posts and offered a thought and a question about “Native or Local?”

First, the thought. “It seems that native style, then, might be a more important idea than local manufacture.”

Second, the question. “Thought experiment: if you were to visit Berlin, would you feel you’d had a more authentic experience drinking American-brewed Berliner Weisse, or locally made Cascade-hopped IPA?”

Maybe it was the word “native” that caught my attention. Or the question John Holl asked about if beer were invented today was still rattling around in my head. Anyway, this is something that’s been on my mind for a while — what makes a beer indigenous and what belongs on the official indigenous beer list?

Yes, there might be a book in the works, which I’d like to help make better. So I’ve been building a bit of a list of what might be called “indigenous beers.” You can help improve it and in return you might win a book. I’ve had several show up at my door, so will reward one contributor an opportunity to pick from them.

To win, add a beer to this list. Or provide meaningful details about one of the beers already here. Or add something to the “What the heck is indigenous?” conversation. For instance: New Glarus Brewing uses the phrase “Drink Indigenous” on its logo. The brewery is Wisconsin through and through, but what does that mean for its beers?

The prize winner will be drawn from those who comment or — for those feeling shy — email suggestions to

So for starters, uniquely American beers:

* Classic American Pilsner
Kentucky Common
American colonial ales

* And then there is the question, does this beer really belong on the list?

And (this list is woefully short) the rest of the world:

Keptinis Alus
Heather ale
Eqyptian Bouza
Mesopotanium ale
African sorghum beers (there are enough perhaps they should be considered individually)

39 Responses to Comment about indigenous beer; win a book

  1. Bailey September 12, 2014 at 3:44 am #

    Are you aware of the excellent work Lars Marius Garshol has been doing in re: Scandinavian, Baltic and Eastern European farmhouse beers?

    Almost enough material for a fascinating Brewers Publications volume there already.

    • Stan Hieronymus September 12, 2014 at 3:58 am #

      Thanks for the heads up. I had not seen that. The fall issue of Beer Connoisseur has what looks to be (in other words, I haven’t dug in yet – magazine only arrived yesterday) a must read from Martin Thibault: “In Search of Norway’s Brewing Traditions.”

      • Lars Marius Garshol September 12, 2014 at 4:23 am #

        Stan, that is indeed a must-read. Martin said it was going to be out next week, so you’re ahead of the curve here.

        Martin’s article is from the trip he and I did together in Norway in May; my latest blog series is from that same trip. The Lithuanian blog posts I have done are from partly before and partly after Martin was there. Martin and I are trying do more work on farmhouse ale together in the future.

        Bailey: Thank you. 🙂

        As for your list:

        Maltøl – Norway (really multiple styles)
        Sahti – Finland (probably in reality multiple styles)
        Gotlandsdricka – Sweden
        Koduolu – Estonia
        Keptinis/Sviesusis/Tamsusis – Lithuania
        Chicha – south America, Bolivia mostly
        Kvass – Russia
        Bouza – several countries, Balkans

        Latvia has indigenous farmhouse styles, but to my knowledge nobody’s written about them in English yet. I will do within the next month or so.

        Georgia also has some indigenous styles, but the names escape me right now. More on that later, I hope.

  2. SteveH September 12, 2014 at 5:33 am #

    The subject of Steam/California Common came up in some discussions in a BA thread. The question that emerged, where do the histories of American Steam Beer and German Dampfbier criss-cross? No solid answer was found.

    The subject of the beers being different in character was recognized, but the similar processes are pretty evident.

  3. Ed September 12, 2014 at 6:11 am #

    Greg Pilley of Stroud Brewery research traditional African beers. There’s more here, including a pictures of people drinking millet beer:

  4. Jared September 12, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    What a great question.

    Native or indigenous definitions can be argued either way for many beers.

    I think you have to look at beers that are derived from the native ingredients. I know their are truly american hops, but were they all transplanted form their native Europe or asia? If their are indeed purely native hops I would assume any beer brewed with native grains, native hops, and native yeast to be native regardless of style. If everything about a beer is native to that region how can it not be considered native even it’s an IPA.

    Do we need limit the definition of indigenous/native to beers that contain truly native ingredients (those existing before man transplanted them)? If that’s the case, any number of spruce tip, non-hopped, or otherwise bittered beers brewed here in the states could be considered native so long as they used native yeasts and grains.

    If we are talking about native styles and putting ingredients aside, I think it leaves the door open for many more styles to be considered native.

  5. Bailey September 12, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    There’s also a question here about native styles that died out and have been re-introduced. (Like Siberian bison…)

    London Porter, for example, is a little easier to find in its home city than it was a decade ago, but most examples (I’d guess — haven’t given this tons of thought) bear little relation to anything that was being enjoyed in the 18th or early 19th centuries.

    Is the name and a nod to authenticity sufficient?

    • Stan Hieronymus September 12, 2014 at 9:35 am #

      Just to add to that, what about a native style that gradually changes over time while being made the whole time at the same brewery?.

  6. Jeff Alworth September 12, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    You’re missing a lot of Asia’s contributions. China has arguably the oldest beer in huangjiu, a multi-grain beer. Obviously you must include sake. Eastern India has a really wild beer called handiya that’s made from rice but–most interestingly–brewers (mostly women) make a cake called ranu from the barm but also local herbs and spices. Palm beer isn’t really a beer, but something to consider.

    In the Americas, pulque is sort of beery (technically a sap beer), as is New England maple beer.

    There are a lot of variations in Africa, including millet and cassava beers.

    (No books for me, please–I’m swimming in them, and they shame me for failing to get around to reviews.)

  7. al capone junior September 12, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Real Ale Brewing Company (about 40 miles away, close enough to be considered “indigenous” to me), made a california common which was downright delicious! But is that really what you’d think of when you think of Texas beers? They also make lots of tasty beers that the vast majority of Texans wouldn’t drink (we’re still stuck in a rut of BMC light lager drinkers), but the craft beer drinkers love (and we are expanding quickly). However, lest I ramble on about irrelevant subjects, suffice it to say that it’s plenty easy to confuse and blur the line about what indigenous beer is and should be.

    Since they’re certainly worth mentioning twice, RABC also makes a blonde ale, Fireman’s 4, which is downright stupendous. This is probably far closer to the assumed version of indigenous that you’d expect at first glance.

    Alamo beer company, another local brewery, may have San Antonio’s most “indigenous” beer possible, Alamo darn tasty stuff too (I must admit I’m enjoying one right now). I can see that despite being a new brewery, this one is going to be popular with the locals, possibly even drawing the long time BMC-ers out of their light lager shells.

    But then I haven’t mentioned any light lagers yet, probably because I generally don’t drink them too often. But personal bias aside, Lone Star is about as indigenous to Texas as you can get. That one is hard to argue. Whether that should be your first choice upon a visit to the Alamo city is up to you. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, probably not, but if you’re a strictly light lager kinda guy, go for it.

    Of course if I go to Germany, I’m going to be expecting something “German.” While I’ll probably want to try the Cascade IPA made fresh by a local brewery, I’m also going to want a big fat mug of Oktoberfest too. Even if someone points out that all my stereotypes and expectations are complete dog-doo, well, “one Oktoberfest please.”

    New Glarus sure is delicious. That’s what I would expect from a state known for things like apples (Apple Enigma is to DIE for! and Raspberry Tart…. nom nom nom). Almost ready to jump in my car and head for Wisconsin right now, looking for some indigenous beer.

    Don’t know how helpful this will be for your book, but there you have it anyway. If you’re ever in Tx, stop by for an indigenous RABC or Alamo ale.


  8. Tom Ross September 12, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    The Nahuas, indigenous people of Mexico and El Salvador, made a fermented beverage called tepache, which means “drink made from corn”. Originally, corn was the base for tepache, but modern recipes use pineapple rinds in the ferment. I make my own modern version, including pineapple in the recipe, and it’s very much a crowd pleaser.

    This is a great discussion. I’m very much interested in what other cultures of the world ferment for a beverage. I suppose most historical fermented beverages originating from indigenous people wouldn’t really qualify as the modern concept of beer. Kumis, for example, is traditionally made from mares milk. In 5th century text, Herodotus describes the Scythians, an ancient Iranian equestrian culture, processing mare’s milk into a fermented beverage. I can’t even imagine what that’s like. But it’s a good example of the local culture using what was available to them to produce their ferment.

  9. Andy September 12, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    To add to Jared’s comment above: Natasha Geiling wrote a really interesting article recently, “In Search of the Great American Beer,” about the quest to produce truly American hops on an industrial scale, as seen through the development of “neomexicanus” hops.

    Highly recommended read.

  10. Stan Hieronymus September 12, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    Andy: This is why I can’t write the indigenous book (but am happy to help whoever does get a good running start). I would get bogged down in the details.

    Let’s say you wanted to brew with indigenous hops in North Carolina. Is it enough that they be neomexicanus (found in Western North America) or should they be lupuldoides, (found in Eastern and north-central America).

    It was not Todd’s — Todd, if you are out there feel free to contradict me — goal at the outset to discover a hop for an “American beer.” He found hops growing in the wild and became interested in crossing them to create a hop (or several hops) worth brewing with.

    • Andy September 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      Yeah, I certainly don’t have an answer to that dilemma. Writing a book (or really just having a point of view to start from) would require establishing some borders – geographic, or otherwise. And, we all know that wouldn’t go over well.

  11. Tobias September 12, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    It is obviously covered above under Norway’s “maltøl”, but I’d like to mention that the crucial indigenous style term for me is “stjørdalsøl” –only very recently in June 2014 designated a Norwegian specialty “appellation” (and perhaps I’ll also earn a free book lottery ticket).

    • Lars Marius Garshol September 13, 2014 at 2:02 am #

      Yes, stjørdalsøl is definitely a style, a subcategory of maltøl. It has not been given the status of Norwegian speciality, though. Matmerk (an official food labelling body) has given the beer Alstadberger status as a Norwegian speciality, on the grounds that it uses mostly Norwegian malts.

      Another subcategory of maltøl would be vossaøl. Probably the beer in Hardanger falls under that category, too. There should probably be a style for “raw ale” as well. Probably that leaves a few types not covered. I’m still working on a better understanding of these types.

  12. Martyn Cornell September 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Thank ypu very much for all this, guys, it’s terrific grist for the mill that will eventually produce the talk I am giving in Copenhagen in November on beer terroir.

    Here’s a thought: all beer styles started off as local styles. Even Pilsner Urquell: made with local water, local grain and (reasonably) local hops.

    • Stan Hieronymus September 12, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

      Martyn – Please have them shoot video and post it on You Tube.

    • Jared September 13, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      Martyn – I have often thought about your last point, especially when it comes to water use. I often wonder if by not using the native water profile, brewers may be missing out on a deeper connection with their local audience. Doesn’t everyone like the taste of their local tap water?

      I understand how water profile effects flavor, and am not saying water treatment isn’t delightful in some cases. I just find it interesting that people emulate water from Germany or England instead of just working with what they have.

    • Jared September 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

      Martyn – I have often thought about your last point, especially when it comes to water use. I often wonder if by not using the native water profile, brewers may be missing out on a deeper connection with their local audience. Doesn’t everyone like the taste of their local tap water? It could be part of the genome, I am unsure (joke).

      I understand how water profile effects flavor, and am not saying water treatment isn’t delightful in some cases. I just find it interesting that people emulate water from Germany or England instead of just working with and loving what they have.

  13. Jon Abernathy September 13, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    I suppose they fall under “American colonial ales” but I can’t believe (or maybe I can) that no one has mentioned pumpkin yet. Which itself occupies a unique role because the beers of the pumpkin “revival” of the past three decades bear no real resemblance to the colonial versions, yet both versions are pretty uniquely American. Something worth exploring in more detail (and that’s a book I’d like to write). Also worth asking– has any modern brewery attempted brewing a “true” colonial pumpkin ale? e.g. pulping the pumpkin into juice and fermenting that, as the famous 1771 recipe for “Pompion Ale” describes.

    I’d argue that Classic American Pilsner belongs on that list; certainly the inclusion of rice and particularly corn was an American innovation (or workaround) to working with six row malt.

    And then you might take a look at Wikipedia’s List of Alcoholic Beverages article ( which is fascinating in this regard for it’s organization by ingredient, fermented, and distilled variants.

    • Velky Al September 15, 2014 at 6:10 am #

      “I’d argue that Classic American Pilsner belongs on that list; certainly the inclusion of rice and particularly corn was an American innovation (or workaround) to working with six row malt.”

      German brewers, outside of Bavarian, were using rice in their beers in the 19th century as well. Given that many of the big lager brewing companies in the US were founded by German immigrants, it is likely that they brought the use of rice with them, so perhaps the Classic American Pilsner shouldn’t be on that list?

      • Stan Hieronymus September 15, 2014 at 6:26 am #

        Velky Al – I don’t know if it belongs or not, because it’s really a variation on style. However, 6 row barley, the use of corn, and the battles involved between adjunct beer and “pure beer” certainly make it Americanized.

        • Velky Al September 16, 2014 at 6:08 am #

          The battle between pure beer and adjunct beer surely finds its ultimate apogee in Bavaria insisting on Reinheitsgebot being implemented across all of the newly unified Germany.

          I can’t imagine the Federal government wanting to kick a state out of the Union for its biggest brewery making beer with rice or corn.

  14. KD September 13, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    Here in Bolivia, chicha is not a singular idea. Chicha varies and has its own variations based on the color of the corn used, sugar content, fermentation time, whether it has fruit added or not, whether it is boiled or not, how long it is malted for, etc. This would bear parsing out because these variations are often assigned other names as well.

  15. Alan September 13, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    I have to say I find this a very unsatisfying approach. I want to preface this by saying I do not believe I am being contrarian or a prick. I am also not talking about any one person. At least I have no intention to be so. Yet this shall be firm… so, jumping in the deepend, while I appreciate the honesty of this argument (1) it smacks of a desire to prop up the concept of style, (2) there is a touch of the quest for the “new unified theory” brass ring, (3) it fails to take into account the continuity of beer in time and space, (4) it does not take into account some obvious themes that run opposite.

    I am coming more and more to an understanding that there is nothing called style. If we line up concurrent beers, beers over time and beers across geography, there are few dividing line and as much complexity and evidence at the points of overlap between styles as there is in the core examples of style. I still come back to Jackson’s definition of style as just an homage to a classic beer and can go no farther.

    This has been confirmed again recently. I am judging the NAGBW book entries right now and if I read another attempted statement of a unified theory I slall scream. Understanding all beer is impossible so we layer an abstract overlay that is with reasonable grasp and stand back to state (a) it explains everything and (b) I came up with it… so therefore I am clever and worth being paid as a beer writer. I understand the natural desire for achieving excellence in thought. I weep when I see the road to that excellence being based only on first constructing a unique proprietary analysis for that thought and staking a claim to authority. But I see it again and again. Thought needs building upon and yet surpassing what has gone before. Something seems to keep us spinning our wheels.

    Further, that approach leads to grasping at the straws that can be assembled to prop up the new analysis and rejects alternate explanation early on. When I read about these local beers, I see “eureka” moments based on finding a reference to what happened in one place based on a scrap of evidence without the thought that the neighbouring town or county did not have its records survive. Why presume that there was not continuity with neighbours? When one reads Ungers books you see the path of jurisdictional autonomy that preserved the beer of Hoegaarden but you also see neighbouring towns and principalities being absorbed and modernized too. Wheat beers were common in the Low Countries, likely lots similar to that one. But because the evidence is not there, it’s like they never existed, conveniently now for the modern unified theorist of partitioned styles.

    Finally, real themes appear to contradict niche style theory but seem to be rejected. How can beers like Kentucky Common be accepted while US beer thinking is blissfully walking around that tiny gap in history about ale brewing from, oh, 1600 to 1900. How can a part of a likely much larger whole be proclaimed as being autonomous without connections and continuities being defined. It’s not just that Albany ale still is not considered to be what it screamingly it, but it is only an example. Masses of unexplored town and city brewing and drinking experiences go unexplored I suspect because they do not fit neatly into the twin requirements of tight stylistic definition and proprietary unified theory.

    Not a rant. Nor an accusation. An invitation either to prove me stupid (always a possibility) or at least see a concurrent bigger analysis that might undermine indigenousness and its kin fatally. Offered with greatest respect to the above.

  16. Stan Hieronymus September 13, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    So it all comes down to neglecting Albany Ale, is that it Alan?

    Consider that a totally whimsical aside, not to be taken seriously, or personally.

    So one serious thought before I head for some pastoral setting the Internet has not reached. To repeat myself, I will not be the one writing this book. But if I were I’d certainly be thinking about your points 1-4 in trying to figure out what belongs in such a book. Starting from some traditional style construct would immediately weaken the book.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about in a few hours when I’m drinking a gruit ale in the wilds of southern Illinois.

    • Craig September 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

      Hey I resemble that remark!

  17. Alan September 13, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    None taken as ever. I have been trying to think how the specific and the general interact when, unlike wine, there is none of the simplicity of grape variety and terrior. Unfortunately, I am better at seeing what I believe it all isn’t than what is.

  18. M. A. S. September 13, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    Seems you left out the indigenous “Seriously Over-Hopped American Elephant Piss IPA” – which seems to be a product of the US Northwest. Then again, I could be totally wrong. It may be less of a style and more of an acquired bad habit…one that has unfortunately now spread across the country.

  19. Craig September 13, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    I actually wrote just this week about looking at local beer from another perspective, not stylistically at all (in fact quite the opposite), but rather brews that evoke a sense of place. My point was the creation of beer from those ingredients that best represent the location of that brewery. I cited how quickly I’m reminded of the Adirondacks when I catch whiff of a pinewood fire–smokey, piney. It seems that could be easily represented in beer. That seems more indigenous to me than a style–yet we don’t see much of that in beer.

    Here’s a link to what I wrote.

    • Stan Hieronymus September 14, 2014 at 6:48 am #

      Craig – I had that one filed for my Monday links, but instead will comment here. I think Alaskan Smoked Porter is a fine example of what you are talking about. They smoke their own malt over alderwood, which is what the native have been using to smoke and preserve fish for nobody knows how long. It’s familiar to locals beyond that, the wood gathered for fires on the beach.

      When Geoff Larson first brewed the beer many locals told him the aroma/flavor reminded him of fish. Because he’d smoked the malt at a facility otherwise used to smoke fish he was afraid the malt had been contaminated (he is hyper about sanitation). Another brewer clued him in to the powerful memories aroma can evoke.

      Quite obviously, if you live in Arizona, drink Smoked Porter and have never been to Alaska you aren’t likely to think of smoked fish when you drink the beer. Alaskan companies do ship a lot of (alder) smoked fish. My opinion would be that even though you might “learn” that aroma/flavor the experience would not be the same.

      • Craig September 14, 2014 at 8:40 am #

        By all means, please add it to you Monday links!

        And you’re correct. The Alaskan Smoked Porter is a perfect example of what I’m getting at. But to your last point, I’m not sure the experience needs to be for anyone other than locals. Isn’t that sort of the point of “local”?

  20. Josh September 13, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

    I rushed to dig out my copy of Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing after reading through this post. Chapter 17: “Forward Into The Past” covers a whole host of obscure indigenous beers.

    The one that sticks out to me that should perhaps be added to the American list is Pennsylvania Swankey. Randy describes it as a “very weak beer fermented partially, then chilled to preserve some sweetness and keep the alcohol low at around 2 percent.” “Very much like a sort of licorice root beer.”

  21. Alan September 14, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    That may be a very good example of my point. Schenkbier was reasonably common in eastern US at the outset of German immigration. But one record, like a lost piece of a jigsaw, is found in isolation and could be getting dubbed something unique and singular.

  22. Jeff Alworth September 15, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Alan, since your comments are locked, I’ll respond here.

    I confess I have never understood your aversion to the word “style.” I’ve read dozens of posts and comments you’ve made on the subject, and it still seems nearly wholly semantic to me. (I doubt very seriously it is–who could sustain such a passionate distaste for anything over years based on vocabulary?) (And I don’t think you’re “coming” to the idea, either–I think you’ve been there a long time.)

    In any case, I think your point is perpendicular–to repeat a metaphor from an earlier thread–to Stan’s. His post could exist entirely without the word style. Indigenous beer. It’s a different question entirely. What makes a thing, anything–cheese, barley, language, religion–indigenous? It’s nothing to do with style. Your point has merit, but it deflects from Stan’s different point.

    (I agree that style as a concept and word is hugely problematic and, thanks largely to you, have tried–and failed!–to reduce it from my vocabulary.)

  23. Gary Gillman September 18, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    “What makes a beer indigenous and what belongs on the official indigenous beer list?”.

    Simple. Anything currently brewed and sold in the area. To answer your question about Berliner Weisse vs. APA, now that APA is made in Berlin, it is a local style. The fact that it was influenced from afar is neither her nor there. American light lager a la Budweiser 1876 originated somewhere else. Before long it was considered American. It’s not just the rice or corn because i) some beer in Germany was brewed with rice in the late 1800’s, ii) some beer in American was all-malt, e.g. Michelob from 1896 until the late 1950’s. And it is again.

    We think of Berliner Weisse romantically, essentially. We love the photo of the cabby toasting his horse in Jackson’s The World Guide To Beer. We love Jackson’s matchless prose “eloge” to the style. But that was then [1977], this is now.

    I’m inclining to think Alan is right, because amongst APA you have double IPA and some dank ones and some dandy ones and lotsa pretty crude ones, too.

    So basically you have to classify now by area, what is made there, what do the residents like; those are the indigenous beers. We come full circle, back to Jackson’s originally geographical plan, but for a completely different reason. The beer world today might embodies Walt Whitman’s dictum: “I contain multitudes”.

    Gary Gillman

  24. Brian S September 23, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    Interesting ideas here. Here’s a couple more.

    Indigenous (to me) describes a product that evolved over time to provide something from the available materials at the time. It’s a continuum based on time, trade, and human enginuiity that defines “available.” (same logic applies to “local” as well I suppose)

    Bear Flavored recently posted an exciting brewery – Plan B – that ultimately wants to sources all of its own ingredients, including yeast:

    Here in Vermont, we like maple sap:

    One thing able “styles” – just another way us humans compartmentalize stuff that exists as a continuum. Keeps things tidier than they really are, and gives us some terminology to help us start the conversation (or debate).

  25. Jared (not the previous one) September 26, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    The problem with anything remotely like this is that you need a working definition to start.

    If we’re not talking about beer styles necessarily and are more focused on beer evolution then the most helpful would be specific beers that typified that evolution with a start and end date. This will give you an idea of local tastes (but not everyone’s tastes), techniques, and ingredients. The problem is that this would most likely end up with a book or article that creates new style guidelines *gasp*

    If you start from the definition of styles then you open things up to non native ingredients and different techniques, though you end up just further reinforcing the idea of styles and cementing stereotypes about beers that “belong”

    Also you have not given a definition of beer. If we’re talking about fermented wort made from grains and boiled with hops then that’s severely limiting to places that do not have native hops. Do we allow herbs? vegetables? fruits? non grain fermentables like sap? Where are the lines drawn? Is Sake technically a beer? Does a beer need to be boiled?

    I only point out the last part because you talk about wine being made from grapes. Off and on throughout history wine has been made from other fermentables besides grapes and even mead has been considered wine. You need to be specific in your definitions and requests before you can critique the results.

    If we allow fruits, saps, and other non grain fermentables then you broaden the horizons of this discussion greatly since fruit was more likely fermented before grain

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