Terroir in beer? | Flanders Red Ale | French Oak Red Wine Barrel

Terroir-  loosely translates to"a sense of place". Yes this is a french word (so stick your nose up when you say it) and a word that is typically associated to wine, cheese, coffee, tea, but most times with wine.  You see, grapes are grown all around the world, and since wine is simply fermenting grape juice, you get distinctly different  wines based on the land that you've planted your grapes.  Even from one hill to the other on a given vineyard will produce very different characteristics in a grape and ultimately the wine.  The climate, the geography, the soil composition, the amount of rain you receive in a given year.  These all effect the end product of how your wine is going to end up. 

You see, in brewing today, you don't really have terroir.  The grains we brewers get are typically from MN, ND, WI, Canada , Belgium, Germany, or England.  The hops we use are from the West Coast (Willamette Valley), or overseas.  The yeast are typically sourced from other breweries and then sold through White Labs or Wyeast.  These are the products that all US brewers and brewers worldwide use to make their unique beers.   The only real aspect that is different amongst brewers is the water supply.  And for that very fact you have your historic beers that were brewed in certain regions because those beers work well with the water supply of that specific region. 

There ARE a few things that I've done to incorporate some terroir into my brewing.   I don't do anything to my water other then use camden tablets to kill the chlorine.  I try to use Rahr or Breiss malt which is mid-west grown.   In the past, I've tried to utilize my own homegrown hops albeit with little success.   In my cider this year I let it undergo "native" fermentation utilize the local yeast that was present on the skins of the apples.   I also used local "hand picked" tart cherries in my Kriek.   It's not easy expressing the terroir, but these are some ways that I've tried to do that.  Whenever I'm at the farmers market I buy local honey for my IPA's and DIPA's.  I also plan on using other locally grown fruits in my sour beers.

The idea of using local "wild" yeast is something that a select few homebrewers have tried, and even a more select crew have had success with.   You can read about homebrewers taming wild yeast and about some of these experiments HERE and HERE and HERE.

Now, on to what brought me to this point....The idea of utilizing old wine barrels is a pretty cool thing to me.  Not only to you get out of it what you put into it, but you also get the additional flavors and terroir of the residents that are in the barrel from it's previous owner.   In my homebrew clubs case, we have french oak red wine barrels from Lodi, CA.  The winery that we recieved the barrels from practice native fermentation so we will hopefully be getting some california terroir out of these barrels, hoping that some of that local yeast has remained alive with in the wood of the barrel.   Surely some of the wine produced by that yeast, and juice from the grapes are going to come through in the finished beer as well!    In addition to the terroir from the Wine barrels I also took it a step further for this beer.  I had saved the yeast from my cider that underwent "native" fermentation.   In one of the 5 gallons of Flanders Red I pitched  this slurry of local cider yeast.  Now, there were some definite differences from this cider trub as opposed to what you see from brewers yeast trub.   It was more compact, and a dark yellow color.   I can't say if it can or will ferment any sugars, but it did kick up fermentation faster then my other batch of Flanders that was sitting right next too it.   Either way, we will have some local terroir in these barrels and hopefully it has a positive effect on the resulting package beer!

Here is the recipe that I brewed for the Flanders Barrel project.  13 of us are brewing 5 gallon batch's to be put into the barrel in a few weeks.   I actually brewed 1O gallons although this is a 5 gallon recipe below.  I fermented mine with ECY20. ECY02, and a portion with local cider yeast!

Flanders Red Ale to be Aged in French Oak Red Wine Barrel

Batch Size: 5 gallons
Specific Gravity: 1.058 OG
Color: 20° SRM
Mash Efficiency: 70 %
Mash Temp: 158
Fermentation Temp: 65 degrees
Bitterness:  12.3 IBU
Alcohol: 6.9% ABV
Calories: 187 per 12 oz.

Malt & Fermentables

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