By Tim Gormley, Head Brewer, Burial Beer Company
In an effort to bring the cost of manufacturing down dramatically, American macro-breweries have brewed ubiquitous lagers in massive batches with cheap ingredients and filler grains like corn and rice. They’ve used nearly flavorless hop extracts to effectively acquire bitterness. They’ve told you to drink them as cold as possible knowing that would aid in numbing our palettes to the blandness. It’s no wonder that many of us have a poor perception of lager in this country.
In stark contrast, older cultures, such as the Germans, have long brewed lagers with great care to celebrate the subtle grace of local ingredients; coaxing out, through a meticulous process, the lovely flavor nuances. This beautiful philosophy has become a guiding light for our own movement to redefine the American Lager.
“Ambient Terrain Rustic Lagers” is a series of beers to be produced at Burial Beer Co in Asheville, NC throughout the course of 2018. Each will be a three-way collaboration between Burial Beer, amazing craft breweries from across the country and a craft maltster in the area of the guest brewery. The main goal, as it pertains to the recipe, is to celebrate the craft malt revolution in America and create elegant, craft lagers that truly celebrate this country’s unique and diverse terroir and the people that put their heart into providing it and transforming it, from farm to glass. We’ve carefully selected our partners for the series in an effort to not only represent some of the best (in our humble opinion) producers in the United States right now but to also represent a wide swath of the country. We plan to work with craft malt from the Northwest, Southwest, Mountain West, Midwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast…to bring those unique flavors to Asheville.
The name of the series, “Ambient Terrain”, should be a guiding light to the approach of these beers. Let’s break down those two words.
am•bi•ent: the completely enveloping environment about us; an atmospheric, resonating state of mind.
ter•rain: the physical grounding nature in which we thrive; our land.
Like ambient music, lagers have great beauty, subtle nuance, and the ability to wrap you in contemplation. Lagers are also innately steeped in terroir. There should be a palpable intimacy with the ingredients that shines through in the final product.
Another very important part of this series is storytelling. I think of beer like a piece of fine art. If you take it simply at face value, it may fall flat, but if you apply time and place and context to it, its deeper meaning allows you to see it differently. With our beer, we will utilize our storytelling channels to cull out the romance of brewing. We will talk about the grain and where it comes from and who malts it. We will talk about the precision of brewing a lager. We will talk about the patience of fermentation and aging. We will attempt to make seeming minutia (like water profile) of the process vital to what’s in the glass.
We want the people that drink this beer to be thoughtful. That’s the greatest goal of this journey. We want them to consider the beer deeply. If their experience with it is simply about how many stars it deserves at face value then we’ve failed.
At Burial we do a thing we call Off Topic. It’s basically a panel discussion with industry folks. We gather interested craft beer drinkers and we tell them our stories. I hope for every brew in the series to have an Off Topic. All three collaborators will have an opportunity to speak of their innate passion. We certainly all have that in droves, and thus the conversations spiral off in all sorts of fun directions. Through this, we add yet another layer to the story of the beer. We add the personal element. These are the beautiful personalities that crafted your beer.
All of the beers in this series will be brewed at our clean production facility in 20 bbl batches. We plan to employ some old world lager brewing techniques such as step mashing and decoction. We are also planning to put some portion of each beer into barrels for a future second iteration of the beer.
All of these lagers will go into 16oz cans. The art direction is purposefully different than anything we’ve done before in an effort to create some curiosity. To stay true to the philosophy of the series, each can will feature an illustration representative of the land that the grain comes from and have a layout reminiscent of some classic ambient album covers (Brian Eno, Harold Budd, etc.).
There is great hope that through this calculated, collaborative effort, we can bring the handcrafted lager to greater heights.