As it happens, I've been thinking about this for a long time. Seven years ago, I wrote a post about this very topic. A lot of my seven-year-old posts don't bear re-reading, but I may have been onto something when I wrote that one. You can read the whole thing, but the piece I want to repost (and actually, rewrite a bit--it's not free of mistakes and miscues) involves the elements of indigenous beer:
- Ingredients. People have made beer for thousands of years, and the grains they used were those that grew in nearby fields: wheat in Egypt, rice in India, sorghum and millet in Africa, barley in Europe. Many indigenous styles include local additives, from the dates of Egypt to the gruit of Europe, to the cherries in kriek.
- Method. Some breweries have funky ways of brewing, and these help define style. The slate squares employed in Yorkshire breweries; the spontaneous fermentation of Pajottenland; the smoked lagers of Bamberg; or the lagers fermented warm to create steam beers in San Francisco.
- Yeast. Many of the world's classic beers emerged from the decades- or centuries-old strains of yeast. In many (most?) cases, yeast strains are connected to locations where they originated and consequently are one of the chief elements that define styles.
- New Variations. Sometimes styles emerge by remixing the ingredients, methods, or yeasts to produce a beer recognizably different. Stan mentions American pilsner as a possible indigenous style, and it would fit under this clause. It was a style that couldn't be adapted to the US, with its harsh barley, without the addition of local corn.
- "Localness." What has guided many brewers through time wasn't necessarily a desire to be innovative, but restraints of locality. They used what they had. In the age before industrialization, hops, grains, adjuncts, and water all had to be local. The character of the beer has historically been a reflection of the place it was brewed. The physical imperative is gone in the age of globalization, yet artisanal beers are still predominantly local products.