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Saisons: Belgian Beer and Global Warming

Homebrewing has bloomed again to the level of an obsession. I have a couple of books coming my way which elucidate the secrets of the Belgians–Stan Hieronymous’s book on Trappist Monk brewing, and another on Farmhouse Ales.

But something dawned on me quite a while ago, which I recently worked into the plot synopsis for a novel I am hoping to write soon. One (small) part of the book has to do with Belgian brewing and how global warming will affect it.

You see, Belgian brewing is, more than many other sorts of brewing, quite closely linked to the landscape. The microfauna of the Zenne (Senne) river valley in Belgium are, well, as Wikipedia puts it:

The unique seasonal wild yeasts of the Zenne river valley are used in the production of the regional lambic style of beer.

What happens when climate change has enough of an impact to threaten the local microfauna?

Well, nothing, right away, one imagines. After all, the terroir is not exactly completely open to the air. People can temperature regulate their breweries, and the breweries themselves are impregnated with the microfauna that matters. So it’s not like global warming would smash apart the Belgian traditions all at once, or quickly.

Nor is it necessarily true that the beer styles are dependent on that external environmental terroir: hell, if I thought I was in a house I’d be staying in for three years, I’d have gotten myself some lambic yeast/bacteria mix and started a lambic brewing project long ago. You can, after all, buy the stuff commercially, culture it, save it,  and deploy it consciously. Or supposedly you can.

But over time, one imagines, the viability of the in-house yeasts and bacteria would need to be replenished by fresh, er, “blood.” What if that supply of fresh blood were not forthcoming? What if the climate shifted enough that the local yeasts went, if not extinct, then instead got edged out of its niche by some other sort of wild yeast?

There are a number of imaginable responses to this problem: the brewer could give in, and admit defeat. Or maybe the brewer will have other ideas. Big, crazy, amazing ideas.

This is the story of one character I want to explore, and I think it’s really fascinating. But it reminds me of this webcomic about brewing and beer culture that I want to write, to kickstart a beer vogue in Korea the way a Japanese manga about wine popularized wine here… all I need to do find an artist who wants to work with me, and whose art is suited to black-and-white manga publication, and then I’ll get started on a script, for sure!

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