At a time when enthusiasts have come to know collaboration beers as some version of hoppy, wild, or pastry-esque, a year-long effort started by Asheville, North Carolina’s Burial Beer seems downright quaint in its romanticism.
The brewery’s Ambient Terrain Lager series is bringing together some of the most beloved breweries in the U.S. to make beers decidedly uncommon among today’s industry partnerships, including 3 Floyds, Oxbow, TRVE, and more. In part one of this story, Burial’s Tim Gormley, head brewer and co-owner, shared the impetus for the project, calling it a “phenomenon” among typical collab beers. That’s true, but it’s also only half of his excitement for each new beer created.
Aside from the series’ selected style, what makes Ambient Terrain particularly unique is a core rule: each collaboration must include a craft maltster local to Burial’s partner who is also involved in the recipe formation and brewing process. Gormley believes that these beers can’t properly reflect a sense of place unless they are created with aspects of local terroir.
Todd Boera, co-founder and brewer at Fonta Flora Brewery, which is located about an hour’s drive from Burial, worked with Gormley on the first release of the series, a 5.5% ABV Rye Lager named Pinnacle of Dreams. He took Gormley’s “phenomenon” sentiment one step further, calling the Ambient Terrain series “groundbreaking” for its inclusion of maltsters and what that means in trying to capture a true terroir. Often, breweries enjoy collaborations to share time with friends and benefit from cross-promotions, but this effort felt different, Boera says.
“For Tim to choose these sexier breweries from around the country and then say ‘Hey, do you want to brew Lagers together?’ is pretty cool,” he says. “But it’s also a pretty gutsy move.”
The Burial-Fonta Flora release was made with malt from Asheville’s Riverbend Malt House, who Boera works with regularly. “To strip a beer down and move away from hops and coconut and everything else that goes in beer these days and to focus on grains was a really awesome angle,” Boera says. “This is a start of how we can celebrate ingredients and the backbone of beer, not just all the other things that can make their way into a recipe.”
For the Pacific Northwest brew with Holy Mountain, Skagit Valley Malting’s Eric Buist was invited. Buist, the northwest brewery sales rep for the company, says it was the first time a brewer asked for his direct involvement in creating a beer. As part of his contribution, he helped the brewers build a recipe around NZ-151 malt, a variety of barley developed by Washington State University and only sold through Skagit Valley. The final result, a 20-barrel batch of Pools of Emerald Green Pale Lager, is a reflection of the science and effort that takes grain to glass.
“The brewer is the one that puts all the pieces together, but there are years of development in every hop breed or malting barley chosen for a beer,” Buist says. “It’s important for us to remember that along the way of any manufacturing process there are people making every step possible.”
At its core, this is what directs Gormley’s endearing tribute to Lager. He wants to showcase the nuance that goes into a beer, whether it comes from ingredients or layers of flavor. There’s no irony lost on Burial’s brewer that he’s trying to do this at a time when collaborative projects between his peers typically skew toward hop bombs and pastry stouts, which is why a part of Ambient Terrain is also about outreach.
First of all, there’s an understanding that, because these beers are one-offs available at Burial, the range of customers they’ll reach is already geared toward those passionate about beer. Then, at $12 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans, there needs to be convincing that these Lagers are worth the money when twice as much beer of the same style could be had for roughly the same price.
That’s why Gormley hopes that trying to tell the story of Ambient Terrain over Burial’s social media and in-person just might pique the interest of more than just geeks. Or, at least get enthusiasts thinking more about his beloved style. Along with sharing photos and stories online, Burial is also hosting ongoing group talks as part of each Lager release. Called “Off-Topic,” the talks include Gromley, a partner brewer and a representative from the maltster involved.
“I’m hoping that these events become a selling point, as it’s rare to get to taste beers with the brewers that made them and learn what they’re all about,” Gormley says. “Part of this is definitely maximizing the sellability of what is unfortunately kind of a hard sell, but we want to get people thinking about a variety of beer styles.”
For as much as Ambient Terrain is a romantic callback to the basics of brewing, Gormley also believes it’s about an adoration for what makes beer so special: the care that goes into it and friendships that form around it. As awareness of craft beer continually grows, this is one small way he hopes to contribute, celebrating simplicity, nuance and the skill it takes to provide them in tandem.
“This is all about a labor of love,” he says. “It’s the spirit of craft beer.”
Zig When They Zag, Pt. 1 — Lagers Inspire Style Series in the Era of IPA
Zig When They Zag, Pt. 2 — Burial’s Lager Series Celebrates the “Spirit” of Beer