A standard upon which to improve

This starts off as a post about books and bread but bear with us, there’s beer at the end.

If you really want to know about snobbery, Jeffrey Steingarten is your man.

Nothing in the food world is chicer than salt, and despite an excess of God-given modesty, I must admit that I got there very, very early… [I] acquired a little walnut box and filled it with fleur de sel. I bring it out only in Europe… My salt sophistication has only soared since then.

Somehow, though, he gets away with it, perhaps because of the self-mocking with which he laces his articles.

In his second collection of articles, It Must’ve Been Something I Ate (2002), Steingarten talks about Parisian baguettes. He observes that, in the past, beautifully made, fine-tasting baguettes were what everybody ate. At some point, a new type of baguette made using strong bread flour — fluffier, whiter, easier to produce in large quantities — came along and took over. In recent years, however, the real thing has started to make a comeback.

Although he then goes on to recommend various small bakeries across Paris, he also says something surprising for a food snob: that the versions of the traditional baguette being made by chains of bakers such as Paul (currently appearing across the UK) are pretty good too and certainly a good thing.

There are French food lovers who fear that… branded baguettes may bring standardization to the world of handmade bread. Having wandered in the baguette wilderness for 20 years, I will feel that I’ve reached the promised land if… [they] set a minimum standard that innovators can strive to exceed.

Is this what beers like Blue Moon are about? Or is this the niche Brewdog are beginning to fill? They are, let’s face it, a pub chain and supermarket supplier these days, but if their Punk IPA is what counts as pile-‘em-high Tesco discount fodder, then that’s got to be a sign that things are looking up in terms of the basic standards people expect from their beer.

There have been quality control issues with Punk this year — we had a bad bottle in the summer — but, at its best, it is bursting with flavour and yet also very accessible. Needless to say, it continues to be a shame that they can’t let the beer speak for itself without the tiresome marketing nonsense.

5 thoughts on “A standard upon which to improve”

  1. “it continues to be a shame that they can’t let the beer speak for itself without the tiresome marketing nonsense.”

    That is very much what I sad a few days ago in my blog’s Facebook page. They should grow up already, they are supplying supermarkets for eff’s sakes!

    Other than that. Very good post, and very true. It’s quite silly that some people can see beers like Blue Moon (which I’ve never tried) for what they are, an attempt by a macro to make something different for a wider public. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  2. If pubcos and chains are to make a go of a craft beer bar model, they’ll need beers like Blue Moon on the bar to make it stand up. Not that the beer is any good, but which craft brewers would sell to a pubco on their terms? I#d be interested to see. Brewdog too, maybe… ;-)

  3. Tandleman – probably the quote of the year. Sums ‘em up nicely. I wonder when the scales will fall from the eyes of the legion of fan boys who follow them slavishly. Probably not until they sell up to someone like Miller (you just know in your heart of hearts that sometime down the line that is their fate).

  4. TM/John — you’re right, they are fundamentally hypocritical, but as long as the beer (esp. Punk, to our mind) tastes good, we can blank out all the background noise.

    PF/Sid — we have mixed feelings about Blue Moon. On the one hand, we don’t actually like it that much, and there’s something sad about the feeling it’s as much an attempt to crush smaller breweries as anything else. On the other, isn’t it a big company doing what we all say we want them to do, i.e. being more adventurous and creative? Beer itself cannot be inscincere…

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