There were faces we’d seen at other festivals (for example, a contingent from Cornwall CAMRA), gangs of young lads with sculpted quiffs and muscles on display despite the chill, ageing hippies, ageing rockers, ageing punks, rugby fans, a stag do or two, students from Exeter University, local dignitaries (Newton Abbot’s mayor is a venerable old gent with something of the German burgomaster about him), and teams of brewers from up and down the West Country in branded polo shirts having it corporately large.
People were drunk, in the 18th-century Dutch painting way, and occasional bouts of dancing, particularly that half-walk-half-boogie merry people sometimes do while carrying brimful glasses.
Whatever the spark of life is, the quality that puts the festiv- in festival, Tucker’s Maltings has it. We’ll definitely go again.
Disclosure: we paid for entry to Friday afternoon’s session and for beer tokens; Guy Sheppard of SIBA/Exe Valley, who is on the organising committee, bought us a half each while we interviewed him; and we were given free entry to the first hour of the session that followed.
The announcement last week of a consultation on the future of the Campaign for Real Ale is a big deal and deserves the attention it’s getting.
This isn’t something that’s popped up overnight — it’s another flare-up from 40 years of navel-gazing, internal tension external criticism and politicking. The last bout, we think, resulted in 2011’s Fit for Purpose review.
Back in the early 1970s, the brilliance of the campaign was in the simplicity and clarity of the message and the preservation of cask ale became a cause capable of bringing together conservatives, anti-capitalists, casuals, hardcore campaigners, connoisseurs and piss-heads. That’s how CAMRA gained 30,000 members in five years and forced a retreat from the Big Six.
But it lost momentum when that battle was felt to be won (see Brew Britannia, Chapter Four) and, by the late 1970s, the Campaign was already agonising over what to focus on next. Beer quality? Beer purity?Pubs? Cider? Mild?Tasting notes?Lager? Microbreweries? And so it did all of them, a bit, with the interests of sub-campaigns sometimes conflicting. Factions bickered, the public got confused, and membership dwindled. (Though it has absolutely rocketed in the last couple of decades.)
One of our friends springs to mind: he likes bitter, hates ‘that grapefruit thing’ and struggles to find anything he fancies drinking in places like The Craft Beer Co, despite its vast range. He has lately taken to putting his foot down and insisting on meeting in pubs with at least one old-school, brown, balanced beer.
So, yes, we reckon pubs or bars with a craft identity (def 2.) perhaps ought to take account of this potential market.
Of course many already do, often looking to craft breweries (again, def. 2 — founded since about 2005, graffiti on their pump-clips, etc.) to provide something a bit like bitter but with more pizazz — Amber or Red are the usual codewords.
But maybe that’s misguided.
Maybe instead everyone should just acknowledge that the best old-school bitters are made by old-school breweries who have been doing it for 30, 40, 100 or more years, and embrace them.
Five years or so ago the sight of, say, a Black Sheep or Timothy Taylor Landlord pump in a would-be trendy post-gastro, pre-craft pub would have made us groan. Too many times we paid over the odds for something stale, warm and headless served in something like an IKEA tumbler. So pointedly not serving those beers, or London Pride, or Butcombe Bitter, was a good way for Proper Craft places to signal their intent: there’s no Peroni here, only Camden Hells; we don’t have Guinness, try this Thornbridge stout; and we certainly don’t sell any of The Usual Suspect boring brown bitters. Then, that made sense. Then, we welcomed it.
But now, that point doesn’t need hammering home and so perhaps it’s time to let Fuller’s, Taylor’s, Harvey’s, Hook Norton (def. 1) et al back into the party.
We’d be quite happy to see London Pride, Landlord or Sussex Best, in really top condition, as part of the offer at the Craft Beer Company.
We’re working on an article about mild in the 21st century, research for which prompted this statement in an email from Andy Smith at Partizan:
The beer was originally simply called mild… We then decided to rebrand as X… This worked OK but not as well as we’d hoped. It was at this stage we put dinosaurs on the label and sales rocketed! I kid you not. It sells as well if not better now as our other dark beers. Dinosaurs! Now we spend our weekends hearing how cute the dinosaurs are (recently changed) and answering the question what is X?
That’s funny, of course, but also made us think, ‘Huh. So craft beer drinkers are like children?’
We’ve observed before, as has almost everyone else who’s written a tedious think-piece on the subject, that craft beer in cans has been successful partly because they are tactile and colourful, bright and toy-like. Beavertown Brewery’s cartoon-laden designs in particular suggest material for an (admittedly slightly weird) animated series and also make them look like a bit like soft drinks. (Gamma Ray more so than this example we have at hand.)
And sometimes, with fruit and residual sweetness and novelty flavourings and higher carbonation, the hippest beers can taste a bit like soft drinks too.
Of course we checked ourselves fairly promptly: one person’s infantile is, of course, another person’s fun, and we understand that you humans enjoy this emotion fun is good.
And even if it is infantile, is that a bad thing? One key reason people drink is to reduce the pressures of adult life and the pub is where grown-ups go to play.
This is a question we’re going to have in mind from now on, though, especially when we find ourselves considering the generation gap between real ale culture and craft beer. (Def 2.)