Questions and Answers: Which Beers Excite ‘Traddies’?

‘Are there still any widely sought-after beers among traditional Real Ale afficionados? It’s pretty easy to spot what’s hot with craft beer geeks, but less so with traddies, probably because they aren’t all on Twitter. Are there still beers that would clear the floor at a CAMRA AGM if the rumour went around that a cask had just gone on at a nearby pub?’  — Dave S, Cambridge

(Dave is a regular commenter here and an occasional blogger; he is also on Twitter.)

This isn’t a question with a right-wrong answer — it’s an invitation to a thought experiment, which is fine by us. But we did begin by asking a few people we thought might have some insight into the tastes and desires of ‘traddies’ (a new word inspired, we assume, by the similar, faintly sneering ‘crafties’).

John Simpson's depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.
John Simpson’s depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.

First, Tom Stainer, head of communications at the Campaign for Real Ale (disclosure: we’re sometimes paid to write for CAMRA) took issue with the question:

I’ll gently accuse you of stereotyping. I’m not sure there is a broad, identifiable group of ‘traddies’ who all respond in the same way. I’d also suspect that… a fair number of AGM attendees would be as likely to sprint for the bar whether you announced a rare cask of Greene King 5X was being tapped, or a Camden collaborative keg.

That’s something to start with, though. Greene King 5X, the strong wood-aged beer that GK use for blending but otherwise don’t sell to the public, was a sensation at the last Great British Beer Festival we attended in 2012, strictly rationed and triggering the kind of agitated, faintly panicky queuing behaviour at which we Brits excel.

Tom also suggested that at the GBBF whatever is named Champion Beer of Britain ‘disappears pretty quickly’, and that anything in an unusual style is also popular, e.g. chilli porter. He asked around and got no other suggestions.

Tandleman couldn’t think of anything that quite fit the bill either, although he agreed with our suggestion that the humble Batham’s Bitter might get people a bit excited.

Continue reading “Questions and Answers: Which Beers Excite ‘Traddies’?”

Is It OK Not To Be OK With Brewery Takeovers in 2016?

A few years ago if a big brewery took over a small one, it was a disaster — (almost) everyone agreed. But now, is the consensus in the process of swinging the other way?

In yesterday’s News, Nuggets & Longreads round-up we mentioned in passing that New Zealand brewery Panhead had been taken over by Lion and that people generally seemed fine with this. This prompted Luke Robertson, who is based in Australia and blogs at Ale of A Time, to drop us an email. Quoted with his permission, here’s a chunk of what he said:

To me it feels like people don’t want to be lumped in with the stereotypical angry beer nerds. So as a result everyone comes out in 100% full support without a hint of any concern. I mentioned to a good friend yesterday that I think everyone is trying to outdo each other in that aspect. With blindly positive cheering and clapping. The more positive, the better; regardless of what you actually feel.

Deep down I think there is a lot of concern. Panhead are beloved and the founder is a great guy who has built a great and unique brand with the beers to back it up. While Lion have handled their acquisitions amazingly well in both Aus and NZ, I think if people were pressed on the issue they wouldn’t be as in support as they are in public… I may be way off base but the lack of dissenting opinion, or anything that isn’t ‘Yay isn’t this awesome?! GO BEER!’ is beginning to all seem a bit fake.

Second guessing whether what people say is sincere, unless you know them personally and well, is a mug’s game, but we have certainly noticed the same shift in the (ahem) ‘discourse’ and felt uneasy about it.

The Small is Beautiful party line goes something like this: big breweries taking over little ones is never good news; those breweries lose their character and the beers get more boring; and overall consumer choice is reduced as those beers become more ubiquitous. (We have some sympathy with this view.) And the most extreme critics — the angriest of the beer nerds — argue that it’s all part of a global conspiracy to crush or at least control the threat of craft beer. (Which can sound a bit hysterical but that doesn’t mean there’s not something in it.)

Let’s wait and see if the beer changes before we complain, goes one of the well-established, more neutral lines of argument. This is might be good news, goes another, because takeovers can increase the availability of a beloved brand, and might also improve quality and consistency. (On which more in a later post.) And these kinds of deals get craft beer into more outlets and so spread the word, advance the cause.

What we’ve been hearing in the last year or so, though, as the pace of acquisitions has stepped up, is something else: an expectation that drinkers won’t just accept takeovers, or cautiously welcome them, but will be delighted by them.

At the same time, anyone who does have concerns is dismissed as immature, or as a god-damned tree-hugging hippy who should go and live in Soviet Russia if they hate capitalism so much. (Sorry, straw-manning there. But only a bit.) Dissent is hysteria — we got in on the act with this two paras up, for goodness’ sake — and dissenters are loons.

Maybe this is just a natural turn for the conversation to take — the result of fatigue after a decade or two of evangelising, whooping, branded T-shirt-wearing hop-tattoo craft beer tribal triumphalism. And perhaps there’s some old-fashioned hipsterish contrarianism in it, too.

"Likes Mainstream because liking mainstream is non-mainstream" hipster meme.

At any rate, if we were in charge of PR for a multi-national brewing firm we’d be delighted. The outstanding question is, would we also be taking credit? Would we be looking at a bill for lobbying and ‘influencing’ — a sponsorship deal here, a blogger outreach event there — and thinking, ‘Well, that was money well-spent’?

100 Words: The Global Republic of Craftonia

The citizens of Craftonia, from Singapore to Stockholm, stand together in uniform opposition to homogeneity.

It is a land where the light comes from filament bulbs.

Edison Bulbs at the HubBox, Truro.

Where beer taps are on the back wall, brick is bare and wood is stripped.

Keg taps.

Craftonian cuisine is ‘dirty’, but not really, and it is usually a burger.

Bundobust window, Leeds.

There are no plain walls there: every surface has a caricature of a barman, a beer list, or a brief manifesto.

Beer list at the Beer Cellars, Exeter.

All the beers are IPAs, except the ones that are sour.

BrewDog IPAs c.2009 (old labels).

There are many breweries in Craftonia but most of them are Stone, BrewDog and Mikkeller.

We wrote this last autumn but decided against posting it, though we did include a version of it in our email newsletter (sign up here). We were moved to revive it by this post from Tandleman.

Tucker’s Maltings Beer Festival, At Last

It’s been running for 24 years but we only made it to our first Tucker’s Malting Beer Festival, in Newton Abbot, Devon, last week.

In the last few years when we might have gone, we’ve either been working or on holiday. But maybe we’d have made more effort if we liked beer festivals more, which we don’t, because:

  1. Eight different beers is about the most we can handle between us in one session so 250 is over-facing.
  2. Our two favourite places to drink are (a) the pub and (b) our sofa; hangars, barns, industrial spaces, town halls, churches, and so on, come way down the list.
  3. There’s too much flat beer, not helped by being served in unwashed glasses that get stickier with each passing hour.

Propaganda-style mural at Tucker's Maltings.

Having said that… Tucker’s Maltings was fun. It’s one of those events that isn’t just about beer, and that isn’t just popular with CAMRA members and tickers.

It generates a merry buzz around the town of Newton Abbot, a place which isn’t otherwise on the tourist trail — ‘It’s a funny old place’, as one attendee said to us — much as Walthamstow Village Festival used to in the days before full-on gentrification, or as Bridgwater Carnival does in Bailey’s home town.

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.

Our Obligatory CAMRA Revitalisation Two Penn’orth

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.

John Simpson's depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.
John Simpson’s depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.

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.)

Continue reading “Our Obligatory CAMRA Revitalisation Two Penn’orth”