Category Archives: opinion

Excluded From the Party

‘When I was up north recently, I spoke to another brewer who said that beer had split into two worlds and that there’s a party to which regional brewers are not invited.’ — Roger Ryman, Head Brewer, St Austell

There aren’t many flashpoints in British brewing but the invisible, fuzzy line between traditional-family-regional brewers (TFRBs) and ‘craft beer’ is one.

From the perspective of small brewers struggling to establish themselves, and that of their fans, when a 100+ year old brewery swings the weight of its distribution network and pub estate behind a new ‘craft’ sub-brand, that looks like bandwagon-jumping and perhaps even an attempt at sabotage.

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This clever hoax caused many to flip their lids precisely because it played into people’s fears and expectations — if it had been true, it might not have been that surprising in a world which has given us Charles Wells/Dogfish Head DNA New World IPA.

For their part, TFRBs seem to take it rather personally, sometimes dismissing craft beer as a lot of silly superficial nonsense on the one hand, while desperately angling to join the club on the other. This statement from Stuart Bateman, as quoted by Roger Protz, offers one expression of those conflicting instincts:

I’m fed up with being told I can’t call myself a craft brewer because I’ve been brewing for more than two years… People who say that are denigrating the industry. I haven’t got a pony tail, ear-rings or tattoos but I’m producing craft beer…

When we spoke to Mr Ryman, he also said, with some sadness, that the manager of a craft beer bar in one of our major cities had told him he could never stock St Austell beers, however good or interesting they might be, because no-one would buy them. For those venues, and the customers they target, it is certainly not ‘all about the beer’.

And Craft Beer Rising (London, 19-22 February) is arguably the least hip of the wave of new non-CAMRA festivals precisely because it is so welcoming to brewers such as Thwaites, St Austell, Belhaven and Sharp’s.

Once again, it all seems to come down to that least tangible of qualities — ‘cool’. It is decided by a hive mind, not always on the basis of consistent logic; you’ve either got it or you haven’t; and, even if your products are selling like billy-o without it, it’s quite natural to yearn for that badge of status.

UPDATE 30/01/2015 11:00: Some sharp responses on Twitter in re: Craft Beer Rising.

Disclosure: we were paid to write an article for Craft Beer Rising magazine last year; Roger Ryman made us a cup of coffee and shared some beers with us.

Do We Want Beer Architects?

Last week’s article in the Wall Street Journal about conflict between traditional brewers and ‘beer architects’ in Belgium appalled someone we follow on Twitter:

Now, we’re not sure if the world needs beer architects, or if the term is one we’d like to see stick, but it’s an interesting way of framing the discussion.

Until fairly recently, there were no architects — only builders, and, later, master builders. Then came people like Christopher Wren — intelligent to the point of genius, and bred to practice good taste at a pitch most humans can’t detect — who made a living conceiving of buildings or estates; sketching them; modelling them… and then contracting someone else to get their hands dirty in the construction.

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British Beer in the Next Year

We’re planning a longform ‘state of play 2014-15′ supplement to Brew Britannia for the summer but, in the meantime, here are some brief thoughts on what the next year might hold.

1. Larger, better-established family/regional breweries, anxious over their status in relation to ‘craft beer’, will dabble in once-obscure areas of the Jacksonian style framework:

Continue reading British Beer in the Next Year

Hipster School of Thought, No?

When BrewDog’s Sarah Warman asked the question above in relation to hype, it got us thinking, because the hipster school of thought (insofar as it really exists) is a slippery beast.

The term ‘hipster’ was invented in the 1940s but has really gained popularity in the last decade as it has come to encapsulate a certain attitude to culture and fashion, as expressed in this example of the ‘hipster barista’ internet meme:

Hipsters to change a lightbulb barista meme.

Continue reading Hipster School of Thought, No?

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

That was an idle Tweet from the pub (Wetherspoon’s) where we’d just had a pint of real ale billed as ‘rum and raisin’ from a brewery we’d never heard of.

We didn’t expect much but it was actually pretty tasty — a solid, fairly dark best bitter. Based on how we codified our thoughts on expectations back in January, it was merely enjoyable but unexpectedly so, and therefore a pleasant surprise.

As for the mention of hype, we did, unfortunately, have in mind Siren/Magic Rock/Beavertown Rule of Thirds. (We say ‘unfortunately’ because it has become the centre of some fractious debate between brewers and drinkers.) Back in October, it was trailed thus:

The Rule of Thirds takes 1/3 of each of our individual recipes and process’ & promises to bring together the best of each of our flagships and come up with something greater than the sum of the parts. Which is no small boast.

Continue reading Under-Promise, Over-Deliver