I didn’t have the knowledge then that I have now, but I somehow knew you had to look after beer or it would spoil and, at worst, end up tasting like vinegar. A skilled publican knew how to care for beer and made sure it was only ever served tasting the way it should. But it seemed as though there must be a shortage of skilled publicans because wherever we went, in whatever town, we kept being served, flat, smelly and often vinegary cask beer. So I stopped drinking it.
As is widely known, despite the brewer’s attempt to punt it in other countries as a ‘reassuringly expensive’ premium beer, in Belgium Stella is the bog standard café beer, with a basic, proletarian glass to match. This, of course, is precisely why the marketers hate the glass so much. It’s not chic enough for their pretensions.
One of the directors came up with that – we both looked at each other and said yeah that explains it and encapsulates us. A little left leaning, like to work collaboratively, and work face-to-face with people… Punk has become more corporate nowadays and we’re not the kind of people that stand on a rooftop and shout about ourselves.
(The lingering influence of BrewDog, even if only as something to react against, is fascinating.)
The more important mistake is thinking in terms of imitative causality at all… There has been a shift from very bitter IPAs to IPAs marked by flavor and aroma, but it has happened around the country as brewers each made natural discoveries on their own. It developed incrementally, inside hundreds of breweries across the country, as the national palate shifted toward not just IPAs, but IPAs that expressed as much of that heady flavor and aroma Americans hops are capable of. When you understand the mechanics of trying to produce these qualities, it makes sense that the discoveries would happen brewery by brewery, with hundreds of little “a-ha!’s” happening co-emergently around the country.
And, in a subsequent comment, he hammers his point home:
It’s not enough to cite an antecedent if you’re arguing causality. There are always antecedents. You have to make a case for how it actually influenced other breweries and beers and sparked this wholesale change in brewing. Having talked to a number of brewers about their own process, I have yet to find anyone who was particularly influenced by [The Alchemist ]Heady [Topper] or any other beer.
This is, in general terms, an interesting question: can every innovation, twist or change in beer be traced back to source?
Martyn Cornell’s masterful book Amber, Gold & Black — the essential guide to how British beer styles developed — makes the important point that Exmoor Gold was the first of what we would now recognise as golden ale but it was Hop Back Summer Lightning, which came several years later, that triggered a slew of imitations in the early 1990s. Golden ale might have developed anyway as brewers independently found themselves (as did John Gilbert at Hop Back) looking to lager for inspiration but there is a strong case to say that Summer Lightning’s success in CAMRA sponsored Champion Beer contests brought it to people’s attention and kicked off the flood that followed.
‘I’m not putting it on until you’ve drunk that one,’ we overheard as we approached the bar of the Star Inn, Crowlas, on Friday afternoon. There was definitely what passes for A Buzz in sleepy West Cornwall.
‘What’s coming on then?’ I asked Steve the barman, eagerly studying the ‘Coming d’reckly’ part of the chalkboard beer menu.
‘Hoptimystic. It’s new.’
We did our bit to help finish off the blocking cask by ordering a couple of pints of a perfectly decent Blonde from Great Heck and sat down to play cribbage in the corner by the fire.
Then, a couple of rounds in… Was there a sudden hush among the garrulous gang of middle-aged pals at the bar? Somehow, anyway, we just knew it had arrived and so drained our glasses before dashing up to to get in on the action.