As bigger British brewers move menacingly into ‘craft beer’ territory with pilot plants and US-inspired IPAs, is the increasing interest by smaller brewers in arcane and time-consuming brewing methods from Belgium and elsewhere an attempt to shore up the defences?
We know that some smaller brewers perceive what the bigger boys are doing as an attempt to ‘crush the rebellion’, scoffing at the idea that they’re being supportive or ‘joining in the fun’.
What the big boys aren’t yet equipped or prepared to do, it seems to us, is use many multiple yeast strains in the same brewery; mess around with wild yeast; indulge in complex Belgian-style brewing processes; or brew niche styles like saison with any serious intent.
That’s where craft brewers, branding and ‘values’ aside, can still make their mark. It’s also an opportunity to steal a slice of the speciality import market by offering an appealingly local alternative.
The risks? That the beer geeks don’t come with. Those Belgian beers are hard to match, let alone beat, and they’re still bizarrely cheap. Orval, admired as it is, is not universally enjoyed (we don’t really get it). Styles like lambic, a long-term investment and difficult to get right, are also a chin-stroking, thought-provoking hard sell, even to those inclined to take an interest.
This is the same process through which professional writers, if they want to keep earning at it, need to push themselves into territory where we amateurs aren’t ready or able to follow.