The balance of power

An only semi-rel­e­vant pic­ture of some deli­cious, deli­cious Kölsch.

It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly the case that peo­ple hate big, suc­cess­ful brew­eries; just that they cut new, small brew­eries a lot of slack.

It’s hard not to get excit­ed when new brew­eries open, read­ing  breath­less tweets announc­ing the arrival of ket­tles and fer­menters, or the suc­cess of test batch­es. We’re illog­i­cal, emo­tion­al crea­tures and can’t help feel­ing a sen­ti­men­tal warmth towards the under­dogs.

Some­times, though, things are bit rocky to start with. As craft beer con­sumers, do we have a ‘duty’ to turn a blind eye to explod­ing bot­tles and off-flavours? No, but we don’t mind doing so for a  while because, in most cas­es, we under­stand how hard it is. We want them to suc­ceed and enjoy being along for the ride.

When a brew­ery gets estab­lished, achiev­ing region­al, nation­al or even inter­na­tion­al dis­tri­b­u­tion, we start to feel less sen­ti­men­tal. They’re big boys now and ought to be able to take a bit of con­struc­tive pub­lic crit­i­cism. It’s prob­a­bly at this point, too, that we stop repeat­ed­ly try­ing their beers hop­ing to find a good one. Frankly, there are too many good beers out there for us to waste our hard-earned cash on those that have already burned us, and drink­ing every beer twice is hard work when there are more than 4000** of them in the UK. We’ve done our bit, now we want them to do theirs. (As Pivni Filosof put it rather blunt­ly, “get your shit togeth­er or close down”.)

When a brew­ery gets real­ly big – i.e. monoloth­ic and pow­er­ful – the gloves are off. It’s not per­son­al, it’s just that they’re no longer juve­niles, and are sub­ject to the law of the land like any oth­er grown-up. We, the con­sumers, become the under­dogs, the lit­tle guys in this rela­tion­ship, and can sure­ly no longer be expect­ed to make any allowances for bad recipes or qual­i­ty con­trol prob­lems.

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Alan at A Good Beer Blog has just post­ed on a relat­ed sub­ject. Great minds, &c..

** Esti­mat­ed fig­ure based on 900+ brew­eries in the UK each brew­ing 3–5 beers.

12 thoughts on “The balance of power”

  1. No sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty here. If you’re tak­ing a prod­uct to mar­ket, it needs to be right. I don’t expect a pork pie that’s not quite cooked through or a shirt that has sleeves which stay on most of the time.

    There’s no excuse for releas­ing bad beer, no mat­ter what the size of the enter­prise. One of our local brew­ers (Blue Mon­key) IIRC spent the best part of a year on test batch­es that were binned before hav­ing the con­fi­dence to release their first com­mer­cial batch.

  2. I reck­on that esit­mate would only be for “reg­u­lar” beers and not take into account spe­cials and one offs. The true num­ber of UK beers avail­able at any one time could be dou­ble that, espe­cial­ly when you think of how pro­lif­ic some brew­ers can be!

  3. Simon – ooh, harsh. Fair point, though, and there are plen­ty of brew­eries whose beers are crap to start with, stay crap, and who we nev­er for one moment expect to improve. Brodie’s are an exam­ple of a brew­ery who were always good, often inter­est­ing, and just need­ed a bit of prac­tice. Would have been a shame to write them off based on a cou­ple of ear­ly mis­fires.

    Steve – yes, true, was think­ing of reg­u­lars. Won­der if there’s a prop­er fig­ure some­where?

  4. It all depends on the hon­esty of the brew­er. There are peo­ple who after a cou­ple of years of suc­cess­ful home­brew­ing, decide to become com­mer­cial brew­ers think­ing that there’s not much dif­fer­ence between “cook­ing” 20l at the week­end and brew­ing 200l batch­es of the same beer over and over and over again. Those are a prob­lem because they have no bloody clue about what they are doing, don’t quite under­stand the con­cept of qual­i­ty con­trol and more often than I wish it hap­pened, don’t know why some batch­es are dodgy.

    As Simon above says, there are some brew­ers who invest a lot of time and mon­ey pol­ish­ing their recipes and get­ting to know the equip­ment they work with before putting a sin­gle bot­tle for out in the street. And I believe that that is the least all of us should demand from all new brew­ers.

    Of course, as it hap­pens with new restau­rants, there are always a few things at the begin­ning that could be fine tuned, huge incon­sis­ten­cies in qual­i­ty is not one of them, spe­cial­ly not when those new brew­ers expect you to pay same price you pay now for beers that are reli­ably good.

  5. PF – gen­er­al­ly, we agree, but we wouldn’t want to set the bar so high so that no-one ever has the nerve to give it a try. It takes a lot of cap­i­tal to start even a small brew­ery and if we expect them to run with­out mak­ing a pen­ny for as long as it takes to nail the recipes, etc., it’ll lock many out of the game. We don’t mind a bit of incon­sis­ten­cy, espe­cial­ly ear­ly on, as long as there is open­ness about it, i.e. dia­logue through social media.

  6. It’s true, but many home­brew­ers don’t seem to under­stand that the dif­fer­ence between what they do and a com­mer­cial brew­er goes way beyond the size of the batch­es. When you are brew­ing at home you can afford doing some­thing dif­fer­ent every week, you can afford play­ing a bit with the recipes. When you expect peo­ple to give pay for your prod­uct you must already have a very, very good grasp of the con­cept of con­sis­ten­cy and you must do your best to min­imise big fluc­tu­a­tions between batch­es.

    There are alter­na­tives to the “invest an ef load on pro­fes­sion­al gear, spend a year learn­ing how to use it, start sell­ing your beer”. I know of a cou­ple of Span­ish micro brew­ers who are, or were, using the facil­i­ties of oth­er brew­eries.

  7. We don’t mind a bit of incon­sis­ten­cy, espe­cial­ly ear­ly on, as long as there is open­ness about it, i.e. dia­logue through social media.”

    Some new brew­eries don’t want to use social media though, and they shouldn’t nece­sar­il­ly have to if they are just tar­get­ing a local mar­ket.

    Re accu­rate num­bers, I think that would be tricky as I’d guess that every 2–3 days the total would change one way or anoth­er. GBG lists total reg­u­lar cask beers pro­duced by all brew­eries at time of print, but that’s just a snap­shot and not teh entire­ty of the total

  8. Steve – no-one has to do any­thing, of course, but if a brew­ery is face­less, then it’s a lot eas­i­er for peo­ple to crit­i­cise them with­out feel­ing a pang of guilt.

  9. accord­ing to beernews.org’s Adam Nason you are col­lec­tiv­ly a he 🙂

    Noth­ing real­ly to dis­agree with above. I think con­sis­tan­cy is hug­ly impor­tant but I think more impor­tant is qual­i­ty. If beers are swerv­ing all over the place but fault free thats one thing, how­ev­er if they are full of brew­ing faults thats some­thing alot worse.

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