Try Jumping on This Bandwagon

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.

16 replies on “Try Jumping on This Bandwagon”

interesting aside at the bottom and follows on from some of the comments in David (@broadfordbrewer)’s post yesterday.

Certainly I have enjoyed more UK interpretations of continental styles than US ones and the price differential usually works in our favour

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.

Interesting, though I haven’t really thought about it that way myself. In writing, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the so-called professionals from the so-called amateurs. (Distinguishing big brewers from small brewers seems far more straightforward.)

I think this post is somewhat premature. Most brewer,s big or small, haven’t got over the boring brown beer stage yet.

Nothing to worry about yet I’d suggest.

“We know that some smaller brewers perceive what the bigger boys are doing as an attempt to ‘crush the rebellion’”

Those evil businesses that want to get into a growing market with good perspectives in the long term and make money with that. How dare they!

PF, you assume that they (big evil businesses) want to get into the market with a view to making money from it. That’s naive. They already have access to market which small brewers are struggling for. There are those who suspect this move is more about keeping the small brewers out, than offering genuine choice to the drinker. Me, I haven’t made my mind up. The bigger brewers “faux-craft” is pretty much poor stuff so far.

If corporate “craft” gives indie “craft” a bit of competition, that will be no more than corporate brown bitter & lager have been giving indie brown bitter and PIlsner Urquell all these years. And yet there’s still no shortage of indie brown bitter, and PU is still going strong.

Oh, come on, PF — you must be able to empathise with the smaller brewers who feel under threat a *bit*!

No, I’m sorry. I can’t because A: It’s whining B: in some cases, they are hypocrites. When small brewers grow and expand beyond their immediate region they do it at the expense of someone, and it’s not always the big brewers’, and nobody sees anything wrong with that. Do they?

On the other hand, if smaller brewers have loyal customer base, they have very little to fear, people will keep on buying their stuff and recommending it to friends. Those who don’t, those who are not able to offer anything interesting or good quality, those who do not know how to sell their products, may have something to fear, but much of it is their fault, to begin with.

And last, but not least, ir’s a business, it’s always been, it’ll always be. The sales of the bigger brands (generally speaking) are stagnated at best. The market for “alternative” beers has been growing steadily for quite some time to the point that it has become attractive to bigger players. It’s something that anyone should have seen coming

Well, personally, I’m not that arsed. I’m sure there’s plenty of whining and hypocrisy at all levels of the brewing industry. But I think it’s worth reiterating (in case anyone’s missed the point): Larger brewers will be able to apply many of their economies of scale, marketing & market access advantages to the products of their sock-puppet breweries. If that’s not thought to be a problem (perhaps you believe that what’s good for [a big] business is necessarily good for the consumer), well then, fine. As far as seeing it coming, the “faux-craft” product isn’t a new idea by any means (Blue Moon anyone?), and I’m not sure anyone’s actually surprised (with the possible exception of CAMRA, who were lapping it up in their highly absorbent periodical recently).

The difference between this kind of thing and the competition between what Phil [above] refers to as “indie brown bitter” and “corporate brown bitter” is that in the brown bitter case, “indies”, in spite of their market disadvantages, have made inroads into the former preserve of the corporates. Admirable and choice enhancing. What we’re seeing here may be the opposite.

Lambic’s ‘interesting’ to the uninitiated and gueuze is plain revolting. Then again, the same’s true of US-style IPAs and DIPAs.

I don’t think there’s any style bandwagon the majors are actually unable to jump on – and the ‘agile’ multiple-short-run approach sometimes has mixed results (click on ‘Fruit and spice beers’). So if your premise were correct the outlook would be as gloomy as this week’s weather. On the other hand, if your premise were correct there wouldn’t be any indies left brewing copper-coloured session bitters – and as any visit to a SIBA fest will confirm, there are zillions of them. Conclusion: premise needs looking at.

I’ve tried to initiate myself several times. Still find lambic and gueuze actively unpleasant/foul. Yet my Kronenbourg quaffing chum laps it up like nectar. Agree with B&b about Orval. Never “got” it.

I got lambic and gueuze straightaway but then I think they resemble the scrumpy cider of my native Somerset more than beer.

I was thinking of saying that anyone who could handle a dry cider would have no trouble with gueuze. I can’t, unfortunately. (OK, the usual commercial stuff is *too* sweet, but the stuff they sell as ‘dry’… ye gods.)

Er, no Phil. That might work if the brown and non-brown markets were of comparable size / profitability. That’s probably not true. Apples and Oranges again.

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