The value of silly beer

Willy Wonka who, sadly, never made beer.
Who’s for Everlasting Beer?

There are some who argue that high-concept beers are, at best, pointless and, at worst, damaging to The Culture of Beer. For our part, though we rarely drink them and certainly don’t make much of an effort to seek them out, we sometimes find the ideas behind them funny, and feel, ultimately, that they have their place.

Within a given brewery’s range, silly beers can play the same role as the concept car, or those catwalk clothes that prompt people to say: “You’d never actually wear it out in a million years, would you?” They make a statement about values; they speak to the skill and imagination of the brewer; and they create buzz. Often, they’re impossible to find in the real world and prohibitively expensive when they do turn up, but that doesn’t really matter — it’s all about the halo effect. “I heard something about this brewery! Their head brewer is a genius!” says the consumer, and then chooses that brand of perfectly nice bitter or lager over another.

For drinkers, the benefit of such beers is negligible, though perhaps ingredients or techniques from the CRAZY!!! beer might help the brewer level up, and thus influence for the better something more mainstream they brew down the line. If you’re the kind of drinker afflicted with the need to ponder your pint, however, then WACKY!!! beers provide much needed input: the opportunity to be outraged; to question what beer is; and to articulate what exactly it is you do want.

Is thinking and talking about beer a good thing? If it helps to prevent a slow sleepwalk into monopoly and across-the-board blandness, then the answer is probably yes.

We were prompted to think about this by Elizabeth David who, in her book Italian Food, mentions the Italian poet Filippo Marinetti and his proto-Heston Blumenthal ‘futurist food’ manifesto.

7 thoughts on “The value of silly beer”

  1. You’d never drive an F1 car to work or wear the latest ridiculous catwalk fashion, but after a few years these concepts trickle down in part to the cars and clothes we do buy and use. The same must be true of beer, surely? Today’s wacky Albino India Pale Stout is the basis for most most pale stouts brewed tomorrow. Just a theory, sadly, I have no actual examples to hand.

  2. As you mention in the last para, ‘high-brow’ influences will always exist in food and drink as they do in art. As brewers seek to *try* to elevate the norm into something it probably isn’t – Heston Blumenthal’s creations are an excellent example of that. for whatever reason – genuinely seeking to innovate or simply to get some cheap headlines, they’ll always be around. And they’ll always achieve their desired effect.
    Novelty beers could fall into the same bracket – personalised labels, silly seasonals, film / tv spinoffs – even beer for dogs. There will always be the ‘rubbernecker’ market, those who are buying for the novelty, rather than the beer itself.

  3. I’d venture there is a huge difference between creating interest in beer, most of which is beneficial and simply creating silliness, which usual, if at all, only benefits the silly person or business.

    The trickle down effect is largely a myth, but from the former you get copycatism, which in itself may not be that bad, provided it isn’t just copying, but changing, stretching, interpreting etc.

    A lot of it is just self indulgence by brewers who secretly, or not so secretly think they are more important than the beer. Collaborations would come under that label to me. Have fun with your chums and have the (mug) punter pay for it?

  4. Care to name names Pete? And who forces punters to pay for things they don’t want?

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