Generalisations about beer culture

Signs of a Healthy Beer Culture?

Koelsch -- an example of a regional speciality beer.
One example of a regional speciality.

It seems that every week, there is some fresh improvement in the beer scene in Cornwall.

For example, Penzance now has its own home brewing supply shop; the Lamp & Whistle keeps expanding its range of Belgian and keg ‘craft beer’; and a specialist beer shop is to open in Truro in the next month or so.

Over a few pints of St Austell Big Job at Docktoberfest on Friday, we found ourselves pondering these developments, and whether they might fit into a generalised checklist of indicators of a healthy beer culture.

Here’s what we came up with:

1. There is a drinking establishment within walking distance of where you live where you like to spend time, and which serves decent beer.

2. If you are skint, there is an acceptable drinking establishment within walking distance which sells decent beer at ‘bargain’ prices.

3. If you fancy something special, there is a pub or bar within reach on public transport (WRPT) which sells imports and ‘craft beer’.

4. The nearest town/city centre has a range of pubs serving different demographics, and offering between them a range of locally-produced beers alongside national brands.

5. There is a well-established family/regional brewery.

6. There are several breweries founded since 1975.

7. There is at least one brewery founded since 2005.

8. There is a regional speciality — a beer people ‘must drink’ when they visit.

9. There is an independent off licence (‘bottle shop’) WRPT.

10. There is a shop selling home brewing supplies WRPT.

11. There is at least one beer festival in the region.

Perhaps inevitably, there’s an obvious UK-bias in the way we’ve approached this, and in how we’ve worded the list, although we did our best to avoid it. We’ve also used lots of deliberately vague terms — don’t ask us to define ‘decent’! (Or ‘beer culture’…)

With those disclaimers in mind, what have we missed? And how does where you live score?

28 replies on “Signs of a Healthy Beer Culture?”

By and large agree, though I don’t think points 6 & 7 are really necessary for a healthy beer culture, especially if you have as 5 a brewery with a solid range of products and watering holes that would fit in 1,2 and 3. Though, I must admit, 6 and 7 are always more than welcome (provided they are good breweries, naturally).

I’d add another point, that even pubs selling large, mass produced brands take good care of the product (serving temps., maintenance of dispensing lines, etc.), and not only because they follow the instructions of the producer.

I suppose our view is that 6&7 are helpful in providing diversity in the products on offer, and also keep bigger/better-established brewers on their toes. A market with no new entrants in forty years might be said to be stagnant.

But that would be a protectionist market. It wouldn’t apply with the way beer moves around today. If you’ve got a solid and well managed regional brewer in a market open to “imports”, there is really nothing to fear.

Generally I agree, though sadly must report that the part of Virginia I live in fails on points 1, 2, 3, and 8. On the 9 miles stretch of a main road that I live on, there are something like 100 houses and not a single pub/bar/tavern/watering hole. Public transport? In this neck of the woods, that’s only for poor folks, a sad and ridiculous notion.

Generalisation fail again… but then again, there aren’t many places that will have a tick against every box. Perhaps also indicates where there are gaps in the market in a given region?

Even in a small city in North America most of those points don’t apply. Plus what is “healthy” when it relates to good beer? Pub life? Lots of shops? Or a diverse whole community (by which I mean community) which includes beer in a range of contexts but is also not a excluding niche governed by it. Concepts like neo-prohibition, arguments on taxation that only consider beer or claims to medical miracles indicate a non-healthy immature beer culture to me.

Ah — generalisation fail.

Think some of your questions are answered by the list, though — healthy, to us, means a diverse range of outlets to suit different groups; a diverse range of products; where what is good, traditional, local hasn’t been pushed out; and with ‘decent beer’ part of everyday life.

What constitutes a healthy *attitude* to beer a whole different kettle of fish — will ponder that one. Suffice to say, British beer culture is reasonably mature, but maybe having a mid-life crisis.

I would call what you describe, then, a market as “culture” like “community” describe not just what’s available but how things integrate. Do the pubs have mixed clientele? Do brewers engage with actual responsible safe drinking practices? Not attitudes so much as commitments.

What would #8 be? Old Tom for Stockport, but for Mcr – it would once have been Bodds’, but now…Marble Pint?

Historically, many Manchester bitters were pale and very bitter (or so I’m given to understand) so I think Marble Manchester Bitter is their spiritual heir.

A lot of places fail on 8. Not sure how different/interesting Taunton, Dorchester or Derby ales were, but it’s seems that, three hundred years ago, you’d have been a mug to have gone to any of those towns/cities and not had a quart or two.

Yeah, clearly most places fail on #8, but what I like about it is that it’s a very strong indicator. A place that has a special, local beer you must try definitely must have some kind of beer culture, whereas having a bar that sells imported craft beer is a much weaker indicator. So I’d say beer culture in Taunton, Dorchester, and Derby probably has declined over the past three centuries.

Is midnight bell really that well known? Leeds Pale seems to be the most commonly seen one, but I wouldn’t see it as a speciality. If you stretch it a little bit, Landlord is probably the most iconic beer in the area now. Tetleys would have been it, and it was OK when in good nick.

Is no 8 supposed to be about beers that are different to what you can find elsewhere, or just a beer that is well known? For London, I would think of London Pride, but it’s hardly an original beer, just the most well known of its area.

‘Is no 8 supposed to be about beers that are different to what you can find elsewhere, or just a beer that is well known?’

That’s a good question. We left it vague deliberately, but we were thinking of things like Koelsch in Cologne, Gose in Goslar/Leipzig, Berliner Weisse in Berlin and Gueuze (sp?) in Brussels. So styles rather than breweries.

On the whole, Britain doesn’t have much regional diversity — bitter everywhere, really, with the odd spot of mild.

We might make a case for Spingo at the Blue Anchor in Helston, Cornwall. As a similar ‘iconic’ local brand, Tetley’s did spring to mind.

Actually, it’s probably just the case that anyone visiting England should try cask-conditioned ale of whichever variety, as most tourist guidebooks advise.

I would add to that and say it should be a local cask conditioned ale. Firstly because I think transport does affect quality, but also ime pubs that only seem to have national brands on don’t look after it that well.

Speaking of iconic beers,
Anyone in Cambridgeshire needs to have a pint of Oakham. (preferably Citra, but really any of them, they all taste pretty similar).

Norfolk has wherry
Suffolk has southwold bitter
Nottingham has Harvest Pale or Rock Mild
the black country has Bathams
Landlord is pretty iconic for West Yorks
Burton had bass
Derbyshire, Jaipur
Newcastle has the obligatory brown ale
I suppose London was once porter, now its more likely something from Kernel

etc etc

One other potential criteria I thought of (I’m sure everyone would have one), is your chance of getting a ‘decent beer’. If you have to go to ten duds until you find somewhere decent, I wouldn’t think of that as somewhere with a good beer culture.

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