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 thoughts on “Signs of a Healthy Beer Culture?”

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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?

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

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

      1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

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

        1. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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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