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Generalisations about beer culture

Gangs & Cliques in British Beer

Artwork for the Warriors.

We’re always amused by gang warfare in the world of beer, which we observe from up on the fence, refusing to take colours.

This attempt to map the various groups ought to be some kind of Venn diagram, really, but when we tried, it looked a mess, so text will have to do.

1. Extremophiles — only drink the sourest, hoppiest, strongest, rarest beers. Find almost everything bland and boring. Need pain to feel… anything.

They are a small subset of…

2. ‘The Crafterati’ — constantly seek novelty and variety; will try anything once; are easily bored; and hard to please. May come across as wankers.

They are descended from and overlap with both…

[ezcol_1half]3.  The Bières Sans Frontières crowd — started on Düsseldorf Alt beer and Anchor steam in the 70s, but, by the 90s, championed sour Belgian beer and citrusy US IPA in the UK.[/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end]4. The real ale hop-heads — began to grumble about the blandness of regional/family brewery bitter in the 1980s; welcomed beers from Brendan Dobbin and Sean Franklin in the 90s. Not much time for sour or cloudy beer. Fussy.[/ezcol_1half_end]

Both evolved from…

5. Mainstream CAMRA — drink only real ale but abhor anything too ‘flowery’ or that in any way resembles lager (that is, not brown). Might go mad occasionally and drink mild or stout. Can seem rather dogmatic.

They have a lot in common with…

6. Bitter drinkers — not very interested in dispense or politics, know what they like. Drinking bitter is a statement of  identity.

Doesn’t it seem inevitable that those in groups 1-4, to whom variety and intensity of flavour are most important, are bound to disagree more often about which breweries they like?

19 replies on “Gangs & Cliques in British Beer”

Descended from/evolved chosen deliberately, though: there’s an implied development over time, and we do think that the current ‘craft beer’ thing evolved out of CAMRA/BSF.

I would envision it as a triangle, with the three corners being the crafterati (novelty and hype), CAMRA diehards (tradition and technicalities) and the “don’t really care about beer (definitely don’t read this blog), just give me something cold, cheap and alcoholic” mainstream punter.

The majority of us are somewhere in the middle.

You forgot the trendsters, mainly characterised by their susceptibility to marketing nonsense and their inability to distinguish off flavours. These types used to think that hops were the only constituent in beer worth tasting, but have now moved on to sours…although most don’t really know what this means.

No mention of price…it often seems a huge issue for rank and file CAMRA members, some craft fans see paying high prices as a badge of honour…just a thought.

I think “Traditionalist Camra” might be a better phrase than “Mainstream Camra” there – I don’t know what proportion of current Camra members regularly drink black IPAs, foreign bottled beer, craft keg, barrel aged imperial gose etc etc versus what proportion like the odd pint of Oakham Citra or a bottle of Chimay but dont go mad versus what proportion militantly won’t touch anything except mid-brown bitter. (I’d be interested to know, actually).

Actually, I suspect that the “mainstream” in terms of raw numbers of members is “bitter drinkers” who joined up for the Wetherspoons vouchers or cheap beer festival entry.

Ah, the enthusiasts craving to put everything in little boxes !

I’m not sure all the categories you suggest really exist suimultaneously. Some such as groups 3 and 4 are probably more transitional having evolved over time into groups 1 and 2 rather than still being a significant and distinct catgeory now.

I also think what you describe as “mainstream CAMRA” drinkers are generally much more adventurous these days than your description suggests. Golden ales (some of the biggest selling real ales are golden ales – Wainwrights, Tribute etc), milds, stouts and porters (the Tescos near me now has a significant range of darker beers – someone must be drinking them) would all be in their drinking portfolio, with occasional experimentation into foreign beer/craft keg etc. In fact mainsteam CAMRA would probably now also encompass much of what you describe in categories 3 and 4. Generally these are people those are interested enough in beer to join organisations like CAMRA or share their views, have a warm fuzzy feeling about real ale and want to support it and the pubs that serve it but are not religious about it and don’t feel dirty if they have a bottle of Becks at the BBQ or a Fosters at the Footie.

As you suggest, you could then also have a very small subset of die hard (or dogmatic) real ale drinkers who are actively sceptical / vocally anti all other beers.

Of course all these groups are then just a realtively small subset of the wider drinking public. You could certainly have a Catgeory 7 Mainsteam Lager Drinkers: not interested in dispense or politics, know what they like and don’t give a monkeys that odd real ale/craft beer drinkers look down on their drink of choice. There could be a whole range of sub-categories there too (premium world lager drinkers, etc etc)…

“Ah, the enthusiasts craving to put everything in little boxes!”

Well, there are several types of nerd:

1. Those who like to categorise things to make sense of the world…

And what about the pissheads who’ll drink anything ?

We have feelings too,you know !

I agree about the traditionalist wing of CAMRA as opposed to most CAMRA members, who in my experience are not actually all that interested in beery sub cliques.

So if anything we have too many cliques for the craft end of the spectrum and too few for the traditionalists!

At the risk of coming across as a w*nker (3+4, and a bit of 2: a kind of Borderline Bièrearti), it’s a pity so much beery opinion is tainted by the motivation to be seen as more clever than ‘others’. More sour than mild.

I applaud your even-handedness though, as there is of course great and disappointing beer of all types. It’s just a shame that a market with so much amazing variety doesn’t inspire more tolerance of others’ tastes.

I’m a CAMRA member of over 35 years. I like brown beers, golden ales, hoppy beers/IPAs, milds, barley wines, stouts, sour beers, ‘craft beers’, Belgian beers, American beers, Italian beers, even expensive beers. I’ll try just about anything but I’ll not be taken in by rubbish beer because it’s the latest fad. Where does that put me?

Mostly 3&4 with a bit of 2 and a tiny bit of 5? Your ‘fad’ comment sounds like a pop at the ‘crafterati’.

We’re refusing to pick one, but probably, like Leigh, have been drifting slowly from 2 to 5 as we get older…

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