The Good, the Bad and the Interesting

Interesting and curious (illustration)

Bob Arnott’s post about Blue Moon and this from Ed prompted a few thoughts in the pub last night:

  1. Bigger breweries run by ‘suits’ do not necessarily make bad beer.
  2. Smaller breweries run as co-operatives by ethically sourced organic druids do not necessarily make good beer.
  3. Beer from bigger breweries is more likely to be consistent but it is also more likely to be boring.
  4. ‘Craft’, as used in the conversation around beer, might be a synonym for ‘interesting’.
  5. Boring does not mean bad, and interesting beer does not always taste good.
  6. ‘Interesting’ and ‘boring’ are wholly subjective.

15 replies on “The Good, the Bad and the Interesting”

I like point 4, makes sense without trying to label certain beers/breweries. And point 5 – I had a Bramling Cross Bitter by Blackjack Brewery a couple months ago…what would appear on the outside to be a ‘boring brown bitter’, was really really tasty and well kept, I also chose it over the likes of Magic Rock Hire Wire and Alechemy Citra.

I guess the thing about point 3 – and the reason that things like Blue Moon get so much flack – is that there’s very little incentive for a “run by suits” brewery to produce beer that’s better than it needs to be to sell. So if they realize that a lot of pubs, bars, hotels etc are coming to them and say ing”we need to stock some of this craft beer stuff” and that all they really need to do to tick that box for a lot of customers is sell Carling rebadged with a silly name and a higher price-point as an “English craft lager” then that’s what they’ll do. Whereas – and this is what all the blustering about “passion” and “commitment” is sort of getting at – if they went to Brewdog or Thornbridge then they’d probably end up stocking something genuinely pretty good – which would be a Good Thing for beer geeks everywhere.

Obviously there are macro produced beers that do need to compete more on taste, and they can be very good. But the hotel bar end of the craft beer explosion looks suspiciously like “craft beer” as the new “fancy foreign lager”, ie a style of branding that lets people differentiate themselves from the Carlsberg drinking masses. And a lot of people – not just Brewdog – would quite like that branding to be actually be attached to better beer if possible…

Smaller breweries run as co-operatives by ethically sourced organic druids

I think it’s time to put the hippie stuff to rest, at least while we’re talking about ‘craft’. I mean, do anyone of the crafties actually make a big thing of running as a co-op or being right-on in any meaningful sense? Some of them may be all-organic, but even then I can’t think of any who make a big thing of it on ethical grounds, as distinct from the gourmet angle.

Which would just leave ‘smaller breweries’… Perhaps this should be ‘smaller breweries run by people who use Twitter and talk a lot about passion’?

I think the real large/small division is about trust. When there’s a cool new startup consistently making beer that you love, you trust them implicitly – if I heard that Ticketybrew had brought out a liquorice and cauliflower barleywine, my only question would be ‘where can I find it?’. At the other extreme, I trust AB-InBev to about the same extent as I trust Sainsbury’s – which is to say, not at all; the question doesn’t even arise. In the middle, I sort of trust regionals like Hyde’s (or St Austell) – I think they’re mostly doing the right sort of thing & don’t expect them to do anything too horrible, but I know they’ve got businesses to run, so I don’t pin my hopes on them. (The interesting thing about BD is that they seized on this relationship of trust and marketed it like crazy, thereby gaining a lot of mind- and market share but also making themselves instantly untrustworthy – at least, for me.)

Perhaps this should be ‘smaller breweries run by people who use Twitter and talk a lot about passion’?

Pardon the self-quotie… Just noticed the dictionary definition above your graphic (where did you get that BTW? the type is about 100 years pre-Carroll, so somebody’s put the two together):

To interest: to affect; to move; to touch with passion; to gain the affections

In which case “interesting” beer is beer that can convey “passion” and “gain the affections”. Where have we heard that before?

But #4 misses that much of craft beer isn’t just interesting. It is ripe with affectation; it’s contrived snake oil; it’s malliable and illusionary; it’s manufactured scarcity and inflated; it’s poorly thought out then disappearing; it’s a venue and a medium for pomposity; and once in a while it’s tasty.

But this is only an issue cos B&B propose a “Craft” = “Interesting” sorta definition (above). If you accept that, then your point self-contradicts. If you don’t, then it’s irrelevant (while splenetic).

actually, I might have misread that: “isn’t just” or “just isn’t”? Either way, I like the spleen. Entertaining.

If you have 9 beers that are identical and 1 that is different, then the 9 beers are objectively boring and the 1 beer is objectively interesting, purely by dint of its difference.

So its not entirely subjective.

In many ways, this is why Punk IPA did so well when it came out. Of the 200 different PBAs in tescos, it was the only one that tasted completely different from anything else. Whether you actually liked to taste or not, that made it interesting.

No well made beers are identical. This may be the illusion created by craft showmanship, the idea that subtle = identical. It only took one bacon beer for bacon beer to be boring and uninteresting.

I bet I could find 10 different lagers, 10 different traditional bitters and possibly even 10 different stouts and you couldn’t tell one from the other. I know I couldn’t.

Try this then – go to Cologne for a few days (well worthwhile in any case) and drink as much Koelsch (and only Koelsch) from as many different breweries as you can manage.
On day one, they’ll all taste the same. By day 4 or 5 you’ll be well able to taste marked differences between different brands.
I have done this experiment with a group of 4 young(ish) guys who were preparing for the IBD beer sommelier accreditation.

I sorta can. Not bragging but with a youth in eastern Canada where beers in the early 80s were extremely similar I got used – as we all did – to being able select out and identify similar beers. Telling pale ale ales like Oland Ex from Keith’s from Schooner from Ten Penny was like figuring out which grape on the same bunch tasted like which. But you could do it. Selectivity in sensory experience. Forced. When imports started showing up it was such a relief.

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