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 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad and the Interesting”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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…

  3. 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.)

    1. 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?

  4. 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.

    1. 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).

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  6. 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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