Simplicity or Diversity?

Beer maze

We favour a diverse beer market with lots of choice, in which everyone can find something to their taste.

That, by definition, means more beers on sale that some people won’t like — too fizzy, too sour, too hazy, too flat, too strong, too expensive, too sweet, too something, to appeal to everyone.

Simple rules — clear is good, ‘real ale’ is best, no ‘additives’ — are easy to learn, but also lead to homogeneity.

If we want more interesting beer, we need to accept more complicated rules.

Yes, that might put some people off playing, but it might well draw others in.

41 thoughts on “Simplicity or Diversity?”

  1. Quality over quantity, always. I know that there will be some beers that will not be to my taste, but they should at the very least be well made.

    Personally, I have far more respect for a brewery that makes only a few (classic) beers that are solid and reliable than one that has maybe dozens in their portfolio, but half of them aren’t worth drinking.

  2. Agreed. International brewing developments are quickly overtaking the older English ale traditions, and try as we might, a return to a binary world of fined English bitter and mild tasting of English hops (best beer in the world IMO) is a dream every further receding in the background. Let it unfold as it will, and CAMRA will need soon to change its charter to survive I think, I am coming around to this now.

    Gary

  3. I think we are in a phase where diversity is increasing, but it means that many brewers that are trying new things are on the edge of their comfort zone. So the quality can be all over the place in some cases.

    One trend that I am seeing is that diversity is bringing in new drinkers. People who would never touch a lager or real ale, are getting into well made microbrews and good imports.

  4. Quality is subjective. The more variety on offer, the more likely it is that every individual finds something that they consider to be good quality.

    A brewery that makes only a few “classic, solid” beers is only ever going to appeal to the small number of people who happen to subjectively consider that to be “good quality”. If every brewery sticks to the same small number of classic styles, you end up with a market in which the majority of people dislike the majority of the styles offered, and overall demand for beer starts to fall off: see the UK in the past 30 years for a classic example.

    Probability of consumer satisfaction is directly proportional to the width of variety of product.

  5. Hear, hear! Diversity is key, that’s my own beer mantra. I’ve gone as far as using it to peg, as best I can, my definition of a “craft beer bar”.

    Bin the spurious “rules” I say.

  6. “Quality is subjective” – horse crap.
    Quality can be measured – best raw ingredients, brewers who know what they’re doing (and therefore consistency of finished beer), proper maturation/finishing of the beer, non-pasteurisation…………

    Simply because there are plenty of hipster/beer geeks who think unbalanced London Murky with an inch of trub in the bottle is fine quality beer, and many people are unsure what real quality is, does not mean that quality cannot be objectively defined.

    Sounds to me like you need to spend more time in Bavaria and the Czech Republic.
    Of course it can.

    1. “horse crap”

      Tone it down a bit please, Rod.

      I think I agree with py on this — ‘proper’ is subjective, cultural and learned.

      For whatever reason, I don’t find cloudy beer intrinsically unappetising to look at, but some are so deeply conditioned to find it disgusting, and to find clarity appealing, that they don’t seem to believe me when I say it.

      1. Sorry, I thought I *had* toned it down……..

        ” ‘proper’ is subjective, cultural and learned.”
        I agree with that, but I’m still saying that quality can be objectively defined.
        I don’t have any problem with saying “This beer is good quality but personally I don’t like it.”
        An individual’s personal taste is subjective, cultural and learned, but that’s quite different from quality.

        1. So basically you’re saying that for a beer to qualify as good “quality”, it has to fufill a series of arbitrary, outdated and entirely irrelevant criteria imposed upon it by self-appointed “exports”.

          What if you get the ” best raw ingredients, brewers who know what they’re doing (and therefore consistency of finished beer), proper maturation/finishing of the beer, non-pasteurisation…………” and then it still tastes like shit and no-one buys it? Still a “quality beer”?

          1. You’re continuing to confuse quality and personal taste.
            Objectively, if a beer is made from top quality ingredients, matured/finished, not pasteurised etc, it’s a good quality beer. That fact is not affected by whether anybody likes it or not.

            If you seriously consider the use of top quality ingredients, for example, as “arbitrary, outdated and entirely irrelevant criteria imposed upon it by self-appointed “exports”, then we really will have to agree to differ.

        2. The point of beer is to taste good to the person drinking it.

          A beer of high quality is therefore a beer that best fulfills that remit.

          Any other definition of quality is to completely miss the point of what beer is and what it is for.

          Its like saying “This is a high quality car; you can’t actually drive it, but its made from expensive materials by people who claim to know what they’re doing therefore it must be extremely high quality.” That’s just bullshit. its the emperor’s new clothes.

          If it tastes good, its high quality. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. End of story.

          1. I drink a fair amount of Fosters.

            I do not like Fosters. In fact it is utterly foul. I drink it because there is no other option.

            Everyone I drink with feels the same way. We would all prefer to be drinking a decent craft beer or real ale but our pub does not offer them.

            There is no reason whatsoever to believe that just because something is widely drunk, people actually like it.

            How does Foster’s score on beer ratings sites? That might give you a better indication of its quality. Get back to us when you find out.

        3. today’s award for circular logic:

          what is high quality beer? beer made with high quality ingredients, and what are high quality ingredients? ingredients used to make high quality beer of course.

          what is quality beer? beer made by a high quality brewer, and what is a high quality brewer? a brewer who makes high quality beer of course.

          etc etc.

          1. Very large numbers of people in the UK like Fosters and drink it from choice. Fosters is therefore a quality beer.

          2. “How does Foster’s score on beer ratings sites? That might give you a better indication of its quality. ”

            You do realise what you’re doing here don’t you?
            Your friend (if py and pyo are different people) keeps railing against self-appointed “exports”, and here you are referring me to the biggest group of self-appointed “experts” (the more usual spelling) of them all, ie people who submit reviews to beer rating sites.

    2. But what happens if someone takes top quality ingredients and skillfully and consistently puts absolutely the wrong quantities of them into a beer, or misjudges some other element of the brewing process? It may just about be possible to claim that brewer A is using objectively better ingredients than brewer B, but to claim that their recipe is objectively better you’re going to have to fall back on “it’s objectively better because I like it more” again.

      Your comment about “unbalanced London Murky” sort of undermines your claim that it’s not about personal taste, too…

      1. Not saying that it’s impossible to take good ingredients and make bad beer. I referred to brewers who know what they’re doing.
        Neither am I saying that personal taste isn’t relevant. Just that it, and quality, are two different things.

        Perhaps have another read of what I actually said.

    3. Quality just means that something is like it is meant to be. Nothing more, nothing less. You have fixed parameters, and if the object in question falls within these parameters, it is right. If it does not, it is wrong. A process has to be robust and be able to be reproduced in order be a quality process. Best raw materials (consistency of inputs) will help, Brewer who knows what (s)he is doing (consistency of process) will help the final product to be within the desired specifications.

      But as been mentioned elsewhere, if the desired specifications are not to your taste, than you will have a technically good beer which many people will think is crap.

      Diversity in any field is great. It stops stagnation and allows innovation. Any beer which you currently enjoy was once new an interesting. We had Ale, then Porter, then Mild, then Bitter, then Lager and now all of then and more.

      Are their plenty of poor beers in the Czech Republic and Bavaria? I have never been but surely it can’t all be good, can it?

  7. I object some what. My problem is that life would get very boring if you only adhere to your triage principles. I’d rather keep every decision interesting and look at the bigger picture

  8. py — you’re making interesting points, but is there any chance you could also try to rein in the sarcasm a bit, just to keep the conversation the right side of a full-blown argument?

    (Sarcasm not against the blog ‘rules’; calling people names or dismissing their points as ‘bollocks’, ‘crap’, etc., is.)

  9. I must confess I find py’s comments a little wearying.

    Akin to postmodernists who try to argue that there is no objective truth at all and that, consequently, they are within their rights to claim that the Second World War never took place and that Dame Edna was elected US president in 1952 in a closely-fought contest with Roy Chubby Brown.

    Obviously, you can take that view. It’s a free country.

    Me? I tend to take the view that there *are* people who know more about stuff than I do. And I regard their expertise, so long as it is consistently communicated, as useful – even if I disagree.

    To that end, if someone whose opinion I can *gauge* and *respect* says “this is a glass of super-hopped trub that any brewer should be ashamed of because the yeast bite means you cannot taste the hops”, I won’t rule out that I *might* like it but I’ve a fair idea I won’t.

    It seems likely to end in roundtable onanism to point and shout “that’s not an objective view”.

    << I fear I've made my point badly here. Basically, I find py's Brave New World too far off the scale, while conceding hard and fast attempts to define "objective" quality criteria are likely to fall flat (cf. defining "craft beer"). But I do feel people *trying* to define objective criteria does triangulate beer enthusiasts towards consistent principles of taste profiles.

    1. I’m sorry you find my comments wearying. Perhaps you should have a nap, as they appear to have gone over your head.

      There may well be objectively better beer, but it is the idea that this can be decided on any grounds except for taste is utterly ridiculous. Attempting to define quality beer in terms of circular definitions involving quality ingredients, well, stupid, frankly.

      Note to Bailey: this was me attempting to be polite.

      1. The idea that there are millions of pints of Fosters being consumed annually in this country by people who hate it is actually pretty condescending I think.

        So far as “taste is the only thing that matters” is concerned, do you apply this to the food you eat? Doesn’t matter what goes into it, chemicals and all, or how it’s made, just so long as it tastes good.

        1. Condescending to who? Myself? It is what it is.

          The criminally restricted choice of beer in mainstream british pubs has had a massive role in the decline of the pub sector (who wants to go to a pub and choose between john smiths and fosters?) and was the source of impetus against which the craft beer revolution has defined itself.

          Without the ~3 million pubs all serving nothing but crap beer, there would have been no reason for us all to be so pissed off.

    2. John — I’m not sure that analogy works but, yes, we do have some more-or-less agreed cultural values about what makes something ‘tasty’. British people have not been conditioned to find rotten fish appealing, for example.

      We just think that the spectrum of ‘enjoyability’ is broader then some people credit, and doubt that those who claim to enjoy cloudy/sour beer are lying and/or stupid.

      ‘Yeast bite’ is not intrinsically disgusting — an aversion to it is learned, and some people haven’t learned it; but they *might* have learned to associate ‘murkiness’ with heavy hopping, so it gets them salivating.

  10. Back on topic a bit – I absolutely love the diversity of beer in the UK and the moment and think it’s a great thing.

    On the other hand, I can see why some people would sound a warning note – a diverse range of new (to us) styles and a sudden growth in the number of drinkers is a recipe for inconsistent quality, as cleverly marketed beer and nice looking pubs and bars have the scope make money regardless of whether the beer is actually well made and well presented. It seems like it’s easy enough to pull off an emperor’s new clothes trick and tell people a poor beer is “awesome” (or, for a different beer in a different establishment, “subtle and well balanced”) and make a reasonable profit off the ones who assume that you must know what you’re talking about and that they’ll start to get it if they keep trying the stuff.

    So I guess it’s important for the scene to maintain a healthy level of honest criticism, and for people not to be afraid to say when they don’t think a beer, a brewery, a pub or a bar deserves the hype, at the same time as being generous with their praise when they think that one does.

  11. What specifically concerns us is that the response might be to ‘crack down’ on diversity because it’s too complicated to manage otherwise. We can’t let a few scoundrels ruin it for everyone!

    Which brings us back to the central point of the post, I think?

  12. If certain brewers can make supposed “low quality” beer but manage to convince enough people its great that it keeps them in business, more power to them. If you think its low quality, don’t drink it. Write an angry letter and throw it in a river, no-one cares.

    Brewery: “this is great beer, drink it!”.
    Self-appointed expert: “that is terrible beer, don’t drink it!”
    Exasperated beer drinker: “how about the both of you back the f**k off and let me make up my own mind?”

    1. “If you think its low quality, don’t drink it.”

      How do I find out that it’s low quality without drinking it?

      1. And if I go to a pub that has a load of beers that I don’t know particularly well, how many “meh” pints do I have to go through before I conclude that they’re bad at keeping beer? And how many times do I have to go back before I conclude that they weren’t just having a bad night?

        And wouldn’t it be convenient if there was some sort of vast international network of computers where people could share their opinions about what they did and did not like, so that if I could see a lot of people whose opinions I respect and generally agree with saying “don’t bother going there, it’s nowhere near as good as it used to be” then I could save myself all that time and money?

      2. Alright, so try it once, pull a face, and don’t buy it again. Tell your mates if you like. The brewery will prosper or fail based on the popularity of its beer. That’s how business works.

        I probably try a beer at least once a week that I make a mental note not to ever buy again. But I’d far rather have the odd duff pint and 5 decent ones than a choice of 3 near-identical styles dictated to me by so-called experts.

  13. I said “criticism” not “ruthless paramilitary style enforcement”!

    I’d basically encourage more stuff like Pete Brown’s post about that place in Bristol, rather than the veiled references to “a popular craft beer bar” or “some trendy London breweries” that people tend to use whenever they’re being critical of stuff…

    If other people disagree and think the person writing just doesn’t get it then they can say that too.

    1. ‘I’d basically encourage more stuff like Pete Brown’s post about that place in Bristol, rather than the veiled references to “a popular craft beer bar” or “some trendy London breweries” that people tend to use whenever they’re being critical of stuff…’

      Yes, that’s the point of view we’ve come round to. (Though it’s not always fun…)

    2. Aye, but you’ve got to be careful not to be too prescriptive. If the punters like their beer hazy or with the yeast in it or whatever, who has the right to tell them they’re wrong?

      I wonder what Barthes would make of this idea that the will of the brewer should be held sacrosanct long after his power over the product has ceased.

      1. People can be as prescriptive as they like, I just don’t have to pay attention if I don’t agree with them!

        I’m sure that there’s an old-school CAMRA beard out there who’s just about caught up with this newfangled technology enough to start a beer review blog in which anything over 5% is dismissed as an “attention seeking novelty beer” and anything with detectable US hops is compared to cat’s piss, and there are probably people who’d get some use out of that. I wouldn’t so I wouldn’t read it.

  14. Goodness. Somehow missed this post. Not going to get involved other than to say ” What DaveS is saying.”

  15. I’m sure it’s possible to get to like the taste of yeast in your beer – it works for Hefeweizen, after all. But are Kernel et al really brewing beer to taste ‘yeasty’? I’m not convinced. Certainly Moor’s tasting notes on their pump clips are very detailed, and the flavour of yeast never seems to feature. (I’ve had two Moor beers; one was cloudy and juicily, zingily hoppy, the other was cloudy and full of yeast.)

    We seem to be left with the possibility that people are getting to like the taste of beer served wrong – the bad Moor pint rather than the good one. Which would be a bit odd, to say the least.

    1. Mutation and evolution, isn’t it?

      In fact, there’s the makings of a great origin myth here: “It is said that, in around 2010, Jebediah Oliphant, landlord of a pub in Hoxton, accidentally served his beer cloudy. His regulars loved it and so the trend spread, giving us the London Murky we know and love today.”

    2. I guess it’s not decisive, but the question of whether the brewers are intending it to be served like that seems pretty important to me. For once I think I prefer Pete B’s take to yours.

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