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Brew Britannia Hits the US

Front cover of Brew Britannia.

A little while after the UK launch, copies of Brew Britannia have finally begun to make their way out across the world, and two recent reviews from the US provide food for thought.

Jeff Alworth at Beervana, for example, highlights trans-Atlantic confusion over the meanings and cultural values implied by ‘craft’ and cask. In the US, cask-conditioned beer is considered the height of ‘craft’-ness, while in the UK, as we argue in the book, one of the many simultaneously-live meanings of ‘craft’ has been, since c.1997, ‘the antidote to real ale’. There is much potential for crossed wires here.

Jeff also ponders on why North America didn’t develop a powerful beer consumer group along the lines of the Campaign for Real Ale. It’s not as if the US doesn’t have a culture of clubs, though anything that even remotely resembled a union (CAMRA was nearly called ‘the Beer Drinkers’ Union at one point) would probably have raised hackles.

Derrick Peterman picks up the same thread and offers one possible answer: “Boak and Bailey’s history documents a similar revolution, but a demand driven one rather than the American revolution driven by new supply… That whole idea seems somehow un-American.” In America, capitalism is activism?

At any rate, we look forward to seeing if an answer emerges in discussion.

Finally, both Derrick and Jeff make a point that we hope potential reader will hear: you don’t need to be British to enjoy this book!

(There’ll be a proper blog post, i.e. one that isn’t about us and our book, along later today…)

9 replies on “Brew Britannia Hits the US”

So in the UK, the consumers tell the producers what they want to drink; but in the US, the producers tell the consumers what they want to drink.

In the US, the disgruntled consumers become producers, skipping the marches and newsletters, maybe? Not sure. Don’t know enough about US culture to opine confidently.

(That happened in the UK, too, of course — lots of the SIBA brewers and other early micros were drinkers/enthusiasts rather than industry pros.)

What they seem to be implying is that, unlike the initial post-CAMRA wave of small UK breweries, the first US “craft” brewers decided what they wanted to do and then set about creating a market for it.

What’s interesting is asking which model applies to the “new wave” UK craft types – was there an organically growing demand for new beer styles in natty packaging that the traditionalist real ale breweries weren’t fulfilling, or did they have to convince people that that was what they wanted? Had people tried US craft beer and said “can we have some of that over here, please”, or did brewers have to start out by explaining that no, US-style doesn’t mean Bud Lite?

Brewdog clearly put a lot of work into turning “craft beer” into a brand and creating a demand for what they wanted to sell. With other brewers there seems to have been less obvious evangelism, but it’s hard to say whether that’s because the demand was already there or whether they were just able to bob along in the wake of the dreadnought from Fraserburgh without making too much obvious effort of their own.

I suppose the whole thing gets further complicated by the “weird beer before ‘craft’ became a thing in the UK” breweries as well.

Oh, and to clarify a bit, I don’t think “creating demand” is necessarily suspect. If I go up to someone and say “hey, try this beer, it’s not what you’re used to and it tastes like grapefruit but I think you might like it” and they say “wow, that’s really nice, can I have another?” then I’ve created the demand.

It doesn’t have to be about hype and style-over-substance, although it obviously can be.

“In the US, the disgruntled consumers become producers, skipping the marches and newsletters, maybe? ”

Yep, I’d say that’s about right. They either started a business or brewed their own home brew.

Certainly consumers organize in the US, but it is usually over something like product safety, health issues, environmental concerns, or fair treatment of workers. I couldn’t really imagine CAMRA ever happening in the US, at least how I understand it.

Ha, yes, we enjoyed that. When we adapt it as a musical, it’ll be perfect on the poster.

The e-mail I received from the publisher had the exclamation mark in the subject line so I just assumed it should be there. Rather than correct the post, I think I’ll just leave it in.

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