News, Nuggets & Longreads 02/08/2014

Pint of beer illustration.

Seven days is too long without you, baby!

Here’s our weekly round-up of links from around the Blogoshire and beyond.

This post from Pete Drinks is thought-provoking: when he found beers from a brewery underwhelming, they contacted him to explain that it was a result of over-optimistic ‘best before’ dates — a commercial necessity, it seems. But, as Pete observes, “not every punter that drinks one of their beers after it’s past its best will write a blog about it and get to understand what went wrong“.

Craig Gravina at DrinkDrank gave a blunt state of the nation address with regard to ‘craft beer‘:

First, I think a change is coming. Is it a bubble? Maybe, maybe not, and whatever is going to happen, isn’t going to happen over night. But I think we’re moving into the breaking zone—kinda like when the phrase “fo shizzle my nizzle” became common in upper class, white suburban neighborhoods.

→ Carla Jean Lauter (aka Beer Babe) has written a chunky piece for about the unstoppable march of India Pale Ale (IPA) across the US, arguing that the best examples are now being brewed on the East Coast. She backs this assertion up with the best data at hand, from beer rating sites. Interesting stuff, even for those of us who’ve never crossed the Atlantic.

→ While we’re considering the geography and culture of a country we’ve never visited, here’s Jeff Alworth on why Idaho isn’t a great beer state, while Washington and California are.

→ As yet unread, but saved to Pocket, archaeologists Billy Quinn and Declan Moore explore whether a particular type of Irish field monument might not actually be the worlds earliest breweries. (Via @craigheap)

Clive Martin of Vice writes explores the gentrification of London through a crawl of its pubs and bars. The blokey, less-gentrified-than-thou tone wears a bit thin, but he makes some good points. (Via @roryelsome)

→ It’s not often beer plays a part in international affairs, but this Russian lager commercial starring David Duchovny has arrived at an inopportune moment.

→ Isn’t this pretty?

→ And, finally, a couple of Brew Britannia reviews, from The Barley Blog and Glen Humphries.

9 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 02/08/2014”

That piece about the gentrification of London is a fascinating anthropological document describing a totally alien culture. The burger with a plate-sized lettuce leaf is just unbelievable.

However, as the author points out, edgy, hipsterish gentrification is just a step on the road towards well-known upmarket brands. Your neighbourhood has really arrived when that funky ethnic deli becomes a little Waitrose.

I admit I only skimmed it, but it did strike me that it’s pretty easy to go around a bunch of places you’re determined not to like and then write about how much you didn’t like them.

Something very dog-in-the-manger about the tone of it, too –

I like Scotch eggs as much as the next Englishman, but I can’t help but think this kind of ancient casual bar snack cuisine they’re nodding to never really existed. Pork scratchings, yes, but Scotch eggs? You buy those from Saino’s, not from pubs. To me, pub cuisine will forever be associated with steak flavoured McCoy’s and the occasional reheated beef pie.

I’ve no idea where Scotch eggs came (back) from either, but if you’re nostalgic for microwaved pies and a brand of crisps launched in 1985, what you’re counterposing to something new & fake-traditional is something only slightly less new & frankly a bit rubbish. I suspect he’s getting paid by the word, albeit probably not very much.

I thought the Vice piece was pretty interesting, myself, and fairly well balanced. You can’t be that militantly opposed to hipster gentrification while writing for Vice…

I was less sold on the Craig Gravina piece, though – it read a bit too much like one of those letters to What’s Brewing. As soon as someone starts using words like “fad” and “gimmick” to mean “popular stuff that I personally don’t like” I start to suspect that we’re about to get an argument from pejudice rather than a particularly clear assessment of the situation. It’s also relatively hard to apply much from a discussion of the US scene to the UK, since the background seems quite different – as I understand it, we have a much stronger culture of “good, traditional beer” and the full-on experimental craft nutters are increasingly feeling like one end of a spectrum (from, say, Bathams to Adnams to Moor, Thornbridge and Magic Rock to The Kernel and then the Wild Beer Co) rather than an isolated thing of their own, which is probably a positive thing for the general resilience of the scene.

I also don’t really recognize the complaint about “gimmicky” beers over here (unless you take the view that brewing anything over 5% or with detectable quantities of US hops is a crazy attention seeking stunt), although that might be because our local bottle shop tends to filter them out and mostly only bother with fairly straight IPAs, stouts and saisons in their UK craft range…

It’s not popular beers I have an issue with. In fact most of the gimmicks have very little to do with the beer—other than more often than not the beers is usually a dud. More and more breweries (at least in the U.S market) are relying on on gimmicks, to manipulate the market, and the fanboys lap it up—whether it’s a collaboration brew, or elaborate packaging, or TV show tie in, or some insane ingredient (like sheep brains, yes sheep brains). The gimmick becomes the focus, rather than the beer. The more that kind of behavior happens—and is encouraged—the more expensive beer becomes. A precedent is set. That precedent is, people will spend more money if a beer is hyped or some gimmick is attached—beer marketers and brand managers are drilling that in. And it’s all being done in the name of “craft”.

Make good beer and sell it at a reasonable price.

It’s the “barrel-aged, stronger, hoppier” that I took particular issue with – all of those things, like some but not all of the “weird ingredients”, seem to me like they could be legitimate ways of trying to make tastier beers.

Similarly, I’m beginning to wonder if US beer culture does collaborations differently from the UK, since they seem to be a common bugbear of people complaining about the state of the US craft scene whereas a fairly high proportion of the UK ones I’ve had have been good, and they don’t normally seem to be priced above what you’d normally pay for that style of thing.

I’m not disparaging strong beers or hoppy beers, I like both. It just seems that we’re getting barraged by them—In the U.S, anyway. It sort of like summer blockbuster movies. They always have huge explosions, but the movies usually aren’t very good (although, there are exceptions). The problem is we keep going to see dud movies with big explosions. The explosions keep get bigger, which costs more, and the ticket price goes up. So what we’re paying for is a really big explosion and kind of a dud movie.

Here my issue with collaboration beers (the U.S. variety, that is.) Most of the time it seems like collaborations are an excuse for one brewer to visit another brewer on the company dime—a dime that gets passed onto the consumer. What results is usually (and again there are always exceptions) a dud beer. A beer that is most often an indulgence in the brewers own “artistry” more than anything else. The kicker is: regardless if the beer is good or bad, if it’s marketed right— as a “super brew” between two “awesome” breweries—it’ll still get bought.

Don’t get me going on the Pearl Jam beer DFH made.

Pleased to see you two still chatting here!

The Hollywood blockbuster analogy might be a good one. A thought about opening weekend vs. ongoing box office success is on the tip of my brain. I’m going to ponder on it.

Seeing as how that was my second “Hollywood” reference—the first coming in my original post, about the “importance” of Oscar winning films—I might be onto something!

Ponder away….

I suppose it might be an advantage to being relatively out of the loop, too – we only really get stuff once it’s come out on DVD, by which point the dust has settled and the hype is rather more in perspective…

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