Native or Local?

Illustration: government stamp on a British pint glass.

Reading around the blogoshire today, there seems to be a connection to be made between two interesting posts.

First, Matt ‘Total Ales’ Cur­tis reports on the Hop & Berry, a pub in Isling­ton, North Lon­don, which sets out to act a show­case for the boom­ing Lon­don brew­ing scene. (See Beer Guide Lon­don for the list we always refer to.) Our first thought was: “Beer geeks vis­it­ing Lon­don from over­seas will find a one-stop-shop very handy.”

But then there’s Joe ‘Thirsty Pil­grim’ Stange writ­ing of a recent trip to Lon­don:

As a Trav­el­er with Thirst I don’t real­ly care about British ‘craft beer.’ It’s OK as a curios­i­ty. As a jour­nal­ist it’s inter­est­ing. But these days you can get aro­mat­ic, bit­ter IPA near­ly any­where in the world. Even Cos­ta Rica. Even Ger­many. Why would I drink that in the UK, which has its own, spe­cial, under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed thing? Yes, I can see how folks who have drunk brown bit­ter all their lives might be bored with it. I’m not.

It seems that native style, then, might be a more impor­tant idea than local man­u­fac­ture.

Thought exper­i­ment: if you were to vis­it Berlin, would you feel you’d had a more authen­tic expe­ri­ence drink­ing Amer­i­can-brewed Berlin­er Weisse, or local­ly made Cas­cade-hopped IPA?

28 thoughts on “Native or Local?”

  1. When I trav­el, I’m always eager to try local­ly pro­duced beers – but I’m also far more inter­est­ed in that local beer being the “native style” than some more inter­na­tion­alised style that I can get in my local at home.

    That said, in your exam­ple I’d be more like­ly to go for the “local­ly made Cas­cade-hopped IPA” – but only a pint, and then I’d go look­ing for the local­ly made Berlin­er Weisse.

    I’d skip the “Amer­i­can-brewed Berlin­er Weisse” until I was in Amer­i­ca (well, or at home).

  2. Well, Berlin still has Berlin­er Kindl Weisse. Even if locals insist on ruin­ing it with the usu­al pap. Local inde­pen­dents like Brew­bak­er are mak­ing them – and we will see more of those. So you wouldn’t have to drink an Amer­i­can-made Berlin­er in Berlin. But I see your point.

    We haven’t men­tioned hybrid­i­ty yet… inter­est­ing cask ales increas­ing­ly influ­enced by bright US hops. I will be watch­ing for Ger­man-brewed lagers that do the same. They are around and will mul­ti­ply. Edu­cat­ed guess.

    1. Only saw tourists drink­ing the Kinder­garten Berlin­er Weiss on my last two trips in the past 12 months rather than locals. Bit like in Leipzig, I remem­ber the hotel man­ag­er look­ing side­ways at me when I said I was des­per­ate to try Gose, but then I don’t think any­one drank it apart from beer trav­ellers, diehards and thirsty types.

  3. I sort of agree with the point, although I think it’s also a bit dodgy to get into a tourist mind­set that local brew­ers should be brew­ing stuff to pro­vide me with what I think is the Authen­tic Ger­man Beer Expe­ri­ence rather than brew­ing what they want to brew and what local drinkers want to drink.

    That caveat out of the way, to state the obvi­ous a bit, I think there’s plen­ty of room for both local­ly pro­duced Inter­na­tion­al Style Craft Beer and actu­al tra­di­tion­al native styles, as well as local­ly spe­cif­ic takes on ISCB (I’d imag­ine that even to an Amer­i­can, find­ing a US IPA on cask would be a rel­a­tive­ly inter­est­ing thing) or ISCB-influ­enced devel­op­ments in tra­di­tion­al native styles (it being a liv­ing tra­di­tion, after all…), and I think the inter­play between all of these is gen­er­al­ly a Good Thing.

  4. My broth­er recent­ly vis­it­ed from San Fran­cis­co and refused to drink any IPAs, any­thing described as “hop­py” or any­thing above 5% dur­ing his trip – stuck to Otter Ales, 6X, Abbey Ales etc etc, the “prop­er Eng­lish stuff you can’t get back home”.

    If I had to choose I would prob­a­bly go “native” as well, to be hon­est – although I would def­i­nite­ly be inter­est­ed to try a CAM­RA-com­pli­ant 4% cask bit­ter made in Cal­i­for­nia. Or I sup­pose I would at least want there to be a par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing local twist on the ISCB, for exam­ple (craft wanker alert) Xia­men-based Amoy Brau’s use of a local Chi­nese fruit in their wit­beer – not so both­ered about someone’s attempt to per­fect­ly repli­cate a West Coast IPA.

  5. I like diver­si­ty, so I’d go for both. I don’t know about the native bit, though. The revival of old styles, may I sug­gest a new term – zom­bie beers – would nev­er have hap­pened with­out the inter­na­tion­al beer trend, If there was a liv­ing tra­di­tion of brew­ing old fash­ioned Berlin­er Weisse, I would sure­ly go for that. But Berlin is not like Düs­sel­dorf, where you still can get the real thing. The most authen­tic beers in Berlin if you are keen on tra­di­tion are prob­a­bly some of the Schwarz­biers.

  6. When I vis­it the States I often see import­ed Bel­gian beers that I don’t always see at home in the UK but I always think ‘why would I drink a beer from Bel­gium when there’s all this great Amer­i­can stuff to get through!’

  7. When trav­el­ing, I look for many things and try to opti­mize the sit­u­a­tion. When I trav­el to the UK, I hope to have some­thing that is native and local. I can­not say if that is use­ful for a mar­ket­ing type to deter­mine what kind of beer to brew. My per­son­al opin­ion is that is best dri­ven by tal­ent and ingre­di­ent avail­abil­i­ty. Then cou­ple that with good cel­lar­man­ship, ser­vice, etc. I per­son­al­ly would eschew pur­chas­ing even the hard­est to find Amer­i­can made beers, while over­seas. This is because the chance that I can get it in the states is still high­er than the chance that I’ll get to expe­ri­ence some­thing about the place to which I’ve trav­eled. (Besides, “the brew­ers” say that those famous Amer­i­can IPAs (Heady Top­per, Pliny) have to be had extreme­ly fresh or their not the same.…..oh, both­er – anoth­er tan­gent.)

  8. I would have thought the UK was more dis­tinc­tive than any oth­er coun­try, how many oth­er places in the world can you get the range of tra­di­tion­al cask beer we have in pubs here nowa­days?

    1. The com­ment seemed to be using “craft” in the sense of US-inspired-craft, though – ask­ing why you’d go to Lon­don from the US and then drink cold, fizzy, grape­fruit-flavoured beer that’s try­ing as hard as pos­si­ble to be like the stuff that you’d nor­mal­ly drink at home any­way.

      I’ve heard some peo­ple sug­gest­ing that bits of the UK craft scene are start­ing to evolve dis­tinct local inter­pre­ta­tions of the inter­na­tion­al styles any­way (as well as there being a much greater ten­den­cy to put stuff in casks) and hence devel­op­ing a “native” thing of their own. But to be hon­est, I don’t drink enough US stuff to know whether that’s hap­pen­ing or not.

  9. One of the delights of being home in the sum­mer was the sheer cre­ativ­i­ty I saw on dis­play from brew­ers like Cro­mar­ty and Isle of Skye, most of it on cask. Just as impres­sive were clas­sic British styles from the likes of Kel­burn and Durham. I get the feel­ing that if British brew­ing can avoid throw­ing the baby out with the bath­wa­ter and find a dis­tinct­ly British take on ‘craft’ beer (rather than being the beer equiv­a­lent of Wimpy) then everyone’s a win­ner.

    The sev­er­al beers I had from Cro­mar­ty Brew­ing stick in my mind, ses­sion strength, superbly put togeth­er, burst­ing with New World hops, and just so damned drink­able – which is just what I want in a beer.

  10. It’s a bit of a thorny issue to some. As a Yank liv­ing in Fran­co­nia (the beery part, not the winey part) for the last 10 years, I have gone through a bit of evo­lu­tion on this. We moved here when I had been in a seri­ous “con­ti­nen­tal lager” phase for a cou­ple of years or so, and those that know Fran­co­nia know that it’s the best part of the world for diver­si­ty of inter­est­ing lagers out­side of the fun­ny lit­tle coun­try to the east. So, it was utter­ly fab­u­lous. For a few years.

    Back then, I was appalled at the idea of any­one want­i­ng pale ale or what­ev­er here, it just didn’t belong. I can appre­ci­ate and sym­pa­thise with tourists who don’t want their touris­tic expe­ri­ence ruined by see­ing a pale ale or any­thing trendi­er than that on tap. (Yes, at even ONE of the hun­dreds of lit­tle brew­eries.)

    But now…well, I just wish the kids doing all the “Craft­bier” here had been inspiried by Mallinson’s or Fuller’s, rather than Farm­stead (Fuck­ing!) Hill or what­ev­er.

    As to the question…when I’m in Eng­land, it’s as a tourist, and I want both prop­er bor­ing, brown bit­ter and US-hopped gold­en ale (under 4%, please), though I’ll try some­thing more inter­est­ing on cask. I’d be curi­ous to try Eng­lish ver­sions of Keller­bier or Dunkel. So, tra­di­tion­al and yet not nec­es­sar­i­ly, so long as it’s cask and *good*.

    I’ve spent less than a month in the US in the 10 years I’ve been gone, so am quite out of touch with the “beer scene” there. When there, I’m on the look­out for Mallinson’s clones, but as keg “ses­sion IPA” isn’t as good as well-hopped casked gold­en ales, I’m nor­mal­ly dis­ap­point­ed. I’d try Yan­kee Keller­bier too, but am not real­ly on the look out for it.

    Now back to my bot­tle of Pil­sner Urquell.

  11. There’s more to Eng­lish beer than shit­ty brown bit­ter. We also do a decent line in milds and porters.

  12. Last year Steve and Gail, Bay Area con­trib­u­tors to Cel­e­bra­tor mag­a­zine, were in Lon­don and we met up for a drink. They bemoaned the fact that many of their Lon­don beer friends had been drag­ging them round places say­ing “you must try this” and “you must try that” and most of what this and that turned out to be were UK-brewed pale ales and IPAs dosed with US hops, of the sort they can find on every cor­ner back home in San Fran­cis­co. “What we real­ly want,” they said, “is good, well bal­anced cask brown bit­ters and milds, because that’s the sort of beer we rarely get back home.” I’ve used that exam­ple a few times since to push back on pres­sure when writ­ing about con­tem­po­rary British beer to focus only on the “craft” side, as if the pre­vi­ous four decades had nev­er exist­ed.

    To me a healthy beer scene is all about diver­si­ty. The annoy­ing myopia and con­ser­vatism of a cer­tain sec­tion of beer appre­ci­a­tion in the UK doesn’t detract from the fact that Britain’s cask beer her­itage is unique and valu­able, and its low grav­i­ty, sub­tle, bal­anced, gen­tly car­bon­at­ed beers are out­stand­ing at what they do. To turn your back on them and insist that the only beers worth drink­ing are car­bon­at­ed keg beers dosed with 75 IBUs of Cit­ra and Amar­il­lo is the flip side of insist­ing that all lager is yel­low fizz and ulti­mate­ly just as per­verse­ly self-deny­ing. Sure­ly cel­e­brat­ing good beer shoudl be about diver­si­ty and under­stand­ing what a glo­ri­ous­ly var­ied and mul­ti­pur­pose drink beer can be.

    1. To turn your back on them and insist that the only beers worth drink­ing are car­bon­at­ed keg beers dosed with 75 IBUs of Cit­ra and Amar­il­lo”

      Is there any­one that has actu­al­ly ever insist­ed this? The UK craft beer move­ment is about increas­ing choice and diver­si­ty of style, not replac­ing one stu­pid auto­crat­ic regime with anoth­er one.

      1. Well, Brew­dog for one (and pre­sum­ably by exten­sion legions of Brew­dog fan­boys) cer­tain­ly don’t think that “Britain’s cask beer her­itage” is unique and valu­able enough to stock any in their bars. ISTR oth­er New Wave Keg brew­ers quot­ed in Brew Bri­tan­nia as being active­ly anti-cask as well.

        And all the “bor­ing brown beer” rhetoric pre­sum­ably isn’t intend­ed to imply that there’s also lots of sub­tle, com­plex, inter­est­ing brown beer.

        I’m not say­ing it’s what every­one involved in “craft beer” den­i­grates tra­di­tion­al British beer styles, but there’s cer­tain­ly a strong ten­den­cy in that direc­tion from some quar­ters.

        1. If all brown beer was bor­ing, then say­ing “bor­ing brown beer” would be unnec­es­sar­i­ly tau­to­log­i­cal.
          The prob­lem is not that brown beer is bor­ing, the prob­lem is that 90% of the brown beer SOLD is bor­ing, in fact most of the most pop­u­lar brands are pret­ty insipid and unpleas­ant.

          Plen­ty of brown beer is also real­ly, real­ly excel­lent though, whether its real ale or not. I don’t know whether I’d call it sub­tle though, its just flavour­some in a dif­fer­ent way.

          The oppo­nents of CAMRA are not oppos­ing the prod­uct, they’re oppos­ing the divi­sive and anti­quat­ed sys­tem of cat­e­gori­sa­tion that divides beer into large­ly mean­ing­less camps based on some­thing as ten­u­ous as method of dis­pense. Most craft beer drinkers love cask ale. I drink 10 pints of cask for every pint of keg, because most of the inter­est­ing beer is on cask.

          Brew­dog have dis­tanced them­selves from cask ale as a delib­er­ate mar­ket­ing posi­tion­ing to cre­ate a sep­a­ra­tion between their beer and the deeply unfash­ion­able image of cask ale. It was a shrewd move and it worked bril­liant­ly, but its prag­ma­tism, not ide­al­ism.

          1. Okay, so if the craft scene is gen­er­al­ly sup­port­ive of tra­di­tion­al British beer styles as part of the great world of styl­is­tic diver­si­ty, which cur­rent­ly fash­ion­able craft brew­eries pro­duce a tra­di­tion­al best bit­ter? Or a mild?

        2. Tim­my tay­lor. Oakham. Dark Star. Crouch Vale. Thorn­bridge. Adnams. Bunting­ford. Mil­ton. Mar­ble. Liv­er­pool Organ­ic. Bate­mans. Salop­i­an. Stone­house.

          Christ I could go on for years. Most of them, is the answer.

          1. How about The Ker­nel? Or Par­ti­zan? Mag­ic Rock? Brew­dog? Mean­time? Siren? Cam­den Town? Wild Beer? Bux­ton? Weird Beard?

            I’m not say­ing that every­one involved in what could broad­ly be called craft beer is a fun­da­men­tal­ist extremophile, but to me it seems pret­ty obvi­ous that there’s a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tion of craft brew­ers and craft beer drinkers who basi­cal­ly aren’t inter­est­ed in tra­di­tion­al British cask bit­ters…

          2. Brew­dog used to do a mild. Not sure about the oth­ers.
            But either way, I’m not real­ly sure what your point is. Some brew­eries spe­cialise in cer­tain par­tic­u­lar types of beer, some in oth­ers. There was a mas­sive gap in the mar­ket for more mod­ern styles, and brew­eries are flood­ing to fill it. A sen­si­ble busi­ness deci­sion to my mind.

            Lots of craft brew­eries don’t do a black IPA – so would you con­clude that “there’s cer­tain­ly a strong ten­den­cy from some quar­ters” to den­i­grate non-tra­di­tion­al styles.

            I think your argu­ment doesn’t real­ly hold up. I go in craft beer pubs all the time, and the bit­ters and milds are always the most pop­u­lar drinks on the bar.

            There are far, far more craft brew­eries that DO do a bit­ter or mild than those that don’t, so to rep­re­sent the craft brew­ing indus­try as some­how “against” tra­di­tion­al styles is wil­ful igno­rance of the real­i­ty.

  13. Dave/py – in the mid­dle of proof­read­ing some­thing at the moment, so just a quick reply:

    Yes, I think it is fair to say that there are quite a few UK brew­ers entire­ly dis­in­ter­est­ed in bit­ter, and espe­cial­ly mild. They some­times make them any­way but call them ‘amber’ or ‘red’ or some­thing like that, and we sense their hearts aren’t always in it.

    I haven’t go time to dig out a link but there have been some great snidey, cat­ty con­ver­sa­tions about mild between hop-fix­at­ed brew­ers on Twit­ter.

    1. It’s not the brew­ers I was talk­ing about, it’s some of the pun­ters. I have gen­uine­ly met peo­ple who seem to think the only beer worth drink­ing was invent­ed by Vin­nie Cil­ur­zo in 1994 (And don’t get me wrong, that’s not Vinnie’s fault, he’s a knowl­edgable brew­er with a deep respect for brew­ing tra­di­tion and Pliny is def­i­nite­ly one of my all time top beers). And the abuse I got on Twit­ter when I put Fuller’s Chiswick in my Top 10 Lon­don beers in a View Lon­don piece a cou­ple of years back was some­thing to behold.

      Of course there are always idiot fan­boys but a bit more wor­ry­ing is the dom­i­nance of cer­tain fash­ion­able brew­ers in the Lon­don pubs I’ve been vis­it­ing to update my books – near­ly all brew­ers who are very good at what they do, but they seem to have total­ly oust­ed sev­er­al equal­ly good but not so fash­ion­able brew­ers who were every­where a few years back but now must be won­der­ing what hap­pened to the floor.

  14. The slag­ging you’ll get for lik­ing Fuller’s won’t be from Cit­ra-lov­ing hip­sters, it will be from idiot Cam­ra mem­bers who haven’t got Watney’s to hate any more and so hate Fullers/Wells/Marstons instead. God, those peo­ple infu­ri­ate me – if it’s made in a mash tun big­ger than a foot­bath, and avail­able in more that three pubs, they’re going to hate on it.

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