Over/Under Represented, Pt 2

Adapted from 'applause' by 42andpointless, from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

On Friday, we asked people to tell us which breweries they think get more than their fair share of attention, and which are being overlooked.

The results were interesting, though perhaps not quite in the way we had hoped.

There are going on for c.1,300 breweries in Britain (the numbers are disputed) but there were hardly any names put forward for either list that were not familiar to us from blog posts or newspaper articles. That rather confirmed our view that, if no-one is raving about Bloggs’s Brew Co of Dufton, it’s probably because the beer it produces is, at best, unremarkable. Or, to put that another way, there are only a handful of breweries really worth writing home about.

The following breweries were named on both lists in one way or another:

  • Wild Beer Co
  • Siren
  • Red Willow
  • Adnams
  • Celt Experience
  • Marble

That a brewery could be both over- and under-exposed is surely a result of the contemporary pick’n’mix approach to consuming media. We follow c.750 people on Twitter who won’t be the same people you follow; and we read the blogs on our blog roll (← over there) which won’t be the same blogs you read. We’d say we hear a fair bit about all of the breweries above (though we’ve never written anything about Red Willow or Celt ourselves) probably because we choose what to read with the intention of getting broad geographical coverage.

(But we’re planning a separate post about London-centricity to follow later in the week…)

Now we get to the tricky subject of Oakham, which is apparently the poster-boy for the brilliant-but-overlooked. We think it is probably true that, though it’s hardly ‘ignored’, it does not get talked and written about as much as, say, Magic Rock, and that is largely because it doesn’t ‘play the game’. We’ve never got a response from anyone there to emails or Tweets, and, unlike BrewDog and Magic Rock, the Oakham PR people don’t seem to push out much information through social media. We should also add that, frankly, we think Oakham’s beer has been in the doldrums for the last year or so which is why we didn’t mention them in our Golden Pints post before Christmas.

Another tricky subject is cask-conditioning. While Camden and BrewDog beers might never reach the heights of a great pint of Landlord, nor are their kegged, bottled and canned beers prone (these days…) to huge variations in quality: if we recommend Punk IPA to someone, there’s a good chance that, when they drink it, it will taste similar to the one we had. It is much easier for the hive mind to reach a consensus around consistent products than ones which are occasionally brilliant, especially if consumed within two miles of the brewery on a cool day near the end of the week.

At which point, we should also mention the generally poor quality of bottled beer: dodgy contract bottling, or even dodgier hand-bottling, does brewery reputations no favours. We don’t have access to Mallinson’s much-lauded cask ale but keep buying the bottles, none of which, so far, have really been of acceptable quality. And Redemption’s Trinity is a great cask ale — one of our favourites — but the bottles just don’t show their beer in a good light. So, if we don’t have much to say about these favourite breweries of yours, it’s because we’ve yet to be convinced of their brilliance, and can’t be bothered to write a post saying little more than ‘meh’.

Main image adapted from ‘applause’ by 42andpointless, from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

46 thoughts on “Over/Under Represented, Pt 2”

  1. A bit late to the game, but I found Gadds’ to be consistently good cask beer on our recent hols in Kent. Not exactly the stuff of crafty dreams though, nor even new world hops freaks, since it’s apparently all or mostly Kentish hopped. Under-rated.

    Yes, Mallinsons’ bottles really disappoint after having it on cask. Still not over-hyped though.

  2. probably because we choose what to consume with the intention of getting broad geographical coverage.

    Is there a “don’t” missing here?

    Surprised to see Red Willow on the over-exposed list – I find them hard to fault.

    1. There might be a ‘in what we read’ missing: we aim to get a broad geographical coverage in what we read, and will make a point of following blogs that give us insight into what’s going on in Stoke or Swansea or wherever.

      EDIT: FIXED.

  3. In general, the amount of stuff written about a brewery will be directly correlated to the amount of stuff they do that is worth writing about.

    1. We’ve tended to write that kind of thing of as ‘brand style’ which is why we insist on putting an apostrophe in Watney’s even though they never did, but then we have somehow let BrewDog train us to write it like that. We’ll have a think and decide on a consistent approach, as they say, ‘going forward’.

      1. Yes, but if the brewery calls itself, for example, RedWillow then that’s the correct name not a “brand style”. I edit a local CAMRA magazine and also write a weekly newspaper column and I take the not unreasonable line of using the name that the brewery chooses to call itself. Bit arrogant to impose something else don’t you think?

        1. I see John Clarke has gone into tosser mode again.

          Anyway, if it was that critical then presumably Redwillow (or should that be RedWillow, or REDWILLOW, or a red RED followed by black WILLOW) would always follow the same convention. But oh hang on, on facebook they are Red Willow…

  4. Don’t you know who I am, plebs?

    I edit a local CAMRA magazine and also write a weekly newspaper column, doncha know.

    1. Not at all, Boak & Bailey are far more accomplished writers than I am ever likely to be. I just gave some context as to how I use brewery names. It’s never easy when breweries decide to use something that’s a bit out of the ordinary (in Salford we have Se7en Brothers and in Stockport Watts Brewing? Co. ). Do you use the adopted name, however odd it may look, or reconfigure it to something more “regular”? I just take the view that if a brewery chooses to name itself in a certain way then it’s reasonable to go along with that when writing about them. And yes, I do think it’s a bit arrogant to impose your own style on a brewery’s chosen public name and that’s why I don’t do it.

  5. Oakham seem like a massively interesting subject for a one-off piece for the way that they cross over between real ale traddyness and new-wave craftiness. One the one hand, the beer they produce would fit comfortably into any craft beer bar that sells cask and a lot of it was first released at a time when it was pretty outlandish for real ale, on the other hand, they produce a relatively small lineup of beers, sell them on cask or in 500ml bottles (the latter always being a bit disappointing if you’re used to the former), win CAMRA awards, are popular in “real ale mecca” type pubs and at CAMRA fests, don’t have much truck with graphic design or sleek branding or social media…

    They mostly feel “under-represented” in the context of the new-wave / craft scene, which I think is a consequence of them tasting like craft beer but not walking like craft beer or quacking like craft beer.

  6. I don’t tend to agree with your conclusion that if a brewery isn’t being talked about, it is likely to be unremarkable beer. Even the breweries that people listed as under-represented have some talk about them.

    Off the top of my head, I can think of three breweries – Townhouse, Big Hand and Vibrant Forest – from whom I have tried one beer, which I have really enjoyed. All three of those, I have never seen in a bottle shop or festival and only in a pub once. I’d buy more of their beer again, but I wouldn’t voice an opinion on the breweries without having drank them a few times at the least.

    1. Still can’t work out what the hell’s going on in that picture, or even who’s meant to be the opportunist. Just plain bad, but made even worse by the suspicion that what they were trying to get across was something vaguely disgusting.

        1. There’s a pickpocket?

          What’s the blue and yellow thing in the foreground, looks vaguely like a Doctor Who monster (McCoy period)?

          1. The pickpocket is a badly-drawn creepy witch’s familiar kind of thing slipping its hand into her handbag; the Doctor Who monster is a badly-drawn blonde-haired man in a puffa-jacket tilting his head and turning away from the camera to observe the woman in the mini dress. I can only assume the artist sketched it hurriedly upon waking from a laudanum nightmare.

          2. I see it now. If M R James had ever written a story whose protagonist was a young woman who liked to party, it would have been a considerable departure for him. But it would look a lot like that. Sort of “O Whistle And I’ll Come To You, You Brazen Hussy”.

    2. Its a shame, because some of their branding, like the vividly green and instantly recognisable Citra and GreenDevil* pumpclips are modern classics.

      *sorry, I of course meant Green Devil with a space before I’m accused of arrogance.

      1. I don’t know — I think they’re just on the acceptable side of amateurish. They remind me of the dodgy airbrush paintings on the covers of Commodore 64 games in the 1980s.

        1. I don’t know. I think their font is somewhat unfashionable, but I wouldn’t call it amateurish. Some of the pictures on the seasonal stuff are amateurish as are a few of the names.

          However, the consistency of their designs, with the recognisable pump clip shape, the riveted bar down the right hand side, is far from amateurish. You can spot an Oakham pumpclip on a bar from 100 yards away. Surely that is the point of good modern branding?

        2. Oakham are a funny one. I’m a great lover of their beer and they were one of the “pale ‘n’ hoppy” pioneers. Their Brewery Tap in Peterborough was cutting edge when it opened and still cuts it when compared to more modern iterations of the “craft beer bar”. Green Dragon IPA is kegged and casked. Yet, they still don’t seem to cut it with the “craft community” . As Jeff has pointed out some of their pump clips raise eyebrows but on the other hand some of their designs are classics, as py notes.

          Is it because they don’t have much of an online presence or actively court the blogosphere? No collabs with prominent “rock star” brewers or bloggers either. While their beers are solid they are not wildly experimental – no “saisons and sours” here. But is any of this that a bad thing? I suppose it is if you measure success by the amount of online fanboi clatter you generate but if you just want to be a quietly respected brewery (despite the odd pump clip faux pas) making solid yet far from dull beers and sell everything you make without too much effort then I’d say Oakham have pretty much nailed it.

  7. I don’t think Oakham are in the doldrums at all. Their seasonal specials, which tend to be hard to find, are consistently good. Unlike the much lauded (about 10 years too late) Marble which isn’t worth crossing the street for now.

    Interesting spat re RedWillow. Of course John is correct and I will hold my hands up as one of the guilty who should know better. My only defence is laziness in correcting Spell Checker.

    1. Oh there are worse crimes Tyson. My personal bugbear is people referring to “Belgium” beers when they mean “Belgian”. Gets me every time that one.

    2. I am with John Clarke on this one, Oakham beers are always good- didn’t they finish second overall behind Timmy Taylors at last years GBBF?

      Interesting you say that about Marble..the arch is defiantly worth crossing the road for and the beers recently seem to be bang on form- maybe its cool to hate Marble?

      1. Nothing to do with cool. if anything surely it’s the opposite? To put my comment into context, I sampled the beer on its very first outing (it was free btw) all those years ago and have been sampling it very regularly ever since. Its had many brewers over the years, some of whom were tremendous and are now well-known in their own right. At its zenith there was a holy trinity of brewers who made and kept Marble at the very top of British brewing. Sadly, the new(ish) brewer has bow got many seasoned Marble drinkers questioning one-time favourites such as Pint.

        It’s no use pretending everything’s rosy in the garden when it isn’t.

  8. I’m a big fan of Cumbrian Legendary Ales but have only come across their beers on trips to the Lake District and Manchester. I once cycled from Keswick over the Honister Pass to their brewery tap in Loweswater, the Kirkstyle Inn, so I could have a bit of a session on them. I wasn’t disappointed and would have stayed much longer but for the slog, albeit scenic, back.

    I would also agree that Oakham are not in the doldrums, I’ve had some extremely fine pints of Citra in recent months, I find their beers very consistent, albeit a bit samey, and they seem to sell them to places who look after them well.

    Also a big fan of RedWillow, I wish I could find their beers in London more often.

    1. Re: Oakham in the doldrums, we can only speak from personal experience, but if other people are finding the same — that the bottled beer in particular is lacking its old ‘zing’ — then that will have a dragging effect on their reputation, even if, overall, it remains pretty high.

  9. Calling out a craft brewery – though you carefully don’t – on the quality of their bottled beer seems more than a tad unfair.

    Cask ale and bottled are rarely the same beast. The best I know of making it nearly the same are Wilson Potter of Middleton. But then again I don’t drink much bottled beer at the best of times but certainly wouldn’t be drinking the bottled version of the cask and then calling “Foul”.

    1. Agreed – I’ll drink Oakham stuff on cask pretty much whenever I see it, but seldom bother with their bottles even though I can get them from at least four shops within ten minutes walk of my office.

    2. “Calling out a craft brewery – though you carefully don’t – on the quality of their bottled beer seems more than a tad unfair.”

      You’re right, we’re not calling anyone out, and if we put any more disclaiming clauses in this post it would fall over.

      But why would the bottled version not be fair game for passing judgement? Especially as, in the case of Oakham, the bottles have previously been just as startlingly good as the cask beers, albeit with quite a different character.

    3. Why is discussing bottle quality unfair? If they sell it then they are open to being criticised if it isn’t up to scratch

  10. Wallop was mild, pace Davy’s (excellent) bitter under that name, and the name surely derives from the time when mild was stronger than pale ale (bitter) and porter. Simple as that.

    Gary

  11. “But why would the bottled version not be fair game for passing judgement? Especially as, in the case of Oakham, the bottles have previously been just as startlingly good as the cask beers, albeit with quite a different character.”

    Perhaps they are fair game if you accept that the bottles were as good as the cask. Of which I would take some convincing.

    It would be odd though if the bottles had got worse while the cask remained so good – if indeed it has. Mind you if you are keen to take a brewery across their whole range for the purposes of comparison, then it may be fair enough.

    I kind of feel that it is comparing unfairly though.

    1. Absolutely. To clarify, I’m really talking about cask Oakham as I very rarely, apart from M&S, drink their bottled stuff. As Tandleman says, cask and bottle are not usually the same at all. I have a friend who drinks cases of Oakham Citra but while pleasant enough I would never dream of comparing it to the cask version. But if you’re saying that the bottled version isn’t as good as it used to be, I’m puzzled but there are several possible explanations for that.

  12. Oakham do reach out to writers, I’ve had two press releases from them in the past couple of months. They were written in a very corporate context and there was no substance to them – no story. Surely as writers we are just chasing the story and we just follow the thread to see where it goes? That’s certainly how I feel like I approach my writing.

  13. Sorry I’m late to the party on this one and equal apologies for coming back to my favourite brewery in the UK in a really nice small city but the Hop Back Brewery in Salisbury is a much over-looked brewery with a few pubs of its own.
    Consistently knocking out a small range of quality ales in a no-nonsense un-trendy style.
    Although a relatively new brewrey they’ve been around since before the craft revolution and they’ll still be here when all the Johnny-Come-Latelies have buggered off.

  14. I didn’t catch your part 1 post but certainly glad someone added Celt Experience. They consistantly produce excellent beers, I’m rarely disappointed.

  15. there were hardly any names put forward for either list that were not familiar to us from blog posts or newspaper articles

    Subversive thought 1: you’d heard about some of those breweries through blog posts; were some of those blog posts saying “nobody writes about brewery X, they never get any exposure”?

    Subversive thought 2: might there be a hidden seam of good-to-very-good breweries with local followings out there, which you aren’t hearing about because everyone in their area thinks they’re getting enough attention? (Would anyone say that St Austell is over-exposed or under-exposed? Elland? Acorn? Ossett?)

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