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That’s Not A Story Pt 2: Doom vs. Triumph

Stories about beer, especially in the mainstream press, often seem to follow one of two templates: collapse and defeat, or resurgence and triumph. But the truth is often somewhere in between.

We were going to say ‘Boringly, the truth is often somewhere in between’ but then we thought, hold on — it’s not as boring as the default positions of Oh Woe! or Yay, Awesome! trotted out time after time, seemingly on auto-pilot.

In the article we’ve just written about mild for All About Beer we touch upon this tendency because mild has been the subject of many overly-optimistic MILD IS BACK! articles over the years. They’re expressions of wishful thinking, or propaganda, or a bit of both. Our argument is essentially that mild is in the process of becoming, like Gose or Berliner Weisse, a local curiosity — not extinct, just rare, a base for experimentation, and of more interest to we nerds than to drinkers in the real world.

Ron Pattinson, who knows more about the history of mild than perhaps anyone except Martyn Cornell, has a long piece on the same subject in the current edition of the Campaign for Real Ale’s BEER magazine and seems to agree: ‘The style has moved from being a staple to a seasonal or regional speciality… I’m not quite so pessimistic now.’ (He disagrees with us about the effectiveness of CAMRA’s long-running Month of Mild campaign, though.)

Detail from an old beer mat: BITTER!
Bitter: not doomed, nor about to take over the world, but somewhere in between.

We’ve written before about what constitutes a story — a change in the status quo, a bit of drama — so we do understand why editors and readers show more interest in tales of victory or defeat, of sudden cataclysmic change, than in variations on EVERYTHING IS BASICALLY FINE.

That preference explains why CAMRA controversially pitched its Revitalisation project as a high stakes battle for the soul of the organisation —
IS THIS THE END OF THE CAMPAIGN FOR REAL ALE? — and why that was so effective in gaining mainstream coverage, reaching people who would have been far less interested in BEER CLUB DEBATES TERMS OF REFERENCE.

It’s behind THE NEXT BIG THING IN BEER announcements that arrive several times a year, every year: Root beerTart IPA! Session IPA! Kvass! (That last one is really idiotic…) Because fewer people would care about the more truthful version: THE NEXT SHORT-LIVED TREND THAT WON’T MAKE IT TO YOUR TOWN.

It’s also why newspapers are so eager to declare that HOP SHORTAGES COULD END CRAFT BEER BOOM — so much ‘hookier’ than BREWERS MILDLY CONCERNED: WEATHER CONTINUES TO AFFECT AGRICULTURE. (It doesn’t hurt that this one also contains an irresistible element of needling Schadenfreude — smug hipsters and their stupid hops!)

These types of story give the reader fun sound-bites to take away but aren’t always helpful if you want to actually understand what’s going on. This has only become amplified in an era where the online click is king. For our part, we’ve almost learned not to rise to the bait — not to follow every sensational headline that slides into view on Twitter, and not to share them without moderating commentary.

Aren’t IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT and THERE’S MORE TO THIS THAN YOU THINK hooks enough? That’s what we like to read, anyway. If only there was more of it about.

4 replies on “That’s Not A Story Pt 2: Doom vs. Triumph”

Isn’t it because it’s not about the beer or brewing but the ambitions of the writer, the publisher’s requirements or the underlying trade association’s goals? Plus the lashings of alcohol leaving the keyboardist either under the influence or hungover? Subtle writing amend complex topics haven’t exactly ever been the mainstream of beer writing.

Just to be not a total ass I would add that I am always delighted when those conditions are lifted and the good beer writing shines through. You guys, for example, I take to be ambitionless t-totallers as you write so many gems.

Horrifyingly, Kvass may yet have it’s day in the sun. I was talking to a brewer yesterday who is planning several (several!) of them.

Hops are, I think, really going to be an issue over the next 18 months (especially for those brewers lower down the food chain) and I think this could manifest itself in two ways – a huge slowing down in the number of start-ups and a return to less aggressively hopped beer styles. Mild anyone? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

By the way, it was quite interesting reading that old thread as the points made then are equally relevant today. Mind you, Devon White continues to remain elusive….

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