QUICK ONE: Experiences vs. Commodities

Sometimes you just want to watch whatever is being broadcast; other times only a particular film will do, even if costs. Is that also how beer works these days?

Last week the cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor John Har­ris (@johnharris1969) took a pause from the fren­zy of post elec­tion analy­sis to make an obser­va­tion about beer:

Tweet: "The 'craft' beer worry. £3.50 for a can/bottle of Beefheart IPA (or whatever). This: £1.25 from Lidl, & very nice."

Our instinc­tive reac­tion to this was, frankly, a bit dick­ish: ‘Ugh, what is he on about?’ Much as we imag­ine he might have respond­ed to a Tweet say­ing, for exam­ple: ‘Why buy the expen­sive new Bea­t­les reis­sue when Pound­land has a per­fect­ly good Best Of Ger­ry and the Pace­mak­ers for £2?’

But of course, in a sense, he’s right: if you aren’t obsessed with music, wine, clothes, or what­ev­er, you should­n’t feel oblig­ed to spend loads more mon­ey on a ver­sion of that thing that is no more enjoy­able to you than the read­i­ly avail­able, bud­get ver­sion just because of peer pres­sure or mar­ket­ing.

The prob­lem is, once you do get into beer, the gener­ic does­n’t always cut it. If you just want some­thing to absent­mind­ed­ly sup while you socialise or watch TV then what­ev­er is on spe­cial offer this week is prob­a­bly fine, but if you’ve got a par­tic­u­lar yen to wal­low in the pun­gency of Amer­i­can hops then LIDL’s Hather­wood Green Gecko just won’t do the job. If you’re real­ly in deep you’ll prob­a­bly even turn your nose up at about two-thirds of sup­pos­ed­ly ‘prop­er’ craft IPAs, too. And you’ll be will­ing (every now and then) to pay a bit more for a par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence – a rare beer, a curios­i­ty, some­thing with a par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al or his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

12 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: Experiences vs. Commodities”

  1. Hmmm…depends what type of beer geek you are I guess. I would­n’t bat an eye­lid at the Lidl bud­get ale in a brown bot­tle, but if it was a slab of Car­ling on spe­cial offer I might have an invol­un­tary flinch.

    1. It’s not so much the LIDL beer – lots of beer geeks we fol­low on Twit­ter enjoy them and we thought they were pret­ty OK, if mis­rep­re­sent­ed by their pack­ag­ing – but the idea that you might nev­er need any­thing else/better. (Which is not quite what he’s say­ing, but that’s how it read to us in that moment of reac­tion.)

      1. There’s a big dif­fer­ence between being hap­py to drink some­thing that’s not exact­ly bleed­ing edge and nev­er want­i­ng to drink some­thing real­ly spe­cial; per­son­al­ly, I enjoy the spe­cial beers all the more if they’re a bit of a rare treat. As long as I enjoy what I’m drink­ing, it does­n’t have to be the ulti­mate exam­ple of a style all the time. At the moment, my home tip­ple of choice is Oakham Infer­no; it’s nowhere near my favourite Oakham beer even, but at £1.29 a bot­tle from Aldi it’s a per­fect­ly pleas­ant beer for a great price. Does it real­ly sat­is­fy the beer geek in me? Not real­ly, but it’s a nice beer that does­n’t break the bank, and unless I’m in full Beer­hunter mode, thay suits me fine.

  2. And you’ll be will­ing (every now and then) to pay a bit more for a par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence — a rare beer, a curios­i­ty, some­thing with a par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al or his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.”

    That is alright as long as the beer isn’t a dis­ap­point­ment, or the sto­ry around the beer is more inter­est­ing than the beer itself, and you end up won­der­ing why you’ve spent so much on that curios­i­ty or nov­el­ty when you could’ve bought some­thing fair­ly sim­i­lar or more wide­ly avail­able for con­sid­er­ably less . After that kind of thing has hap­pened a few times, some peo­ple (myself includ­ed) might start look­ing at the likes of Green Gecko with more inter­est. They will prob­a­bly not make you trem­ble in delight, but will feel you are get­ting val­ue for your mon­ey.

    1. You nev­er get dis­ap­point­ed but nev­er get those excit­ing moments of dis­cov­ery either. It’s one approach, I sup­pose, but sounds a bit bleak to me.

      1. It all depends on how much dis­pos­able time and income you have. I love being sur­prised and find­ing new beers, but I’ve been dis­ap­point­ed many times and now I pre­fer cer­tain­ty, if I’m going to be spend­ing time, mon­ey and liv­er with a beer, I want to enjoy what I’m drink­ing. Mind you, I’m will­ing to spend a bit more if I know I will get qual­i­ty in return. It’s not so much about price, it’s about val­ue. But then, I know that for some peo­ple hav­ing that rar­i­ty, that curios­i­ty, that nov­el­ty in front of them is good val­ue enough.

  3. I agree. I am inves­ti­gat­ing the bud­get end of the mar­ket this year and am delight­ed to report that the beer is still tasty. After all my years of good beer, I have been left with the sink­ing feel­ing that far too great a per­cent­age of “craft” is a flop mas­saged with mar­ket­ing. Add to that beer writ­ers who are ded­i­cat­ed to not men­tion­ing the rel­a­tive val­ue propo­si­tion any giv­en beer offers rel­a­tive to the mar­ket and we are left with a hefty sym­pa­thy for the view Har­ris pro­vides. This is just the mar­ket being dragged, per­haps with a bit of kick­ing and scream­ing, into its mature phase in which val­ue is not labeled with “com­mod­i­ty” and fic­tions like wor­ry­ing about del­i­cate brew­er’s inten­tions and rewrit­ing his­to­ry to jus­ti­fy murky sludge are put in their place. This next phase of good beer, charged with hon­esty, is going to be far more sat­is­fy­ing.

  4. Isn’t this where we’ve been aim­ing all these years? The land beyond craft. Where it does­n’t require effort to find good beer. You can just go down your local super­mar­ket or into your local pub, and the beer is just good. 20 years ago, to find a decent beer you had to vis­it a spe­cial­ist beer shop or that one beer-focused pub in the town. Now every super­mar­ket and (almost) every pub pro­vides a much wider and high­er qual­i­ty range than was pre­vi­ous­ly imag­in­able. I can’t remem­ber the last time I was forced to buy Car­ling or Guin­ness or Doom Bar out of a lack of alter­na­tives. Are there real­ly idiots who are dis­ap­point­ed by this kind of thing?

  5. Mr Har­ris tends to be scoffed at in music cir­cles for his con­ser­v­a­tive tastes; the choice of “Beef­heart” for the name of a chal­leng­ing IPA is telling.

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