QUICK POST: Same Old Song

"Are All Beers The Same?"

The other day we encountered a hazy pale-n-hoppy beer from a local brewery that was decent in its own right, and certainly well on trend, but something about it bothered us: it simply seemed indistinguishable to quite a lot of other beers from quite a lot of other breweries.

Maybe this has been on our minds because our attempt to pin down the definition(s)  of ‘craft beer’ resurfaced again lately. The first definition we provide there, with reference to Michael Jackson and Roger Protz, includes the word ‘distinctive’ as a key characteristic — a sense that an experienced palate could not easily mistake that beer for any other.

Now, there aren’t many beers that really fit that criterion, and we’d probably struggle to tell, say, Bass from St Austell Cornish Bitter tasted blind on most occasions, but, still, perhaps it has got harder still in recent years. When there were a few hundred breweries in the UK, each making a handful of beers, there were plenty of unique selling points to go around: this one does lager, that one uses Cascade, there’s one down the road making an imperial stout that smells of puke to a sort-of-historic recipe, and so on. Now, with going on for a couple of thousand, it’s obviously harder to come up with anything completely new that is also likely to sell in any volume in pubs, i.e. that is not completely bonkers.

Even so, we do wonder if the tendency to rely on the same handful of commercial yeast strains, the same broad families of hops, and to look to the same few highly-rated beers for inspiration, isn’t leading into a cul-de-sac.

What is your thing? What makes your beer different, and better, than Bloggs’s? If you can’t answer that then you probably won’t convince a pub or shop to take your beer over one that’s 85 per cent identical but twopence cheaper, or with nicer packaging. You probably won’t convince drinkers to develop any particular loyalty to your brand either.

If you’re not distinctive, aren’t you… generic?

4 thoughts on “QUICK POST: Same Old Song”

  1. What is your thing? … If you can’t answer that then you probably won’t convince a pub or shop to take your beer

    That should be how it works, but it really isn’t. I could name a brewer that’s been turning out single-hop pale’n’oppy beers since long before they were fashionable; the distinctiveness of the beers – and the brewery – is that they showcase individual hops whether they’re showy, spiky or bland, almost like a series of test batches (but a lot more drinkable). Or one that systematically uses weird and wonderful adjuncts to produce the flavours other brewers get out of different hop permutations and changes in the malt bill, like the BD beer with grapefruit in but extended across a whole range. Gimmicky, maybe, but distinctive as hell.

    But who cares about Pictish or Ticketybrew?

  2. There are too many good styles out there that actually still don’t get a decent look-in these days, and a few styles get all the attention. There’s a lot more to German lagers than what we commonly see, and brown beers are still relatively speaking uncommon.

    Some styles get fashionable (hello Berliner Weisse), and I hope enough of those will stay around when that fade fades and something else comes in. I want to find a Lichtenhainer (Young Master Ales in HK make one that I loved), but it’s still nearly impossible.

  3. For a multi tap freehouse it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s got a different name.
    It’s not just tickers (and people who use untappd and don’t realise they are tickers) who have to try something new every time; enough normal punters are now addicted to constant novelty. I could serve the same 100 beers on rotation forevermore as long as I had an unlimited supply of different pump clips. I often wonder if a specialist ale house that didn’t change beers would actually be commercially viable or not.

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