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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