Craft Lager and Whatever IPA

Whatever IPA.

We’ve been observing the way people, including some of our own friends and colleagues, order their drinks in pubs these days.

Here’s a fairly typical exchange:

“What you having?”

[Pointing at the keg taps] “Whatever IPA they’ve got.”

“Maltsmith’s?”

“Yeah, fine.”

Maltsmith’s (Caledonian/Heineken, 4.6%) is the same as Samuel Smith India Ale (5%, coppery, English hops) is the same as BrewDog Punk (5.6%, pale, pungent) is the same as Goose Island IPA (AB InBev, 5.9%, amber, piney).

We’ve noticed more or less the same tendency with ‘craft lager’ – a phrase we geeks could probably lose weeks bickering over but which to most consumers has a fairly clear meaning: something with CRAFT LAGER written on its label, and a brand invented in the past decade.

Fuller’s Frontier, Hop House 13 (Guinness), St Austell Korev, Camden Hells (AB InBev), Lost & Grounded Keller Pils… They’re all seen as avatars of the same thing, despite the vast divergence in flavours, and regardless of ownership, independence, and so on.

It was weird the other night to be in Seamus O’Donnell’s, a central Bristol Irish pub, and see on draught not only Guinness stout but also a Guinness branded golden ale, citra IPA, and two crafted-up lagers – Hop House 13 and Guinness Pilsner.

This line-up is what people expect to find in 2018, and breweries are obliged to respond if they don’t want to lose space on the bar to competitors.

The frustration for beer geeks is that this feels and looks like what they wanted, what they clamoured for, but the beers themselves are so often disappointing – hops a little more in evidence than the old mainstream, perhaps, but rarely more than that.

And if you’re wedded to ideals of independence, quality and choice, it’s all a bit worrying: most consumers are apparently easy to befuddle, or don’t care, which is bad news for those who do.

8 thoughts on “Craft Lager and Whatever IPA”

  1. And there’s a quote in the CAMRA 21st Anniversary book:

    “What are you having?”

    “Oh, whatever is their keg.”

    These concepts have become commoditised in the same way as “bitter” and “cooking lager”.

  2. Mass Observation noted the same thing in The Pub and the People in the 40s: most drinkers are not concerned with beer quality, and will more usually speak of amounts consumed, price, and other non-taste factors. A minority was different, as MO go on to discuss as well. Nothing has changed 75 years later. The people who run the international beer business understand this, although it’s doubtful most or any know what MO is.

    Gary

  3. I notice friends who have been lifelong premium lager drinkers switching to keg PAs or IPAs (Camden, Brewdog) when they are available, but when they’re not, they go back to the Moretti or San Miguel; they won’t make the further step to a cask PA.

    1. There’s basically a category of punter who basically wants cold, fizzy and refreshing but slightly classy and exclusive, isn’t there? It’s like the way that a lot of international premium lager brands (San Miguel, Peroni, Tiger etc) were seen as being a cut above yer basic Stellas and Carlsbergs when they launched in the UK, but inevitably lost that exclusivity in the process of capitalising on it and growing market share. So now if you want something that marks you out from the undiscerning masses while still being an essentially low-maintenance drink then you get a craft lager or a keg IPA.

      1. Yes, if you’ve been drinking premium lager all your life, then “cold, fizzy and refreshing” are intrinsic qualities of beer. Punk IPA has them, Landlord not so much.

  4. A few years ago this post would have garners 100+comments.

    Students tend to drink whatever is cheap and easy drinking , which tends to be lager, but as soon as they get just a little bit of money, they gain this appetite for trying something more sophisticated.
    This used to be premium lager, now its more likely to be an ipa.

    The reason they dont go into cask is because in the majority of pubs, the only cask ale on offer is… an acquired taste.
    Most young people will drink something like citra quite happily, but give them a pedigree and they’ll tip it into the plant pot.

    Too many pubs focus their beer offer at old men and then wonder why no young people come in

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