A recent in-depth listicle from Pellicle made us reflect on how Camden Hells was a turning point, though we didn’t recognise the turn while it was taking place.
Back in around 2012, it was easy to overlook: sharp branding aside, it was just another ‘craft lager’, following in the footsteps of Zero Degrees, Meantime and Freedom.
We didn’t think it tasted especially exciting – perhaps a touch more appealing than some mainstream draught lagers.
The company had its fans, but also its detractors, not least those in the industry irritated by a sense that it was outright buying coverage, or was over-hyped, or was failing to be transparent with consumers.
What we should have paid more attention to was that our friends who weren’t especially interested in beer – who would turn pale if you accused them of being beer geeks – seemed to like Hells a lot. They were switching from Foster’s, Stella, Peroni, and (perhaps crucially) drinking Hells just as they’d drunk those other beers: by the pint, pint after pint.
With hindsight, it’s easy to see why they’d make the switch. Hells was light-tasting, reasonably strong, clean and clear; usually came in smart but chunky glassware; and the branding was nice – bold, contemporary, declaring itself a Londoner.
To reiterate, Hells certainly wasn’t the first British craft lager, but it might yet turn out to be the most influential.
It probably prompted Fuller’s Frontier (2013), Adnams Dry Hopped (2013), and Guinness Hop House 13 (2015), to name but three examples.
And we’re certain it’s why breweries like Moor have been unable to resist giving lager a go in recent years, even though that’s not something that seemed on the agenda for them a decade ago.
The recent launch of Carlsberg Danish Pilsner must also surely be a reaction to Hells, or at least indirectly, via Hop House 13 and the others.