Has the excitement gone out of the beer scene, and if so, why?
Those are the questions we asked in our most recent newsletter last week.
They prompted some interesting responses across all channels.
Overall, we’d say those who had an opinion shared our sense that things feel depressed.
Lack of variety might be the problem
The excitement has gone out of beer, says David, “and that’s (in part) because there are too many people producing products that are too similar with no defining characteristics.”
He also shared a photo of a beer menu at a bar in London populated almost entirely by pale, hoppy beers:
“There are some genuinely good beers here, of course… But look at the spread of styles and ABVs on that board… And yes, it’s a warm Monday in July in London. But if that’s your selection, where’s the joy? That board could be a quarter as long and lose absolutely nothing.”
His email concluded with this interesting analogy:
“It’s like street circuits in Formula 1. We all looked at Monaco and thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there were more street circuits?’ So then they had loads more and they’re entirely uniform and dull, and even Monaco isn’t much of a watch now. Sometimes scarcity really is part of the appeal.”
Oliver Holtaway emailed us with this personal observation:
“Yes, beer feels far less interesting than it did 10 years ago, and while it’s a boring answer I’m part of the camp that mostly blames so many beers tasting of fruit (and this trend seemingly persisting forever). I clearly remember this shift happening around 2017-2018 when I used to drink in Hunter & Sons in Bath (now closed). They always had 6 taps on, some of it pretty far-flung and £££, and I’d settle in and drink a third or a half of each. When I first started going in 2015, those six beers would usually be very different from each other, so a session had that sense of adventure. Right before it closed in early 2018, they were still high-quality beers, but all a bit samey and fruity, and I felt less inclined to stick around.”
He also added that the shift towards sessionable craft beers – which many of us lobbied for – has taken the fun out of things:
“I’ve gone back recently and drunk 7-8% DIPAs or 9% imperial stouts from a tap and it sort of persuaded me that that taste is what craft beer is for… it’s hard for me to escape the idea that the “real stuff” only starts at 6% and above.”
The new nature of the omnicrisis
“I wouldn’t underestimate the way that pressure on peoples’ expendable income is knocking the joy out of life in general,” says Christopher Gooch, also via Substack. “The venues where we enjoy beer communally may still be busy on a good day, but some of our companions can’t join us as often as we would like. Good quality beer that fits within my taste parameters is all I ask for – so often I have picked up a rarity or hot topic beer to realise that I could have bought something equally satisfying, or better, for less money.”
Others mentioned the general sense of contraction in the UK and US economies and the changing nature of consumption in the wake of the pandemic.
And this unrelated post from Kat Sewell seemed accidentally relevant:
What? There’s plenty of excitement left!
In a post at Beervana Jeff Alworth respectfully disagreed with our conclusion:
“Yet week after week, month after month, year after year, interesting stuff kept cropping up. If I stop to think about something I don’t know, I can go down a rabbit hole that will lead me to learn something new about the seemingly infinite fascinating details beer contains. If I scan the news, I’ll usually find something at least blog-worthy happening in the world of beer… And, if I’m having trouble coming up with an idea, I dig a little deeper, focusing my attention on the various vast domains within beer…”
He also asks a smart follow up question, though: why does it feel as if beer might be ‘dead’?
“I think what’s happening now is what Buddhists call ‘the suffering of change.’ For a good decade, beer was incredibly exciting. Breweries opened like crazy, new styles were reshaping the landscape, and everyone was getting into good beer. For a decade, craft beer was the fun party and everyone wanted to be there. For those of us who got used to that mode of being—or who didn’t know anything else—2023 has the feel of the hangover after the party. We have vague regrets and our moods are dark.”
Stan Hieronymus also disagreed but outsourced the commentary to commenters on Facebook who said things like this:
“Since I started home brewing 47 years ago, the US has gone from less than 100 breweries in the US to over 10,000 today. You can get fresh beer on tap at a brewery in nearly any mid-sized town in the US and in a myriad of styles! The revolution is complete.”
Via Mastodon Chris Begley says:
“I think it is less exciting only because we take it for granted…. I can go to virtually any bar now and expect 2-3 good lagers, 2-3 good IPAs, and a variety of others, like a saison or a sour. This was not the case 20 or 30 years ago.”
Does beer need to be exciting?
Steve Hannigan put forward a point of view we expected to hear from a few people:
“Beer doesn’t have to be exciting,” says Tom Hennessy at Substack, echoing Steve. “It just has to be good and worth the price. What matters more to me is the setting where you are drinking the beer. It has to be fun, comfortable and the medium for sharing that beer with good friends.”
And Christopher Gooch, again, says:
“I don’t come across as very passionate about beer, but I am very easily satisfied. Good beer, sometimes exceptional, a comfortable venue with an atmosphere when I want it, or chilled out when I need it, and a welcome. Familiar or novel, the tingle when you push open the door can be crushed too easily by surly, dour or cookie cutter vibes.”
In a comment on Substack Nick wrote:
“I think we make a potential mistake in always trying to find the Next Big Thing. Not that I’m against change and progress of course. Example 1: I’ve recently started to commute into London one day a week after 3 years of near 100% working from home. I used to commute 4 or 5 times a week. Having this one day, in the middle of the week, has sort of become my Big Day Out in London and, because it’s just one day per week, I don’t have to rush home as soon as I clock off. This has enabled me to start revisiting some of the old haunts and simply enjoy the simplicity of a well-kept pint, new or old. I also can get off the train halfway home to explore some of the outlying, suburban gems such as one in the Wood, Petts Wood. It’s made me realise that focusing on high quality beer (from whichever container), and making the effort to find it, is simply enough…”
“I still get a thrill out of travelling to drink beers that have a sense of place,” says Andy Holmes in a comment on Substack. “Whether that be Rauchbier in Franconia or mild in the Black Country. Planning itineraries and visiting destination pubs, also excitingI Walking into a pub and seeing a list of 12 similar tasting IPAs is much less exciting.”
In his own post inspired by ours Mikey Seay writes:
“We got to the top of the mountain and now we’re all, ‘Are there, like, any other mountains or what?’… I think we just need to be happy. Contentment is a good thing… Beer has peaked and we just enjoy it while we still do what we can to keep the party quietly continuing.”
Or, as Paul put it in an email:
“I guess the thrill has gone for me. But I’ll still drink on.”