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.

A Surprising New Local

Our neighbourhood has a new place to drink, and a new type of place to drink at that: a specialist bottle shop with bonus beer on tap.

Bottles & Books opened as a shop only at about the same time we moved to Bristol last summer. Combining beer with comic books it never quite seemed right, with not quite enough room to look at anything comfortably, or to fit more than two browsing customers at once. A month or so ago, though, it moved into the empty shop unit next door, to great effect.

Bottled and canned beers are clearly organised and laid out with plenty of space to browse. The hippest of hoppy beers are refrigerated while most other styles are on open shelves for now – perhaps not perfect by 2018 standards, but a marked improvement on another nearby beer shop which keeps many of its beers on display in a hot window.

It’s an indie shop so costs a little more than the supermarket, but not outrageously so, and the range is certainly more exciting.

Keg taps.

The draft setup is neat and discreet — a handful of taps on the wall behind the counter with a small menu chalked on a board. The selection tends towards the strong, intense and trendy — Verdant and the like. They are served in measures of one-third and two-thirds and there are tables in the window and (for now) on the pavement outside.

We’ve popped in a couple of times now and found it surprisingly busy. On another occasion, walking home from work, we looked across the road and saw it heaving. So there is clearly pent-up demand for the craft beer experience out here in the suburbs.

The owners of the local micropub, The Drapers Arms, seem sanguine about what might look like competition because, actually, there is almost no overlap: Bottles & Books is about keg and packaged beers, The Drapers cask only; the former is focused on foreign beer and High Craft, while the latter tends towards the traditional.

From our point of view, it looks like the convincer to get people on the bus and out to Horfield where there are now the makings of a decent afternoon’s crawl with enough variety and quality for anyone.

Bottles & Books is at 354-356 Gloucester Road, Bristol BS7 8TP, and is open six days a week, 12-9pm. It currently closes on Sunday but there are plans to open seven days a week down the line.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 July 2018: Cain’s, Keptinis, Craeft

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that inspired us to hit the BOOKMARK button in the past week, from pubs to hazy IPAs.

But let’s start with some items of news.


Illustration: intimidating pub.

For Original Gravity Emma Inch has written about the feeling of being on edge in pubs, even if nothing concrete happens, because of a sense that people are just a little too aware of “what makes you different”:

Throughout my drinking life I’ve been asked to leave a pub on the grounds that it’s a ‘family friendly venue’; I’ve witnessed a friend being ejected for giving his male partner a dry peck on the cheek; I’ve had a fellow customer shout homophobic abuse in my ear whilst the bartender calmly continued to ask me to pay for my pint… Once, I had to shield my face from flying glass as the pub windows were kicked in by bigots outside, and I still remember the sharp, breathless fear in the days following the Admiral Duncan pub bombing, not knowing if it was all over, or who and where would be targeted next.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 July 2018: Cain’s, Keptinis, Craeft”

The Community Is Real, Even if You Don’t Go to the Meetings

Illustration: All Together Now

Martyn Cornell is wrong: there is a craft beer community.

We see evidence all the time of people meeting up in strange parts of the world; swapping bottles, stories and information; crashing in each other’s spare bedrooms; organising events and competitions; collaborating on blogs and podcasts; going to weddings and birthday parties, often at great inconvenience; and supporting each other during difficult times.

There are people whose social lives are defined by it, whose careers have been determined by connections so made, and who met their partners at beer festivals.

That doesn’t mean everybody who is interested in beer is necessarily part of the Community. We’re not, really, through choice. (Sorry, stranger-who-also-likes-beer, but, no, you cannot sleep on our sofa.) But the Community doesn’t cease to be just because standoffish sorts decide not to join in.

Within the community, there are cliques, too — concentrated expressions of community which, by definition, are also exclusive. Oh, yes, the Community can certainly be fractious, petty and mean-spirited. But actually, all that soap opera — all the emotional explosions, break-ups and schisms — seem to us like evidence of the Community’s reality, and its complexity. (See also: the communities that grow up around anything, from churches to football teams.)

The Community has no single point of view, no leader, no chief spokesperson. There is no membership card or secret handshake.

From outside, the Community can sometimes look exploitative, too. How do you tell the difference between (a) businesses whose owners feel a real sense of belonging to, and duty towards, a craft beer community, and (b) cynical pretence? Or, somewhere in between, businesses that start out as the former and drift towards the latter as outside investment approaches.

Martyn is right, though, when he says that businesses don’t owe the Community anything. If a brewery decides to sell, in part or in whole, it is not obliged to consult the Community, or apologise.

But if they expect to benefit from the Community during the startup phase, in terms of PR, labour, and even financial investment, then it only seems fair to allow those who perceive themselves to be part of that Community a moment of dismay when the brewery withdraws from the informal contract. (Dismay not including abuse, of course, especially when directed at staff manning social media.)

Or, to put all that another way, the Community is real, but it isn’t universal, isn’t Utopia, and shouldn’t be a cult. It is certainly more than a single Facebook group.

A Glossary of Terms

Amongst all the chat about the Campaign for Real Ale’s AGM at the weekend we noticed a few old questions resurfacing: why, exactly, does CAMRA campaign for Real Ale and not Cask Ale? And, of course, “Why is everyone using that bloody awful, meaningless word ‘craft’?”

With that in mind, this isn’t an attempt to justify or promote any one term over another but rather a chronological list of terms and that we’ve noticed in circulation, how they have been and continue to be used, and (to the best of our reckoning) where they came from.

If there is a point we’re trying to make it’s probably that most of these terms are newer than they seem, and that their meanings are less fixed in law or tradition than you might assume.

If there are terms you think ought to be added, let us know in the comments below.

And if you want more detailed accounts of some of this click the links throughout which will take you to old posts of ours, and get hold of a copy of our 2014 book Brew Britannia which covers the birth of CAMRA and rise of craft beer in some detail.

* * *

Beer from the Wood, 1880s. A near-synonym for cask ale, probably derived from ‘Wines from the Wood’ (1850s) which distinguished wine dispensed on tap from bulk wooden casks from the bottled product. The Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood (SPBW) was founded in 1963 and were probably drawn to the phrase because of it’s stout yeoman of the bar archaic quality. It was used freely in the 1960s, e.g. in Batsford guides, often but not always referring to what we now call cask ale, even though by this time most casks were not actually made of wood. These days, it refers specifically to cask-conditioned beer served from wooden casks — a growing trend.

Keg Beer, 1955. Keg beer as we know it — stored and served from pressurised containers — was pioneered by Watney’s in the 1930s but this particular phrase was first used by Flowers in the mid-1950s. The terminology was muddled for most of the decade that followed with kegs sometimes called casks and so on. Which leads us to…

1956 Flower's Keg beermat.
Flower’s Keg — not the first keg beer, but the first to use the word in this way, in 1955. It then became (to their annoyance) a generic term.

Cask Beer, 1968. The British Government’s inquiry into monopolies in the beer industry at the end of the 1960s required the firming up of some previously vague terminology. “We use the description ‘draught’ beer to include any beer which is supplied to the retailer in bulk containers and drawn to order in the pub for each customer”, the final report said. “Although the word ‘draught’ is sometimes used to distinguish traditional draught from keg beer, for the purposes of this report we call the former ‘cask’ beer.”

Bière Artisanale, French, c.1970. We’re a bit shaky on this one because it’s harder to access sources, and we understand them less well even when we can dig them up, but there are definitely instances of this exact phrase in print from around 1970 onward. (And see Craft-brewing, below.) Artisanale and direct translations in other languages are used widely on the Continent in a way that roughly corresponds to the late 20th century sense of craft beer in English, i.e. distinctive, special, interesting, and probably from smaller independent producers. The union of Belgian Lambic producers, HORAL, for example, founded in 1997, is De Hoge Raad voor Ambachtelijke Lambiekbieren, and translates its name in English as the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers.

Sign: "Traditional Real Ales".

Real Ale, 1973. In 1971, the founders of the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale (CAMRA) chose the word ‘ale’ rather than beer because it seemed more down-to-earth than ‘beer’. Then at the 1973 CAMRA annual general a decision was made to change the organisation’s name so it would be easier to say (especially after a few drinks) and activist Peter Lynlie suggested the Campaign for Real Ale, to permit the retention of the existing acronym. And so Real Ale, almost by accident, became a synonym for Cask Beer.

Craft-brewing, 1977. Used by British writer Michael Jackson in his World Guide to Beer to refer to rare examples of non-industrial “speciality brews” in France, along with craft-brewers in the section on the American brewing industry during prohibition. It was probably a direct translation of bière artisanale.

Micro-brewery, 1982. A phrase that first began to appear in print with reference to American breweries at around the time of the first Great American Beer Festival, and which saw off ‘mini-brewery’ and ‘boutique brewery’ (see Boutique Beer, below) as competitors. In Britain these were generally called ‘small’ or ‘free trade’ breweries until the 1990s. An ambiguous term, Micro-brewery was also often applied to what we might now distinguish as Brewpubs.

Zero Degrees, Bristol.

Brewpub, 1982. At the 1982 conference of the American Homebrewers’ Association David Bruce, of Firkin fame, gave a talk entitled ‘The English Brewpub and the Resurgence of the Small, Local Brewery in England and America’. In Britain pubs that made their own beer on the premises were known as ‘home-brew houses’, or ‘home-brew pubs’, which morphed into Brewpub, we would guess, to avoid confusion with home-brewing of the amateur variety.

Bottle-conditioned Beer, 1984. In 1980, CAMRA was describing bottled Guinness as naturally conditioned. By 1983 it was conditioned in the bottle. Then in the 1984 Good Beer Guide it was finally described using the phrase we know today.

Craft Beer, 1986. There are almost certainly earlier uses of this exact phrase but 1986 is when it started to appear in print in US publications such as this newspaper article and Vince Cottone’s Good Beer Guide: Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. The earliest instance in a British publication we’ve been able to find is from CAMRA’s What’s Brewing for August 1993, in an article by an American writer, but Roger Protz and other soon took it up. Initially used as a deliberately vague catch-all to distinguish supposedly interesting/distinctive/independent beers (including, but not exclusively referring to, Real Ale) from loathed bland/industrial/macro products.

Boutique Beer, 1988. Used by Michael Jackson in the 1988 edition of his World Guide to Beer and occasionally up until the present day. In Jackson’s usage exactly synonymous with Craft Beer, above. Earlier in the decade a variant, ‘Boutique Brewery’, had occasionally been used as an alternative to Micro-brewery.

Designer Beer, 1991. Overlapping with Craft Beer but with more focus on style and branding than the beer itself. Sapporo, in its weird pint-glass-shaped can, was considered designer, but doesn’t seem to have qualified as craft.

Micropub, 2005. The first Micropub was launched in Herne, Kent, by Martyn Hillier and as far as we have been able to ascertain was described that way from the very start. The term was Hillier’s own invention inspired by the idea that it was the pub equivalent of the Micro-brewery. By his own admission he has spent a lot of time since explaining that, no, it isn’t a Brewpub or Micro-brewery.

Nano-brewery, c.2005. As some of the first wave of Micro-breweries got big a word was needed to describe tiny commercial setups operating on a home-brew scale. We can’t trace the exact roots of the phrase but here’s a 2006 post on Beer Advocate which seems to suggest it was in general circulation among the cognoscenti by this point.

KeyKeg, 2006. This is a trademark for a specific line of products produced by Lightweight Containers, a Dutch company, and launched at a brewing trade fair in November 2006. Whereas traditional Keg Beer is exposed to propellant gas KeyKeg beer sits in a bag inside a pressurised ball and does not come into contact with the propellant. Depending on how the beer derives its carbonation, it may or may not qualify as Real Ale under the standards of CAMRA’s Technical Committee. (KeyCask is also a trademark of Lightweight Containers, applied to essentially the same products.)

Craft Keg, 2010. This is a hard one to pin down but this 2012 article by Adrian Tierney-Jones for All About Beer places a marker point for the term having truly arrived. Before this, from around 2010, most people were carefully referring to “craft keg beer” — that is, Keg Beer, that was also Craft Beer, but looking at old Tweets you’ll see people like Dave ‘Hardknott’ Bailey using it quite freely. There wasn’t really an urgent need for a way to distinguish good keg from bad (yes, we know — just a shortcut) until the 1990s because until then all keg was bad; and that need didn’t become urgent until after BrewDog began to make waves.

UPDATED 26/04/2018: Added entries for Micro-brewery, Brewpub, Nano-brewery, Micropub and KeyKeg, and amended other entries to fit as required.