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.