Cheating by Making Tasty Beer

Watney Fined Bitter beer mat.Last week, everyone got in a proper tizz over an eccentric rant about ‘craft keg’ in the programme for a local beer festival. We thought it an interesting statement of a particular (extreme) point of view, and were especially fascinated by this line:

The only thing that has changed 1974 to 2013 is that cynical Craft brewers, in an attempt to hide the potentially bland characteristics of their beers, have chosen to champion the new breed of super hopped US-style IPAs and or sledgehammer Imperial Stouts among their beer range.

The suggestion seems to be that giving these beers intense flavours and aromas is a con trick designed to dazzle the drinker into overlooking the essential soullessness of the product, ‘blandness’ being misused in this context. (The music is really loud to conceal its potential quietness?)

It brought to our minds the time in the nineteen-seventies when the Big Six began launching or re-launching cask ales, once CAMRA had become a serious nuisance. They were not mainstream products, on the whole — you had to know where to look, and be willing to pay through the nose — and only Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale really seems to have excited anyone. Nonetheless, CAMRA’s National Executive were obliged to welcome them. There was some dissent — arguably the original ‘craft vs. crafty’ debate — but what else could CAMRA do, having built the Campaign around the simple rule that cask=good and keg=bad?

We can’t help but feel that, in some mysterious way, it was an underhand tactic on the part of the brewers. Echoing the writer above, weren’t they, in an attempt to hide the potentially bland characteristics of their beers, and the monopolistic tendencies of their huge companies, choosing to champion the then hot trend for ‘real ale’?

Sometimes, the relationship between commerce and consumer feels less like a battle, with obvious winners and losers, and more like Cold War espionage, where the moves are subtle, and the outcome won’t really be clear for years to come. In a situation like that, those with rigid rules are easily outmanoeuvred.