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.