Crediting others with sincerity

Why is it so hard for people to believe that other people really enjoy drinking the beers they say they enjoy drinking?

We saw anoth­er small out­break of sec­ond-guess­ing last week when Matt Cur­tis wrote in glow­ing terms about Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best – a beer we also hap­pen to love.

To para­phrase, the sug­ges­tion we saw float through the time­line was that Matt and oth­ers don’t real­ly believe Sus­sex Best is bet­ter than, say, Greene King IPA – it’s just that it’s trendy, or at least on the approved list of Beers You’re Allowed to Like.

The same think­ing some­times seems to be behind the dis­missal of ‘craft murk’ – that is, hazy IPAs and the like – and sour beer, lager, or any oth­er style you care to think of.

Here’s what we think the thought process looks like:

  1. I don’t like this beer.
  2. I find it impos­si­ble to imag­ine any­one else lik­ing this beer.
  3. Peo­ple who say they like this beer must be delud­ed, or lying.

The assump­tion that every­body else’s opin­ions are either (a) part of a herd response to hype or (b) delib­er­ate con­trar­i­an­ism… Well, it gets a bit wear­ing, to be hon­est.

After all, taste is a del­i­cate mech­a­nism. Even in this team, Jess is bare­ly sen­si­tive to light-strike or skunk­ing, while Ray is; Ray isn’t espe­cial­ly attuned to diacetyl, but Jess is.

We can’t speak defin­i­tive­ly for any­one else, of course, but we know this: when we say we’ve enjoyed drink­ing some­thing, it’s because we enjoyed drink­ing it; when we say we don’t, it’s because we don’t.

And we try to assume the same of oth­ers.

Of course there are times when you might ques­tion the motives of a review­er – do they have a com­mer­cial rela­tion­ship with the brew­ery? Are they paid to under­take PR on its behalf? Did it send them a lav­ish ham­per of free­bies?

We do also think that some beers are bet­ter than oth­ers, where ‘bet­ter’ means ‘more like­ly to appeal to peo­ple in a giv­en group’, whether that’s beer geeks, main­stream drinkers, tra­di­tion­al­ists or whichev­er.

But we’ve no rea­son to doubt that Tan­dle­man gained real plea­sure for his pints of Mor­land Orig­i­nal, or that Al found some­thing to appre­ci­ate in Ten­nen­t’s Lager, or that Brad has nev­er had a beer from The Ker­nel that was “any­thing short of out­stand­ing”.

Laver’s Law, Victorian pubs and hazy beer

You start with Victorian pubs and end up pondering hazy IPA and mild – that’s just how this game goes sometimes.

One of the things research­ing pubs has made us think about it is how cer­tain things come in and out of fash­ion.

It’s hard to believe now but that heavy Vic­to­ri­an look peo­ple expect in the Per­fect Pub – carved wood, cut glass, ornate mir­rors – was seri­ous­ly out of fash­ion for half a cen­tu­ry.

Look through any edi­tion of, say, The House of Whit­bread from the 1920s or 30s and you’ll find sto­ry after sto­ry of mod­erni­sa­tion. In prac­tice, that meant ‘vul­gar’ Vic­to­ri­ana was out; and a plain, clean, bright look was in.

The Greyhound, Balls Pond Road, before and after modernisation.
SOURCE: The House of Whit­bread, Octo­ber 1933.

Slow­ly, though, Vic­to­ri­an style became cool again. We’ve writ­ten about this before and won’t rehash it – Bet­je­man and Gra­didge are two key names – but did stum­ble upon a new expres­sion of the phe­nom­e­non this week, from 1954:

Thir­ty years ago the Albert Memo­r­i­al was only admired by the extreme­ly naïve and old-fash­ioned; today, it is only admired by the extreme­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed and up to date. Thir­ty years ago the late Arnold Ben­nett was thought eccen­tric, and even a lit­tle per­verse, to take an inter­est in papi­er-mâché fur­ni­ture with scenes of Bal­moral by moon­light in inlaid moth­er-of-pearl. Today tables and chairs of this kind com­mand high prices in the sale­room and are the prize pieces in cul­ti­vat­ed liv­ing-rooms. It is, in a word, once more ‘done’ to admire Vic­to­ri­ana. The slur of the old-fash­ioned is merg­ing into the pres­tige of the antique.

That’s from a fan­tas­tic book called Vic­to­ri­an Vista by James Laver who turns out to be an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter. A his­to­ri­an of cos­tume and of fash­ion more gen­er­al­ly, he is best known for invent­ing ‘Laver’s Law’ which sought to explain how things come in and go out of style:

Inde­cent | 10 years before its time
Shame­less | 5 years before its time
Out­ré (Dar­ing) | 1 year before its time
Smart | ‘Cur­rent Fash­ion’
Dowdy | 1 year after its time
Hideous | 10 years after its time
Ridicu­lous | 20 years after its time
Amus­ing | 30 years after its time
Quaint | 50 years after its time
Charm­ing | 70 years after its time
Roman­tic | 100 years after its time
Beau­ti­ful | 150 years after its time

This cer­tain­ly works to some degree for pubs: Vic­to­ri­an pubs were naff in 1914, charm­ing by 1950 and the best are now prac­ti­cal­ly nation­al mon­u­ments; inter-war pubs have recent­ly become roman­tic after years in the wilder­ness; and we’re just beg­ging to col­lec­tive­ly recog­nise the charm of the post-war.

Nat­u­ral­ly, though, with trends a con­stant top­ic, we could­n’t help test this on beer styles.

For exam­ple, does it map to the rise of hazy IPA? We def­i­nite­ly remem­ber it seem­ing inde­cent and think we can now dis­cern it’s decent into dowdi­ness.

Or 20th cen­tu­ry dark mild, maybe? We’ll, not so clear­ly, because it reigned for years, even decades. But we could adapt Laver’s com­men­tary on Vic­to­ri­ana:

Thir­ty years ago mild was only admired by the extreme­ly naïve and old-fash­ioned; today, it is only admired by the extreme­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed and up to date. Thir­ty years ago CAMRA was thought eccen­tric, and even a lit­tle per­verse, to take an inter­est in weak, sweet, dark beer. Today beers of this kind are the prize pieces in cul­ti­vat­ed tap­rooms.

Mild might be in the roman­tic or charm­ing phase, then.

This works best for spe­cif­ic sub-styles and trends, though. IPA? Too broad. West Coast IPA? Maybe.

And for beer, in 2019, Laver’s lan­guage isn’t quite right. Maybe this is bet­ter:

Ridicu­lous | 10 years before its time
Bold | 5 years before
Hyped | 1 year before
Hip | ‘Cur­rent Fash­ion’
Main­stream | 1 year after its time
Bor­ing | 10 years after
Inter­est­ing | 50 years after
Clas­sic | 70 years +

It does­n’t real­ly work, does it?

But it’s a been a fun prod.

QUICK ONE: Overlooked

Here’s an interesting question, in the form of a Twitter poll, from @ThaBearded1 who works at Twisted Barrel, a brewery in Coventry:

He is no doubt going to write or do some­thing inter­est­ing him­self based on the respons­es so we won’t get too involved in the specifics of this par­tic­u­lar case but what he’s express­ing does seem to be a com­mon anx­i­ety: that the next city over, or Lon­don specif­i­cal­ly, is get­ting more than its share of atten­tion in the nation­al press or on promi­nent beer blogs.

We’ve writ­ten pieces relat­ing to this on a few occa­sions, most notably here where we said…

…if writ­ing about beer is Lon­don-cen­tric, and it might be a bit, it’s part­ly because Lon­don is both­er­ing to write about beer.

More recent­ly we sug­gest­ed that in 2017 what peo­ple mean specif­i­cal­ly when they make this kind of point is, ‘Wah! Why has­n’t Matt Cur­tis writ­ten about it/us/here!?

We say, once again, that if you think your region is over­looked, you should make the case. Write a blog post or ebook, or put togeth­er a Google Map, show­ing where a vis­i­tor to your region can find local beer, the beer-geeki­est bars and pubs, and give some sug­ges­tions for how they can get from one to anoth­er. Your tar­get audi­ence here is peo­ple on week­end breaks – why should they vis­it your city rather than, say, Sheffield, or Man­ches­ter, where there is so much inter­est­ing beer that it’s hard to know where to start? But also, by exten­sion, blog­gers and journos look­ing for advice on where to start.

But we’re not like those obnox­ious Londoners/Mancunians/Leodensians – we don’t like to shout about our­selves because we’re so hum­ble and unas­sum­ing,’ feels like a response we’ve heard sev­er­al times in this kind of con­ver­sa­tion, and that’s a bit… pathet­ic. It’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to boast than to grum­ble, and wait for some­one else to do the shout­ing for you.

And, of course, writ­ing crit­i­cal­ly is good too – it’s a sign of matu­ri­ty in a scene and can add cred­i­bil­i­ty to your guid­ance. If a vis­i­tor fol­lows your advice and ends up in pubs that are mere­ly ‘meh’, drink­ing bad beer, they’ll think less of your scene over­all.

We used to have a page here col­lect­ing links to town, city and region guides and pub crawls writ­ten by beer blog­gers, but had to scrap it because they weren’t being kept up to date and too few new ones were appear­ing. It would be nice to revive that, or at least to know that there’s a guide out there to Birm­ing­ham, Brighton, Bris­tol, or wher­ev­er, that we can point peo­ple to when they ask us, which they do from time to time.

Note: if you’re inter­est­ed here’s what we wrote about Birm­ing­ham and the Black Coun­try last sum­mer.

QUICK ONE: Hyped/Ignored

Beautiful beer glass.

There have been a few times in the last year or so where we’ve seen a beer referred to as ‘hyped’ when we’ve literally only heard it mentioned once or twice.

Then the oth­er day we saw some­one com­plain­ing that a beer they liked had been ‘ignored’ and some­thing seemed to click: is this all about a hand­ful of promi­nent voic­es on social media?

The per­son we imme­di­ate­ly thought of is Matt Cur­tis who has his own blog at Total Ales and also writes for Good Beer Hunt­ing among oth­er out­lets. He was the first per­son we noticed men­tion­ing Mills Brew­ing, for exam­ple, and lit­er­al­ly with­in an hour or so of him doing so we saw some­one com­plain that they were being hyped.

Two things both­er us about this.

First, what’s Matt meant to do? Taste every beer in the UK and give each brew­ery equal air­time? He likes some beer more than oth­er beer, some brew­eries more than oth­ers, and ought to be allowed to express a pref­er­ence.

Then there’s the abdi­ca­tion of respon­si­bil­i­ty. As we’ve said sev­er­al times now, don’t moan that no-one is blog­ging about a brew­ery you think is inter­est­ing – write about it your­self! If you don’t like how promi­nent a beer or brew­ery is, don’t con­tribute to that promi­nence by going on about it. And if you think a beer is being ignored, let peo­ple know about it.

Hype isn’t some­thing you have to endure – it’s some­thing you can cre­ate too.

Rating Sites, Hype & the Real Influencers

Good King Henry Special Reserve (bottle).

If you want to get your brand name on the radar don’t send samples to bloggers, send them to RateBeerians.

That’s the con­clu­sion we reached after research­ing this sto­ry on the weird promi­nence of Good King Hen­ry Spe­cial Reserve, the only British beer in the Rate­Beer top 50, for All About Beer:

The flur­ry of high rank­ings that fol­lowed that sum­mer gathering—most award­ing 18, 19 or 20 out of 20 and accom­pa­nied by pro­fuse thanks to ‘Chris_O’—put the beer into the Top 50 chart. That might have been a blip except those events brought it to the atten­tion of Edin­burgh beer lover Craig Garvie. He is an enthu­si­as­tic char­ac­ter often to be seen at beer fes­ti­val in a colour­ful bowler hat, steam­punk shades and with his beard dyed one shade or anoth­er. A par­tic­u­lar fan of strong stouts, he knew he had to get his hands on GKHSR.

We were prompt­ed to research and write that piece because we, despite pay­ing fair­ly close atten­tion to British beer, had nev­er heard of Old Chim­ney’s brew­ery or come across any of their beers on sale any­where, ever.

On a relat­ed note, we were pon­der­ing writ­ing some­thing longer in response to this Tweet…

…to which our ini­tial response was, yes, mar­ket­ing is impor­tant, but word-of-mouth about great beer is the best mar­ket­ing you can get.

But the GKHSR sto­ry demon­strates very clear­ly that you don’t need fan­cy graph­ic design, expen­sive adver­tis­ing or squads of PR peo­ple to make a splash.