Every day, we come across something from thirty or more years ago which chimes with present-day issues in the world of beer. Here are a couple of related notes.
Observation 1: big breweries in the 1970s struggled to find a satisfactory approach to the ‘real ale craze’ just as the ‘leisure beverage’ companies they became are grappling with how to get in on ‘craft beer’ today.
Watney’s approach to real ale has so far been muted. It has experimentally introduced at a few of its London pubs, at 35p a pint, cask-conditioned beer brewed in Norwich. (It says its real beer travels.) There has been no big promotional fuss, and it is hard to see how there could be for a product whose appeal is that of not being a big-brewery mass-produced beer.
The Economist, 10 July 1976, p99.
‘Real ale’ being more clearly defined than ‘craft beer’ meant big breweries could easily produce products that met the technical criteria, but what they couldn’t do was make beer geeks love them. It was certainly real ‘real ale’, rather than ‘faux craft’, and CAMRA gave wary nods of approval, but Watney certainly weren’t in from the cold. They’d been the baddies for too long, and their interest in real ale just didn’t seem sincere.
Observation 2: regional/family brewers have always muddied the water. How do you make sense of them as part of a vaguely hippyish smaller-is-better, stick-it-to-the-man ideology?
Mr Protz, a former member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, has been attacked by the far Left for his defence of the small independent breweries with their ‘often feudal labour relations.’… ‘The problem is that political people, including the Left in Britain, have not yet realised that politics and the Labour movement does not stop at the shop floor,’ Mr Protz argues. ‘Beer is part of the leisure industry, and the leisure industry, how people enjoy themselves, is about money and power and influence – just as much as a factory. The middleclass consumer and the working man have been getting a bad deal.’
The Guardian, 19 June 1978, p4.
The Big Six all had the DNA of family breweries, but had lost their humanity. Regional brewers, on the other hand, were only ever a step away from becoming bad guys themselves. A little growth spurt; a takeover here and a closure there; a little too heavy a hand with the brewery tie and… well, look at Greene King, who were heroes in the 1970s, but now seem to be villains.
Picture by Martin Deutsch, from Flickr, under a Creative Commons License. It was taken at an exhibition on the work of the Design Research Unit which we saw when it stopped off at the Tate Gallery in St Ives.