The ideal market for beer

Market stall in Walthamstow, London.

What’s better — cask or keg? ‘Craft’ or industrial beer? National, regional or microbrewery beer? Balanced session beer or strong, hoppy stuff? Beer made by Heriot Watt graduates, or by homebrewers turned pro? Bottled or draught?

Isn’t the ideal to have a bit of everything, in proportion to demand?

As consumers, our most basic requirement is the mass availability of easy-drinking, good quality beer at a fair price — the stuff we consume most days and don’t blog about because, really, who wants to know every time we have a very nice pint of Tribute? (Mass availability = in every town or village within, say, a 20 minute walk, or near the workplace.)

We want a bit more choice as close to home as possible, but certainly within an hour’s train or bus ride. If we feel the urge to drink something a bit different (stout, mild, pale and hoppy) on a Wednesday night in November, we should be able to do so without too much bother.

But we also want the niche products we crave once in a while — Belgian beer, ‘craft keg’, rarities and oddities — to be readily available. (Ready availability = no more than a couple of hours on the train or bus.) We don’t mind if they cost a bit more to reflect the additional cost of production and distribution. This niche has room to grow a bit but will probably remain small, and that’s fine — not every town needs a craft beer bar, just every region.

We want to see new breweries opening, challenging established outfits to up their game. If they brew great beer, then that’s ideal; even if they don’t, and they can’t survive in the long term, they stop the pool from getting stagnant. They keep at bay monopolies where there’s only one beer on offer and it’s as bad and/or expensive as the breweries decide.

Finally, in the ideal marketplace, no-one should be made to feel like an arsehole whichever type of beer they choose to drink.