I've always been more interested in writing about the issues surrounding beer rather than writing about a specific beer and how awesome it might be. I do sometimes think about writing a bit about beer and food matching; I think I could be quite good if I only put my mind to it. But, the things that are bound to get me most fired up are the various issues surrounding beer, beer drinking, brewing, pubs and the way various people perceive all of this.
This post was inspired by the piece in The Publican by Caroline Nodder which seems to be somewhat scathing about the current phase of modern brewing. BrewDog are of course named, and as much as I don't wish to be labelled as another BrewDog fan club blogger, they are going to feature in this post a little as well. Tandleman posts in response to Caroline too.
When Pete complained about the beer industry fighting with itself I understood what he was saying. At the same time I felt a little worried that some of the issues he claimed we shouldn't be fighting about were the very issues I myself was concerned about. We all have our own perspectives on these things and being able to discuss them is no bad thing. So its good that he later said, we should tackle issues again.
This is the thing; we have to be able to be open, we have to be brave enough to discuss what we feel about our own view of the beer world. Caroline of course does that with her attack on the beer geek world, I don't agree with her particularly, but perhaps I'll come back to that later, as certainly there are some points to pick up. To me, and this is the key thing, it highlights a broadening of the beer industry in a most exciting and provocative way, that can only be a good thing, providing we can all learn to get along rather than feel the need to get the digs in.
BrewDog has had a go at SIBA1 earlier this year. I'm with them all the way. It is perhaps something that comes out on this blog from time to time; the fact that I have a suspicion that the organisation has matured into something that is less than entirely useful to the micro-brewer. SIBA, as one commentator has put it to me, the Society of Increasingly Bad Acronyms. It would seem the club likes things the way they are and new comers are not particularly welcome, especially if they seem to be having some success. Even worse if they question what is happening.
So it seems to be the case across the industry. BrewDog find themselves in a fight with SIBA, the beer geeks run hot and cold about them and many ask why they want to be as big as they are getting anyway. This comes from the same people who support similar larger breweries who would fail were it not for the tie system. Or the same people who fight for the survival of long since milked-to-death brands that would be better off left to pass into history with dignity. The same people who fight to keep pubs open despite the fact that it is obvious that the market is shifting and some will inevitably shut as a new wave of Indie Beer Bars open up in Sheffield, London, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
I love cask beer and I love the old fashioned country pub. I don't particularly care for the type of pub that manifests itself in town and city centres. Some are still good I'll grant you, but it takes an exceptional one to impress me. The reader might like them, that's fine, good for you, but beware of hanging onto a bygone age that has a limited future. There is a danger, and it worries me, when observations are made about the beer world having too much reverence for the very substance that we care about. Is it really just a low down drink that shouldn't be described with passion? Is it really just a middle of the road drink suitable for the common man only? Does it only deserve to be found in seedy places, so low is its self esteem? Are we, the writers who care about it, not allowed to use whatever language we want to describe it to the very people who we believe should be able to understand it well: educated intellects with refined palates who may well like home-made scotch eggs, but would never dream of putting ketchup on them? Or perhaps we are too scared that we might actually end up being bettered?
Of course the vast majority of beer made will be made by the large brewers. I don't care about that. Some of them actually prove to me that they care as much as I do, and I hope I give them a nod when I think they deserve it. Even if it is not by making great beer, but caring about me the beer drinker - although normally caring about the beer drinker does result in better than just acceptable beer.
This brings me to promotion of the product. Many beer communicators complain about the way that beer is promoted. Perhaps it is done in a sexist way, perhaps it is silly childish puerile fashion that undermines the seriousness that beer deserves. Or perhaps, as BrewDog does, it is brash and sensationalist and sometimes even offensive. The fact is, it is not good enough just to brew great beer. I know many brewers who brew beer better than me but are stuck because they can't, or perhaps don't want to promote more than they do. If they are happy that way then great, leave them be. However, building a brand is about making a good product and telling people about it, somehow and in the most cost effective way. BrewDog might well be sensationalist with their marketing, but they also make beer that is good, and because they don't actually spend much on advertising their brand, they have more money to spare to make the product good. Why do we hate that so much?
What of the brewers that want to make bigger waves? Like BrewDog, perhaps like me? Are we somehow wrong to want to get our names out there? I don't think so. Publicity stunts are the best and probably only way to do it. I bet many in the music industry hated Richard Branson when he started Virgin Records, but look, whatever you think of the brand now, it probably wouldn't be where it is without the occasional record breaking balloon flight.
What is wrong exactly with making the strongest beer in the world? Or for that matter any other gimicky product enhancement. Every industry does it, like for instance, putting bubbles in confectionary? Why do we think we shouldn't have a bit of exciting diversification in the beer world, we don't have to believe it will ever become mainstream, but if it adds interest then why should we be scared of it?
I like the increasing diversification and the challenging of perceptions that we are seeing. I like the fact that some regional brewers are scared that at least some of the "breweries in sheds" kick out some good stuff and are taking part of the market share. It is also good that some long established brewers understand this and don't join in with the try-and-kick-the-new-idea, but instead go for the I'll-have-a-bit-of-that-too approach.
So, by all means lets have the discussions, it's good. The sparklers argument and the cask verses keg argument will continue for ever I suspect. The best way to describe a particular beer is perhaps a more important one but we will never agree and choosing between good quality and imaginative beer descriptions, accessible beer tasting notes or simple and condescending pictures of noses, eyes and mouths I'm sure will divide us for some time to come. What we expect from a pub or bar, how to market beer and many more important discussions should take place. But why do we have to have a delineation across the beer world and keep falling out over it? We're on the same side are we not? Are we not all beer enthusiasts in some way or another? There is another type of beer drinker, I call them pissheads.
1There is background to this on the BrewDog blog.