Friday, 18 October 2013

Should we love all beer?

I have recently been strongly encouraged to support, endorse and be involved with Let There Be Beer. I shall explain here why I am somewhat reluctant.

Hardknott is a member of SIBA, The Society of Independent Brewers. I have had reservations about the organisation, but generally, on balance, I believe it to be useful to most independent brewers as a trade organisation. I find that by engaging with this organisation, one that is owned by the members, one can influence the direction it heads in.

I am a member of CAMRA because, despite some reservations, I think they do provide some benefits to me as a beer drinker. Sometimes they are helpful to me as a business, even if I do sometimes use them to point out that we are not that type of brewery.

I do like some of the things the regional brewers do. I like quite a lot of the brewers who work in these businesses and have huge respect for what they do. I like the fact that these regionals reach out from time to time to us micro-brewers. Collaborations, friendly technical brewing advice, help with various important beery events and other such stuff.

Very, very occasionally I have had contact with large multi-national breweries. It can be helpful, sometimes. I have helped brew on the William Worthington's White Shield Brewery in Burton-upon-Trent. That was fun, I'd have to admit.

I run a business. I have to consider how I project my image to the people who I'd like to buy my beer. I don't always get that right, but hey, I am human and therefore fallible. It might be nice to consider some altruistic position that is for the greater good of this, or that, or the other, but when in business it can be very important to consider the allegiances that one makes.

I have been told many, many times by various people in the beer industry that it is important to get behind all types of beer. Apparently this is important because drinks like wine, spirits and alcopops are eroding the total beer market. If we all get behind beer as a category we will all be better off.

Bollocks, I say.

I like good quality food and drink. OK, I'm a beer enthusiast. I also run a brewery as my only form of living. I'm in the thick of it. I am most certainly part of the beer industry.

However, I do like good food, well prepared from fresh ingredients by a skilful person. I like single malt whisky. I appreciate a good rum. I have even been known, when no-one is watching, perhaps when in another country away from eyes that might dob me in, to enjoy good wine.

Hardknott beer tends to appear in good pubs, bars and specialist bottle shops. There are good restaurants in the London area that stock our beer, matched with artisan food on their menu. We want to be associated with all things that are quality, innovative, modern and progressive. Small scale producers that care about the product and about providing something different.

I would much rather side with the small artisanal vintner who tends his precious vines, presses his grapes, ferments and matures his wines in some terracotta tiled roof adorned town in France than cuddle up to the major mass producers of beer.

The beer market is shrinking. The cask beer market is static. According to CGA Strategy beers that they define as "craft beers" are the only section of the beer market that is growing. They also state that this is generally a consumer driven effect. Consumers are waking up to products that are different, have provenance, and are made by people who care about what they are doing.

So, the questions I have to ask myself is this; Do I align with a sector of the beer industry that is failing? Do I trust the large brewers who are only really interested in me because they see the way things are going? Do I risk losing the loyalty of those beer drinkers who have found Hardknott Beers, love us because of what we are, and what we stand for, and accept our mistakes because we are trying to do something different?

Or should I be more vocal in saying that we are different? Should we not point out that, although we are a business and therefore do care about making money, we want to produce beer that is truly different and are prepared to take the financial risk in doing so? Should we not reinforce the fact that although the cost of making beer is important, and so ensuring a profitable business, securing jobs and looking after our future, we also care about choosing ingredients to make our beer some of the best there is?

All of the above aligns us much more with the French wine maker who cares about his craft than the major beer producer. Alcohol consumption in the UK is dropping generally and drinkers are looking for more quality than volume. I believe the beer industry is suffering for this, all except those of us who are trying to produce something truly different.

This blogpost is the outpouring of my thoughts on the latest cynical attempt by the big brewers to claw back some of the market they have lost. We are, of course, talking about Let There Be Beer.

What disappoints me is not their campaign; they have a right to do that. What disappoints me is that SIBA and CAMRA have decided to put their names to the campaign. After all, it is simply a campaign to help boost big brand beer sales and goes against some of the basic principles of organisations I am a member of.

Most of all it goes very strongly against the ethos of Hardknott, and so it is my right and duty to myself and my business to be against it.


Benjamin Nunn said...

Unusually, I agree pretty much 100% with Dave on this occasion.

I was approached by LTBB a while ago to talk about recipes containing beer. On a deeper level, they were clearly looking to get some buy-in from the blogosphere, perhaps a plug in the London Drinker - who knows?

What became clear very early on, and the reason I backed out of the dialogue, is that it wasn't all about the merits of good beer at all (by any credible criteria). The focus was clearly going to be on stuff that ordinary people can find in their local (pub or supermarket).

The term 'accessible' was used a lot. I read it as 'dumbing down to the point of worthlessness'.

Now that LTBB is in full swing it appears even more sinister and even more cynical - essentially just a vehicle to add credibility to the products of the big brewers in the face of superior competition.

I am, however, thrilled that, like me, most of those approached seem to have smelled a rat early on. The LTBB meme isn't going indie-viral in the way that they cynically planned. Which is good.

Truckosaurus said...

I've seen a couple of the infomercials on tv from the campaign, and it annoyed/disappointed me they were promoting mass produced 'foreign' (brewed under licence) beers rather than the wide range of drinks from smaller producers - which perhaps a lot of 'beer' drinkers might not have tried (or even heard of)

Cooking Lager said...

Not a fan of Tim Lovejoy then?

StringersBeer said...

You have to question the wisdom of agreeing to support a thing before you've seen it. Call me cynical, but I'd have refused on principle simply because of the big players involved. Cui bono. As they used to say.

Tyson said...

Can't say I'm a fan for the reasons outlined above. Basically I think it's a clever ploy by the big players to cash in on the success of craft beer.

Ed said...

I can't say I've actually seen anything by 'Let There Be Beer' but I'm in favour of promoting beer, even crap lager, over other beverages.

Rob said...

I back Ed on this one. Beer is about the experience over anything. It's not about being part of an elitist group or pushing the traditional. It's both a diverse beverage and a huge market in one and the battle between the big and small brewers has been going on since the industrial revolution.

Dave Bailey said...

Stringers, the thing that really bothers me is the fact that the membership, us, that make up these organisations hasn't agreed to putting there names to the initiative.

Ed and Rob, of course I respect your views, and you are entitled to them, but I fear you are getting hooked into the big corporate plan. You are both very worthy beer enthusiasts and great people to know. However, for the general public, the world doesn't revolve around beer. Everything is a bit more subtle. The people who like our beers are the sort of people who like quality products made by more individual companies, they care much more about that than they care about beer per se.

I still maintain that everyone has to be careful about their allegiances. Make no bones about it, if the big brewers could squash micro-brewing tomorrow then they would. They do not care about you, or me, not at all, so why care about them?

Rob said...

I totally agree about big brewers. I in no way will be drawn in to marketing. I somehow feel big brewers will always exist, and the little guys will always just keep getting back up. From where your standing I would have good reason to be hacked off. My allegiance is to quality beer but fully respect that 'quality' on many levels is subjective.

pyo said...

The problem with the LTTB campaign is not so much that it is cynical, which it is, but that it is fucking dreadful. All it does is reinforce all the negative stereotypes about beer that the "craft beer" movement has worked so hard to shake off. It says that beer is a refreshing golden coloured sparkling drink for unsophisticated blokes who like getting pissed and don't really care about flavour.

CAMRA and SIBA should distance themselves from the advertising as quickly as possible.