Sunday 13 March 2011

In defence of the Crafterati

I generally agree with the comments made recently by Pete Brown and a related subject by Zak Avery regarding divisions in the beer world. This is all followed up by Tandleman who very nicely points out that we should all be able to comment where we like whilst still calling for a united front for British beer. Within these pieces there are links to other very salient observations by other bloggers. I do get all of this; there is a danger of us being far too negative rather than maintaining general positiveness about beer. There is indeed much to celebrate about beer in the UK, it's very diverse with a fantastic mix of progressive and traditional.

However, this also leads me to wonder. In the cities there are some great places to get great beer. There are specialist beer bars springing up all over the place and they all seem to be doing very well indeed. For this "craft beer revolution" to work it does need a cosmopolitan environment. Here in Cumbria there might well be some things to celebrate, but for the growing number of beer Crafterati within the county, it can be frustratingly difficult to improve enthusiasm for craft beer, whatever your definition of craft might be.

I can see the folly of criticising what people choose to drink, but equally there are areas of the country where the beer world view is still very narrow. I cannot get to most of the pubs that serve the beers I enjoy without driving, or getting Ann to drive. Most of my beer sales are a significant distance from where I have chosen to set up my brewery.

Imagine you can't get any beer that you really enjoy. Imagine you live in a county where everything is terribly parochial. Imagine you very rarely get anything other than boring brown beer, or even perhaps pale beer, but barely with much hop character to write about. Imagine that you are the sort of person who realises that drinking 6 pints of session ale does nothing for you other than damaging liver cells and putting a little more unwanted fat around your waist.

Imagine you are a brewer who is operating from that county and finds that most of your market is, in fact, outside the county because people inside don't really like the beers you make, despite them being awarded beer of the festival at least three times.

We know that there are people who like my beer. We also know that there are people who don't. Sometimes, when we follow up a sale to a pub, in the hope of repeat custom, the reply is an honest "my customers didn't really like it". Of course, I worry that it might have been a fault with that particular cask, and sometimes that might be so, in which case we try our best to address that situation. However, it is clear that certain outlets find that our approach to beer does not match the very stale traditional outlook which prevails.

When I send my beer to more progressive beer outlets I worry that it isn't progressive enough. I worry that I need to pack more flavour into the beer and ensure I can impress the Crafterati.

I know fine well that a massive 8% hop bomb is never going to be mainstream, and nor should it be. I know that imperial wood aged stouts are specialist beers of which most drinkers will be rightly sceptical.

I must hereby state my absolute right to slag off attitudes and choices of beer that prevent me from enjoying my own beer world, either from a brewer's or a drinker's perspective. By proxy of course this has to extend to supporting the right of people to deride chemical fizzy beer, even though I have now come to realise the error of that course of action.

It is interesting that Pete Brown's muse was triggered by Cookie's point that the wine world never slags off poor wine. Excuse me, after only the briefest of looks I found quite a few wine blogs where there are similar topics to be found. OK, wine buffs might be a bit more subtle about how they deride lower quality, or the use of such things as sulphites, for instance. We could discuss the fact that wine writers appear to be more erudite if you like, that would be more appropriate, but of course that would sit very uncomfortably with most beer enthusiasts.

Wine critic, art critic, music critic? Just the same as the beer critic surely? We can't all just write about that last great beer we tried in that new beer bar can we? If all beer writing is just about awesome beer we like we'll get criticised for not talking about the issues.

I can't help feeling that we are going around in ever decreasing circles.


Phil said...

Imagine you very rarely get anything other than boring brown beer, or even perhaps pale beer, but barely with much hop character to write about

One battle at a time, please! Some of the best beers I've ever had have been brown, malty & distinctly short of 'hop character'. Good hop-bombs are good beers, but they're only one kind of good beer.

Unknown said...

Phil, but imagine you had no choice.......

Good hop-bombs are good beers. They rarely appear in Cumbria.

Yes, I agree there are some very good malt driven beers and I like them a lot. But I want choice. I want more hop character near to me. This is the battle I'm fighting, if we want to call it a battle. What battle are you fighting?

I can walk to three pubs to get cask beer. I'd suggest that most of that cask iszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..........

Curmudgeon said...

If you live in a remote rural area you have to accept some limitation of choice compared with living in the city. Those pubs will put on cask beers that they can sell and their customers will drink in sufficient quantities. In particular they probably won't be able to sell anything above 4.5% ABV.

If you really want hop-bombs you will have to either buy them in bottle or get on the train to Manchester.

And isn't Hawkshead Lakeland Gold by any standards a pretty hoppy beer?

Unknown said...

Mudgie, well of course you are right, but I still reserve the right to complain that this is the case.

Specifically, talking about Hawkshead, they do consistently brew some spanking good beers. Sadly, even these beers fail to get to this town.

Most recently there was a new Hawkshead beer called Citrillo, or something like that. I gather it had Citra and Amarillo hops in it. Top notch it is, I do hope they include it in their portfolio permanently.

Phil said...

Dave - I just meant that you seemed to have taken a detour from the "high-class beer everywhere!" battle to fit in a skirmish in the "brown beer is boring!" barney. (Which I still don't get - personally I'm seldom so bored in a pub as when I've got 3/4 of a pint of something undrinkably bitter still to get through.)

Unknown said...

Phil, I do not think there should be high class beer everywhere. I just think there is room for some high class beer. I don't think it should be in every pub, or even many pubs. Indeed, perhaps the right place for it is a top notch restaurants and poncy beer bars. Just as you like your style of beer at the price you think is OK, I'm happy to pay a little more, sometimes, for something a little different.

And sometimes I just want a pint. Often in fact.

I don't disagree that there is a place for all beer, even, if we are to use the term, boring brown beer.

The point isn't to try and do away with anything. I don't want to wage a war against what is popular. Perhaps I like my beers a little more bitter than you, although it would be interesting to see what we each found undrinkably bitter. Perhaps we might agree. I don't want to deny you your favoured tipple, and if it's not the same as mine then that's no problem.

If you only ever found beers that were not to your taste. If you had difficulty finding beers you enjoyed, then you have every right to complain.

I feel that in my part of the world there is a lot of beer that is similar. There are some notable exceptions as Mudgie has pointed out, but you do have to hunt them out.

Eddie86 said...

I wouldn't say everywhere in the countryside is quite so, erm, bland?
There is nothing like a long bike ride in the country to find a surprising choice of ales in a country pub.

Unknown said...

Eddie, yes, seem to remember there is a nice pub in some village on the Welsh boarder that serves a good pint.

The Wineyard said...

I believe Citrillo is largely for the upcoming Spoons festival or similar, and after that's done, it'll be sold under the a name along the lines of Cumbrian Five Hop. I'm fuzzy on the specifics but it will be available as an ongoing product...

The Wineyard said...

Oh and as for the argument of more rural landlords that they stock "what they can sell" I have limited patience. In my view there's a very good reason why we're losing 29 pubs a week (or whatever the figure is). They're mostly stocking the same old rubbish week in week out as "what they can sell" and punters are getting bored of it. What's the point of going out to the pub to buy 5 pints of bland, boring beer you've had a hundred times before under the guise of various mediocre breweries, when you can stay in and get an interesting bottle of beer from the shop, or a tasty new bottle of wine?

I live in Lancaster where we at least get decent bottled selections behind a few bars, but the choices on draught still largely rotate between a few fairly bland local offerings. Hence, I don't actually go out drinking at the pub that often, 'cos the choices available don't interest me and I can take far more interesting bottles home from work.