Saturday, 4 March 2017

Fin de siècle

Jeffrey Bell wrote recently about how the brewing industry was in the grip of craft paranoia:
Almost everyone's worried they're going to become irrelevant - even those breweries that are currently doing well. This leads to lots of bizarre behaviour, such as rubbish rebrands and ill-conceived new product launches.
And I was struck by a number of recent news reports:

Gypsy brewery Beatnikz Republic is moving up from London to open its first permanent microbrewery and taproom in the Green Quarter

The Wild Beer Co is looking to raise £1.5m via crowdfunding to develop a new brewery space

Heineken is launching two beers under the Maltsmiths Brewing brand to tap into the growing trend for canned craft beers (in 330 ml cans, of course).

While coming up with these five principles of serving craft beer:

Not to mention Hydes Brewery converting a traditional local pub into a self-consciously stylised craft beer bar.

And the limits of bizarre innovation seem to have finally been reached.

I certainly get the impression that the whole craft beer phenomenon has been embraced by corporate interests desperate to climb on board the bandwagon before it leaves town, and is on the point of running out of steam. As Danny in Withnail and I says, “They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworths, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over.”

The 1960s counterculture certainly left an indelible mark on society, but by the early 70s, the impetus and passion of the 1966-69 period had largely evaporated, even at the same time as the most mundane products were being labelled with psychedelic lettering. So it is likely to be with craft beer.

12 comments:

  1. Beer enthusiasm is a niche hobby that has been around since the 70s and will stick around so long as people have some sort of cultural connection with beer greater than it just being a consumable product. Like "knowing about wine" is a signifier of class and culture, "being discerning about beer" allows a certain type of middle class person an identity.

    As for craft beer remaining trendy. I think most fads have a life of 10 years. After 10 years the students who were into it are in work with different lives and priorities and a whole new generation are at college wanting their own fads.

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    1. I agree it is a fad that will run its' course, but you seem to view it as a student fad. I find this interesting because in the US the craft beer fad is not limited by age. The fad replaced the wine phase that swept the country during the prosperous 90s and early 2000s. Here it is not tied to a middle class identity. The wealthy jumped on board with a vengeance. Hence the high beer prices. I'm surprised a bit by this difference if this perception is accurate on both our ends.

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    2. As discussed before, the US and UK "craft beer movements" are very different things. If you read the US concept across to the UK, it encompasses all cask beer producers, up to and including Marston's and Greene King.

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    3. The one area I think you are wrong on is that they are "very different things." Over the last ten years your scene has become more and more like the US. It strikes me every time I visit. (Greene King would not be craft here.) The "keg" culture in the UK is far more like the US craft scene.

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    4. The US craft beer movement tilted against Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors. The British craft beer movement tilted against real ale and its established producers. That's the difference.

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    5. In the UK, Dave, I'd say the craft fad has drawn a generational divide over the merits of evil filthy keg beer.

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    6. I do see that, but at a certain point I am less interested in what people are against and more interested in what they are for. Only focusing on the Craft\keg hostilities ignores a lot of other changes. The hostility is fueled by many things: age, social beliefs, class, anti-corporate\movement attitudes. These are what I see a similar in both countries. And they really have manifested themselves in similar ways.

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  2. Michael Henchard4 March 2017 at 18:55

    The Craft Phenomenon; Ignore it. It will go away. Like Micropubs. Folks will get bored with them both eventually..... Please tell us about trad breweries and trad pubs instead ;-)

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    1. The craft legacy is to break beer enthusiasm from the dogma of CAMRA. That's what terrifies the beardies and why they are in panic and "revitalizing"

      They used to rely on the small niche of beer enthusiasts to at least sign up to their mantra and reserve keg drinking to the appreciation of foreign beer.

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  3. The heart of this story is the rise of ersatz craft - not just naff rebrands and new lines form old breweries in be-skulled cans (curiously very few decent British craft brewers use this kind of branding) - but also ersatz craft bars and beer menus. Heineken's pub 'craft' list will likely include Punk, Blue Moon, Brooklyn Lager and Peroni.

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  4. The Blocked Dwarf5 March 2017 at 00:33

    Don't think I have ever drunk a 'craft beer',infact I'm not quite sure what the term actually means -probably one of those terms which means whatever the hell you want it to. But that's mainly because I went on the wagon 10 years ago and before then preferred maximum alcohol content for my money (it's an alcoholic's thing, don't worry about it).
    But if the term 'craft' encompasses things such as 'kettled soured porter' and midnight harvested juniper berries then one thought comes to mind namely; the combination of hops and malt have been a best seller since whenever hops were introduced to this country (1545? something like that). For arguments sake lets say 'nearly 500 years'. Sure there have been all sorts of variants on that theme. Beer made from Light malts, dark malts, not so bitter hops, hops so bitter they straightened your pubic hair , top yeasts, bottom yeasts etc etc etc ad nauseum-in-the-alley-behind-the-pub. But the basic taste,malt and hops, has stood the test of time tastewise. Doesn't matter what the label says otherwise, if it says 'Beer' you expect a 'beer taste'.
    The hops + malt combo swept the board when it came in. Within (if I remember my history of brewing) 2 generations you could barely find an 'ale' (ie beer not flavoured with hops but whatever green shit grew down the local lanes) in this country. If you were transported to some C17 tavern and was handed a tankard then one sip would tell you it was 'beer'. Maybe not good beer and you'd probably catch something nasty from the rim of tankard -roughly wiped on Mine Host's breeches- but there would be no doubt that it was beer.

    I would urge all brewers of Wormwood& Cherry Coke Bubblegum flavoured craft beers to bear that fact in mind and maybe not invest all their redundancy pay...maybe also brew 'a brown so brown the man in the moon himself came down..', hedge their bets.

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  5. The 1960s counterculture did not evaporate! It grew and eventually took over the Western world. Today's world is run by 1960s radical students, which is why there are drugs everywhere, why police have lost most of their powers, why foreign criminals are on the rampage, why Christianity is laughed at and why the likes of Tony Blair came to power. If you are against these things you are the counterculture now.

    Craft beer - I don't like most of it. I had some 10% beer with a skull on the bottle from one of the local new beer shops. It tasted and smelt like pine disinfectant. Hence the skull I suppose - although there should have been crossbones too.

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