Monday, 14 January 2019

Craft will eat itself

Over the weekend, my attention was drawn to this blogpost entitled Is Craft Beer Burning Out? The opening paragraph immediately grabs your attention:
IPAs so cloudy they look like radioactive pond water, double mocha-wocha choco-vanilla fudgy wudgy pastry stouts, DDH fruit smoothies (that’s Double Dry Hopped for the uninitiated) and salty goses that taste like gym instructor sweat. Is craft beer trying so hard these days it’s in danger of burning itself out?
This trend is perhaps more pronounced on the other side of the Atlantic, but the constant pursuit of the new has certainly spread over here too. It ends up going in ever-decreasing circles as brewers and drinkers hare after increasingly outlandish novelties. Of course there is a place for innovation in beer, but if people never want to drink anything twice it ultimately becomes self-defeating.

It also undermines quality. If you’re never going to get the chance to drink a beer twice, then the incentive to make a product where drinkers will want to make repeat purchases disappears, and there’s no opportunity to tweak recipes in response to customer feedback. And, as the author points out, whereas in the past brewers would make small-scale test batches to develop and refine any new product, now they just put anything out without testing in the knowledge that drinkers will be moving on to something else anyway.

There’s a story that one particular brewer once had a batch that was badly affected by the common brewing fault known as diacetyl, but instead of pouring it down the drain they decided to rebrand it as “Butterscotch Porter”. That kind of thing now seems to be par for the course – however it turns out, someone will regard it as “interesting”.

I’ve argued in the past that one of the things damaging cask beer is the culture of ever-changing guest beers, which presents it as a disposable, interchangeable product and prevents the development of brand loyalty. The constant pursuit of novelty also serves to further widen the gulf between the enthusiast and the ordinary drinker in the pub with his or her regular pint of Pedigree or Carling.

21 comments:

  1. I agree, and I'm the first one to divert our pub crawls off the trad pubs into craft bars. A quick look at CAMRA Discourse (be strong, be strong) will show you how many CAMRA members regard the standard bitters of the leading family brewers as dishwater to be avoided. Of course, I doubt they've ever had Banks's Mild as good as in Wolves, Robinsons in Stockport, or Plum Porter in Burslem, but are judging them by the size of the brewery or an average pint they had once.

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    1. Its a no to craft keggie yellow cold raw beer soup (as pictured) and a big yes to genuine real ale styles served at 12-14 degrees c.
      CAMRA Discourse talks a lot of rubbish and censores genuine critism of beer and issues...

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  2. Hence the rise in saison and farmhouse beers 😉

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    1. Even in craft beer bars those are something of a niche market...

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  3. Given the changes in a cask of real ale for the few days a given cask is on, you could make the argument that for many a trend chaser, the different beers are less important than the being seen to be a fan of craft beer. Perhaps it's a pre-Millennial mindset set, but give me a well made classic beer to drink all session long and I am a happy camper.

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  4. And here was I thinking that the real problem was that the vast majority of new beers are just infinitesimally minor variations on the same old uninteresting stuff, over and over and over again...

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    1. He touches on that as well:

      "...these days it’s not unusual for a brewery to have multiple versions of every style – many of which taste pretty much the same because they really are the same. Just add another kilo or two of dry hops and you get two beers from one. There’s simply no time left over these days to refine. It’s corner-cutting, sloppy but inevitable as brewers come under increasing pressure to conjure up something different every week."

      It's another side of the same coin - the endless quest for novelty. Most brewers' seasonal ales are much of a muchness, but they produce them because they offer something eyecatching in the free trade.

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  5. Craft as in bizarre horrible muck is a fad. But there is always niche markets for those seeking the illusion of discernment and refinement outside the mainstream. Those that might have found there way to cask now have reliable keg products that do that. Cask is just a discount old man beer in Spoons, worth a go because it's cheap.

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    1. Yes it's a fad as was Cava, as is Prosecco, and now gin. It'll pass. Hip-hop stuck around though, didn't it?

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    2. Is that a good thing, though?

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  6. I'm not sure there is much truth in this though maybe we see what we want to see. The really weird stuff is generally reserved for tap rooms and bottles, with only a handful of pubs/bars really catering to this niche. Even then their offering will be on a sliding scale of weirdness with plenty of familiar names such as Thornbridge and Beavertown taking front and centre alongside a bottle selection and maybe a couple of oddities on the taps.

    I see experimental brews as a great way of showcasing the brewery and driving people towards their core product range. For me, and I dare say I'm not alone, trying obscure beers is an occasional activity and a prop to enjoy a day out with friends as opposed to the regular beer I'll drink most nights down the local, whether that's the Wimbledon Common Ale that is beautifully kept at my local or a Neck Oil in a trendy craft bar.

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  7. Serious question: Do you think Punk IPA has managed to get brand loyalty in the way of Carling or Pedigree? A fair few of my pal always drink Punk when we're out, particularly as it is now on in spoons.
    Britain Beermat

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    1. Punk certainly commands some brand loyalty now, as does Doom Bar and Jaipur and various other beers to varying extents.

      It's an almost inevitable consequence of wide and consistent availability coupled with the 'find something I like and stick with it' attitude that, this post notwithstanding, remains the default position for a great many consumers.

      Keg Guinness drinkers are probably the most brand-conservative of all. Presumably at some point when young they tried it, liked it, and have stuck with it ever since because it's never not been available.

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    2. Yes, Punk has certainly become an "order it by name" beer, and one that won't make you look like a dork when you're out with a group of non-beer-enthusiast mates. However, its strength is always going to be a limiting factor. A beer of similar style with a strength around 4.2% could be a real cask-killer.

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  8. I’ve been meaning to write a post on this subject for some time; certainly since coming back from my summer visit to the United States. The post you link to, from The Burnt Out Beer Guy, pretty sums up my own thoughts, and a quick Google search along the lines of “too much choice in craft-beer”, brings up dozens of commentators, all saying much the same thing.

    Much of the problem lies with the constant search for “something new” or the latest fad, or “must have”. There are a number of beer writers in this country who have unashamedly followed this path, boring us all to death in the process, by waffling on about the latest barrel-aged, pint of murk.

    I read an excellent article on this very subject, a couple of weeks ago, which unfortunately I forgot to bookmark, but it laid much of the blame for this pursuit of the novel and the new on the beer-ticking App “Untappd”.

    For the uninitiated, Untappd is the electronic equivalent of those grubby lists of hand-written notes, carried around by those middle-aged blokes who frequent beer festivals, up and down the country, with the sole aim of “ticking-off”, or “scooping” as many obscure real ales, as possible. Untappd is just the craft-hipster equivalent.

    The article described how many brewers in the US (there are now around 6,000 of them), feel compelled to release a new or novel beer, every week. Once drawn into this cycle, they feel obliged to continue, to the detriment of their regular brands and drinkers who prefer something a little less extreme, and a lot more stable.

    The points you make along these lines in your article Mudge, say pretty much the same thing; as do those who have posted their comments here.

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    1. well Id argue any app you have to explain the purpose behind and what it does, actually has no influence whatsoever, and Untappds most checked in top 3 beers of 2018 were...drum roll...1.Guinness, 2.Heineken and 3. Hazy little things...by Sierra Nevada, hardly the nerdy craft beer hipster quaffing beers of choice Id suggest.

      Of course with many millions of users and effectively free reign to use it how you see fit, undoubtedly some use it to chase as many unique beers they can to claim some form of digital bragging rights over friends, but plenty dont, so the idea that breweries specifically are responding & catering to that kind of behaviour by upping the number of variations of beer...its like saying chain restaurants open more outlets so that more people can check-in to their locations via Swarm/Foursquare and be their digital mayor, yes apps exist like that too which game-ify digital location stalking.

      some of the new breed of brewers do just like making multiple different styles of beers, they see that as part of what their job is to experiment in that way and would get bored simply churning out the same beers regardless of how popular they maybe and so cant ever settle on that unique style that becomes a glorious hit. some are happy just producing the same types of beer with as little variation and prioritise consistency and making the best damn version of that beer they can. the best brewers in my opinion combine both styles of course but theres room in the market for all of them.

      personally I think the increase in variation and oddness in styles we see with ice cream flavoured beers, jam donut flavoured beers, and basically not beery beers, is down to an increasingly cluttered market in a shrinking selling space, quite literally in micro pubs, and the only way to stay glued to that precious tap font space unless you have the really deep strong brand and marketing budget to keep it there, is to keep offering something new.

      there is a marketing theory, which I can never remember the proper name of, but that suggests over time if you just keep producing the same thing, sales slowly decline to unsustainable production levels, but if you periodically refresh the brand, or make something totally new of it, you get an instant higher sales boost, which declines more rapidly, but if you repeat that a number of times overall your sales volumes have increased, and if youve done the maths right you ultimately make more money

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  9. Shipyard certainly fits the bill there, and it'soon in every spoons and marstons house, but is significantly more expensive than cask.

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  10. I sell beer and probably purchase from +100 different breweries a year, ranging from never brewing the same twice to very traditional. We've been talking about this quite a lot since Christmas. We saw a massive trend towards more traditional styles as drinkers who like a best bitter / lager want to move towards a more independent brewery rather than mass market. At the same time the more experimental increased but at a much slower rate. You hit the nail on the head when you said some will only be drunk once and others like Oakham Citra are bought by the cases. We've also seen more of the contemporary breweries producing standard bitters but renaming them 'craft amber' or 'post modern brown ale' Ultimately, I think anything that gets more people drinking beer and choice is a good thing. Anyway,I'm off to the pub for a double hopped, raspberry ripple mild.

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  11. In the microbars the weirder beers tend to be in keg taps on the back wall of the bar, and all of these that I've ever tried have had a horrible chemical taste. I presume it's the gas used to pump the beer - is this nitrogen? Whether it's a cherry saison, coffee porter or chocolate stout the chemical taste predominates. A while ago I had a hand-pulled pint of a red beer at a favourite bar in Rawtenstall. This beer was delicious so I had a few more, and went back a couple of weeks later for yet more - but, the that second time the beer was on a keg tap instead of a hand pump. It was horrible; the previous taste that I had liked was barely discernible for the chemical overtone. Also it was freezing cold and had a hasty fizz which made it hard to drink. Craft keg is not for me.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie20 January 2019 at 15:52

      Andy,
      That's history repeating itself from the early 1970s.

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    2. Nasty fizz not hasty fizz! Damned auto correct.

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