Sunday, 14 October 2012

Craft excluder

The vexed question of What is craft beer? has recently raised its head again in the beer blogosphere. However, something that strikes me about so much of what is touted as “craft beer” in the UK, is that it is in some way “extreme”, in one or more of strength, flavour, ingredients and pricing. It seems to have become the chosen label for beer élitism, for something that will only be appreciated by the cognoscenti, and that is beyond the understanding of the Carling-swilling hoi polloi. Any conception that beer needs to be accessible, or should be quaffable in social situations, has gone by the board.

One of the key features of the original “real ale revolution” was that it was fundamentally democratic, that it was saying some of the finest beers in Britain, if not it the world, could be, and indeed were, routinely enjoyed by everyday drinkers in ordinary pubs. But “craft beer” stands this on its head and says that beer nirvana can only be found in the strong, expensive, obscure and uncompromisingly flavoured. It is a cult of beer snobs. If any brewer’s products become popular and start to sell in large volumes, it is inevitably decried as having sold out.

“Craft beer” is a term that originated in the USA, and its application to this country’s beer scene has always been somewhat controversial and questionable. However, if we extrapolate the US understanding (and I know the two countries are very different in terms of their beer markets), we would say that, effectively, all cask beer and all premium bottled ales were craft. But I don’t think the typical crafterati would agree.

Maybe a “craft beer enthusiast” could be defined as someone whose idea of perfect hell was having to spend the entire evening in a Donnington pub serving just BB and SBA. But Donnington must be one of the most “artisanal” (in the true sense of the term) breweries in the country.

28 comments:

  1. I think stereotyping craft beer enthusiasts as pretentious hipster beer snobs is about as helpful as stereotyping all CAMRA members as out of touch beardy weirdos.

    There's good cask beer and bad cask beer and there's good keg beer and bad keg beer. Most people simply understand craft beer to mean good keg beer. Doesn't need to be strong or outrageously flavoured, and it certainly doesn't need to be expensive. Why would anyone ever want anything to be expensive?

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  2. Craft is a term for brewers and drinkers to make it obvious that flavour is the main element they're looking for in a brew. Quite often <cough> Brewdog <\cough> craft is certainly strong flavour, to the degree of being undrinkable, but that's craft in extremis.

    Having stayed in a donnington pub this summer, whilst it may be artisanal it ain't flavoursome, especially on the fourth night in a row of having nothing else to drink. So whilst you might have been aiming for satire, I'm going to have to say you've come up with the best craft beer definition yet.

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  3. Oh, it was meant as a serious definition. And I think you have just proved the point.

    I toyed with various other breweries such as Holt's, Robinson's, Sam Smith's and Taylor's before settling on Donnington.

    But perhaps the definition could be widened to say "someone whose idea of perfect hell was having to spend the entire evening in a pub serving any two cask beers that have been in production since the inception of CAMRA".

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    1. I'm quote happy to be criticised for favouring flavour, aroma and difference over curtailing my choices to one method of production and dispense.

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  4. Without wanting to push you into a 'beef' with anyone, can you point to someone (a blogger or writer) who exemplifies this point of view? I can only think of a couple of what you might call extremists who don't appreciate cask ale and/or session beer. Most seem to, even if it doesn't fit into their definition of 'craft'.

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  6. Ha. Yeah, one of the extremists we had in mind.

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  7. Gazza Prescott.

    I would also point you to this poll where the majority view was that no family brewers were "craft".

    Even if mainstream cask beer is appreciated, it is often seen as something "other", a kind of slumming, almost akin to drinking Guinness on St Paddy's day.

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  8. Seen as 'other' by some, perhaps, but I think you're extrapolating too far with the assumption that they see it as slumming.

    There might be some people who see it as akin to their daily bread, with (possibly expensive) craft as the equivalent of a posh meal out. Speaking for myself, I couldn't drink strongly flavoured, strong beer every day; and I enjoy session-strength cask ale as much as, but in a different way to, say, a 9% super-hoppy IPA.

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  9. Even if mainstream cask beer is appreciated, it is often seen as something "other", a kind of slumming, almost akin to drinking Guinness on St Paddy's day.

    I'd need to see at least one quote each giving that view of cask from 10 different "craft beer" supporters before I believed that.

    My impression of the British beer blogosphere/twittersphere is that it's very hard indeed to find someone who is dismissive of cask, that most put cask at least equal to craft keg, and a plurality at least, probably a majority, put cask first. But that's just an impression ...

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  10. Not dismissive of cask as such, but dismissive of a lot of cask - the familiar Doom Bar/Bombardier are crap refrain.

    And, locally, a substantial number of CAMRA members are really dismissive of Robinson's.

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    1. Familiarity breeds contempt. The opening up of my local Robinsons to other beers (which Robinsons call their craft collection), means i appreciate their output more because I'm not lumbered with it. I'll take a green bullet if i can follow it with an anchor porter.

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    2. ...hopefully i never describe anything as crap. Just something i don't like drinking.

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  11. Ah well, let's see what folks think of widely-available cask beers, try this survey.

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  12. Needs a 'don't know', unless you want us to vote based on our impression? (Which might also work.)

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  13. "OK" is "don't know", I suppose. Although I'd be surprised if you hadn't drunk all of those.

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    1. We haven't! (Can sense your surprise from here.)

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  14. This is a very poor straw man argument of the type we had ten years ago in music writing between "rockists" and "poptimists"...

    As with those arguments turned out that actually we all liked music, and we had more in common than the little things we were arguing about.

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  15. Oh dear, I seem to have rattled a few cages here.

    The whole point, though, is that there shouldn't be a division between "craft beer" and "mainstream cask and PBAs", but that the craft enthusiasts have erected such a divide.

    Surely the true beer enthusiast is someone who can appreciate both a 9.0% triple-hopped American IPA and a night spent in a Sam Smith's pub drinking OBB.

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    1. Can you make mine a taddy porter?

      I don't think craftys make such a divide, but i find a lot of real alers are very dismissive of any location that doesn't provide real ale. And are very upset when you point out that they are.

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    2. This is just no argument. Who are these crafties setting up this divide? It just doesn't exist... You haven't rattled cages, you've just made a fatuous blogpost. You're the one saying this divide exists...

      I don't go in Sam smiths any more because I think their whole business model is flawed and leads to awful pubs, and they treat their punters and staff like idiots.

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  16. Martin, Cambridge14 October 2012 at 19:42

    I don't know whether it's the brewery or the pub cellarmanship, but I've never had a good pint of Donnington in any of their otherwise attractive little estate. If I had I'd prefer an evening in their pubs to the Brew Dog or Port Street.

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  17. Can I suggest people get t shirts with "team craft", "team cask" on & then arrange a bit of tankards at dawn and settle the matter?

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  18. I think I'd rather spend a night in BD than a Donnington house. Their beer is hard to drink, but not in a good way. Never had a good long if it.

    Those that say craft is not relentlessly upmarket and expensive, not to say exclusive have to work a little harder to persuade me that it isn't. It has its place like a posh shop, but lots can't afford it. Not a problem though. That's just its positioning and niche.

    Slagging off Mudgie doesn't change the appearance of divide. That divide isn't necessarily concious though.

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  19. Damn. Good pint of it. That's what you get by posting from a phone!

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  20. Martin, Cambridge15 October 2012 at 21:12

    Tandleman - could you really spend an evening in (a) Brewdog ? (whose beers I love) - most uncomfortable pubs I've been in !

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  21. I would drink anywhere I could bask in the eternal wisdom of the tandleman hoping through osmosis some of it would rub off. He is in a handful of bloggers alongside the Brown, the Avery, the Cole, the Dredge for which this is true. These are the premiership. The rest are league 2.

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