Saturday 27 April 2013

The house that craft built

Oh no, you might think, not another post about craft beer. But what I’ve been thinking is that “craft beer” is basically an attitude of mind, not a product as such. Real ale is a specific, clearly-defined product. Either a pub sells it, or it doesn’t. Over the years, many pubs have appeared in the Good Beer Guide that only served a single real ale, and some still do. Many of those will have nothing else whatsoever to interest the “discerning” beer drinker.

But put a single keykeg tap in a pub (as if that actually happens) and it doesn’t immediately become a craft beer outlet. The craft ethos requires a single-minded approach to the whole beer offer – the bank of handpumps offering RedWillow, Thornbridge, Summer Wine, Magic Rock, the long line of keg taps, the fridge full of US imports, the blackboards, the bare floorboards, the uncomfortable seating. Plus the inevitable invasion of pretentious hipsters*. While they don’t do cask, BrewDog have the concept off to perfection. And, when I read about that type of outlet, I start dreaming of shabby keg-only Sam Smith’s boozers with frayed bench seating.

In the future we are likely to see an increasingly eclectic choice of beers available on keg in pubs – mostly lager, but so some extent ales too. But the full-on “craft beer bar” will remain essentially a specialist experience confined to city centres and affluent suburban enclaves where there is the clientele to support it. Real ale can take over (most of) the pub world; “craft beer” never will. And what will remain once the trendy beer fad has passed?

* #12 seems to be drinking beer. But does he really represent your desired type of bar clientele?


  1. Those pretentious hipsters are scary. Give me a shabby Sam's pub any day of the week.

  2. I'd rather be in a busy Spoons than a busy hipster bar any night of the week. I feel just as out-of-place in the hipster joint, the beer will be more expensive (and it isn't likely to be that much better), you're more likely to find a seat in Spoons, and (the clincher) the Spoons clientele don't talk so bloody loud. I stuck my nose in the Font in Chorlton this evening - I couldn't hear myself think for the talk. (There was loud music as well, but I didn't notice that to begin with.)

  3. Hipsters are either too self-conscious to be cool or not self-conscious enough, I can never decide.

    "But what I’ve been thinking is that “craft beer” is basically an attitude of mind, not a product as such."

    "Craft" in the UK seems to mainly mean "American-style". You set up a small brewery in the USA producing only cask-conditioned bitter and mild, that's craft beer. Do that here and it's boring old real ale.

  4. What you would rather drink in a Sam Smiths or a Wetherspoons than a craft bar with beer from some of the best brewers in the UK.Is this a northern thing.I dont care how loud the music is or how many Hipsters are in, if it sells good beer thats the main factor. Cask or keg it doesn,t matter.cheers johng

  5. Chris, the Americans rarely produce cask beer.Craft brewers in the USA prefer keg.cheers johng

  6. Anonymous - any American "Craft" bar worth it's salt will have at lease a couple of cask beers amongst their range - it is a growing area there.
    Some like Magnolia Brew Co in San Francisco have a permanent range of six of their own cask beers.

  7. To most people, "craft" just means "not shit".

    Its a sad fact of life in the UK that the vast majority of pubs sell 10 different beers, all of which are horrible. My generation and the ones below grew up not realising that beer even could taste better than Carling did.

    The craft beer movement is just young people saying, hey, you know how beer is pretty horrible and how you and all your friends now drink flavoured ciders instead? Well actually some of it is quite nice, try this. Its basically a overdue recognition of the fact that we've put up with a choice of 8 types of foul dross for far too long. In many ways its not dissimilar to what CAMRA were moaning about back in the 70s.

    On another note, its also part of this whole anti-corporate thing isn't it?

  8. All fashions look strange when you are on the outside looking in. I’ll let others say what is cool and isn’t but I personally think cutting your own furrow is cool, following others is not. Another tribe to follow isn’t cool. Beards and sandals are, I think, in its own way cool so long as it is an expression of yourself and not an attempt to emulate others. The Wine bars & bistros of the 80’s look dated now as do the tapas bars of the 90’s. Maybe this one day will date but no one has a crystal ball. It might take off and embed itself into the national psyche like the Victorian/Edwardian theme pub that CAMRA types seem to like. Who is to know the future? I like a cheap tatty Smiths, myself, and they will live so long as value drinkers like us exist to celebrate boozing for buttons. At what point are we all going to relax, though, about not every pub being your own personal cup of tea. Accepting there is something there someone else might like whether that be cheap microwaved food, TV sport, uncomfortable seating, pretentiousness, exclusiveness and letting them get on with it. Takes all sorts to make a world.

  9. Some other thoughts. Subcultures tend to gravitate to cities due to the anonymous nature of many cities. It allows subcultures to exist without persecution as people congregate together. Where someone out of the ordinary may be picked on in a provincial town, they are in a tribe in a city. Hipster culture may transcend generations as Goths have done, who is to say? I doubt it; Goths offer something to the social outcast whereas hipsters offer something only to cocks, really. As for “going mainstream”, craft has certain inbuilt barriers to this. Anything that defines itself as a reaction against the mainstream cannot go mainstream without selling out. You can imagine the reaction and rejection to an Inbev version of punk IPA. It seems to transcend more than beer. It is a reaction against the corporate whether that is beer, coffee shops, groceries or clothes. It becomes what it is set up against the minute it becomes too successful. Sam Adams Boston Lager, 2 for a fiver in the Spoons. Guess that’s no longer craft. As for cool, am I alone in thinking the coolest mother fucker in beer bloggery isn’t any slightly self-conscious craft focused blogger trying to sell books, beer or product to the discerning but the Tandleman?

  10. The biggest obstruction to the mainstream growth of craft keg at the moment is that operators like Punch and Enterprise don't offer it as a free-of-tie option.
    Punch do "Free of tie supply on wines, minerals and spirits" and "Buy One, Get One Free of Tie on locally produced real ales" for example, but no free of tie option on keg beer, and you can bet that the price of a keg of Punk IPA sourced through the pubco would be uncompetitively expensive.

    So thats a significant proportion of pubs that simply can't put on craft keg, even if they wanted to. There's very little point me suggesting to the landlord of my local to get rid of the Carlsberg and put on the far superior local St Peters lager instead, he simply doesn't have that option.

  11. Two things: Cookies new slogan "Craft is for Cocks" could just catch on.

    And me col? Yup.

  12. Or cool even. See how uncool I really am. Can't even spell cool.

  13. You're the Steve McQueen of beer bloggery, Tand fella. A Fonz to everyone elses Richie Cunnigham.

    @pyo If you campaign and get St Peters lager in every boozer in your town then isn't St Peters lager just another ubiquitous beer, like Carlsberg, to react against? It has to be rare to be desirable?

  14. Its not the ubiquitousness of Carlsberg I dislike, its the fact it tastes like dishwater. If cooking lager is your thing then thats fine but there is already Fosters and Stella on tap, so why the need for 3 different brands of identical cooking lagers? Why not 2 cooking lagers and one nice lager?

    I'm no twattish hipster that only drinks beer that is "artisan" and "exclusive", I just want at least one of the multiple beers on offer in the average pub to actually taste nice. Is that really so much to ask?

  15. I agree with py0 here - a beer that is flavoursome and moreish doesn't become less so due to becoming more widely available (hence yippee-ing in my household when the local Tesco started stocking Sierra Nevada, Goose Island, etc.)

    Worth noting, by the way, that the much derided ABInBev version of Punk IPA Cookie suggests would find few takers is effectively here - Goose Island being owned by the listed beer behemoth.

    Not to say, however, that ubiquity doesn't - on occasion - affect quality. Cost cutting, time-slicing, moves to a bigger plant - sometimes the quality of a beer changes as it becomes more popular for an objective reason.

    Sam Adams isn't crap because it's now more widely available - to me, it's disappointing because in the UK it is now contract brewed by Sheps and tastes nothing like Sam Adams (and a lot like every other Sheps beer).

    My final point - py0 is also right that out there in the real world, those customers and pub owners/managers using "craft" as an adjective for beer indeed do just mean "not shit".

    Even if young people into exotic beer move their tastes onto pastures new, it seems unlikely they will abandon beer altogether or, when they do fancy a pint, decide to revert to the Carlings or Stellas.

    The craft beer wave may peak, but when it rolls back, the tide will be higher than it was.

  16. I believe you both but cannot for the life of me think of a "once great" beer that once it reached an ubiquitous availability wasn't subsequently dismissed by beer enthusiasts.

  17. Pilsner Urquell. Timothy Taylor Landlord.

    It depends what you mean by ubiquitous. I see these two around a fair amount and I think they're widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) lagers and one of the very best traditional bitters.

    But of course it is difficult for something to become completely ubiquitous on the scale of Carling without the temptation creeping in to cut corners and maximise profits given that such a large market share is effectively self-sustaining. Perhaps it would be best (from a quality POV) if there were no truly ubiquitous beers.

  18. Those 2 are quite rare round my way and more often than not considered not what they used to be.

    I think yorkshire tea is the only product that is what it used to be.

  19. Those young people with their beards and vinyl and bloody keg beer, eh?

    I have seldom read something that so totally fails to get the point. Craft (where "craft" = "non-macro brewed keg beer, be it lager or ale") will NOT be restricted to hipster bars, I can virtually guarantee you that. It will quickly spring up in places where cask ale could never reach, but where people are looking for something tasty and not mainstream: restaurants, hotel bars and the like. Similarly many "non-hipster" pubs will find it pays to have a "craft keg" offering on the bar. And frankly, if it forces the purveyors of poorly kept cask ale to raise their game and improve the quality of their offering, or it means taking out one slow-selling cask line that invariably tastes like vinegaer long before the cask is empty, then the spread of craft keg should be hailed.

  20. You seem to have thought you were reading something completely different from what I actually wrote, Martyn.

    As I said, "In the future we are likely to see an increasingly eclectic choice of beers available on keg in pubs – mostly lager, but so some extent ales too." So I am effectively agreeing with you.

    But the point is that, currently "craft" is very often an attitude of mind rather than a specific product.

  21. What happens when a "craft" brewery brews a cask ale. Interesting paradox.

  22. Anon - it's not a paradox at all. Unles that is you are of the (mistaken, I suggest) view that craft and cask cannot be the same thing. As Pete Brown very sensibly says here:

    "If craft beer is about anything specific, it's certainly not about the container it's in - the whole point of it is that it should be all about the beer"

    Couldn't have put it better myself.


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