Saturday 28 November 2015

Down with boring old farts!

I recently spotted an interesting post from Jules Gray, a beer blogger I hadn’t come across before, entitled Craft Beer as a Subculture. This seemed to me very insightful, drawing a comparison with the punk and indie music subcultures.

The similarities are very clear – the enthusiasm for something perceived as special, the feeling of a tight-knit community, the narrow urban focus, the fanatical enthusiasm for certain artists/brewers, the constant quest for the obscure, the adoption of specific clothing and hairstyles, and the sense of betrayal when a favourite signs with a major label/sells out to a major brewer. There is also the negative side of dismissing those who don’t conform to your particular taste as ignorant and conventional.

Manchester is driving and engaging this subcultural group; something the city has always been good at. Subcultures have values and norms that are distinct from those held by the majority. Style can be an important part (for example clothing, hairstyles) but not essential as a united ideological approach can be the binding force. Not everyone can pull off a ‘Super Gueuze’ or ‘Brettanomyces’ t-shirt but you don’t need to in order to be part of this group; just as long as you’ve drunk you’re way through enough songbooks to hold an informed opinion of your own.

Within this culture are subgroups – Beer Geeks, Traders, Tickers, Beer Evangelists, Beer Bloggers, Hop Monsters, Beer Hunters, to name a few I’d recognise. Am I missing a few obvious ones?

An affinity seems to be the urge to record, develop content, engage in conversation and debate via blogs, social media platforms, online community forums and beer focused apps. If you’re a brewery doing this you are involved, engaging and part of the beer culture. Interesting to see Indy Man’s use of a webpage to host this year’s beer list, mirroring the technological information share the community has become attuned to. Though I would have preferred a printed program to write notes all over. The physical nature of writing etches beers and memories into my soul.

Social media’s accessibility via smartphones and its prevalence due to the handy/pocket nature of those devices fuels the discovery and questing of new breweries.Teeny nano breweries like – Beak Brewery, are hosted, as an example of the festival introducing drinkers to up and coming new talent.

The music parallel is very interesting. Back in 1977, the punk movement dismissed the previous generation of rock music – Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Yes – as “boring old farts”, despite the fact that many of its leading lights were still under 30, or only just above. Ian Anderson was born in 1947, Ozzy Osbourne and Robert Plant in 1948.

That’s very like the crafty dismissal of “boring brown bitter”, and the oft-heard claim that, going back twenty years, there was scarcely any decent beer available in Britain. All the family brewers, and the longer-established micros like Butcombe and Black Sheep, are just “boring old farts”.

I was 17 when the tidal wave of punk rock broke at the end of 1976. Now, the likes of Cookie may suggest I sprang from my mother’s womb already middle-aged, and I freely admit that I wasn’t the coolest kid in school. But I was a committed rock fan, with an extensive collection of vinyl albums including the likes of Barclay James Harvest and Van der Graaf Generator. I concluded at the time that punk was basically a waste of space, and little has happened sicne to change my mind, although many bands and artists have emerged from the “New Wave” scene and embraced the mainstream. I also always thought that punk, rather like craft beer, was very much an “art school” phenomenon. I see no craft equivalent to the NWOBHM or house music.

It’s worth remembering that, in August 1977, at the height of the punk explosion, Going for the One by Yes was the Number One album on the UK charts for two weeks. And I still gain great pleasure from listening to Tull and Zeppelin.


  1. I've seen both Jethro Tull and Page & Plant from Zep (but not Zep itself) live on several occasions: excellent every time.

    It might interest you that the best-selling LP of the punk era was Saturday Night Fever.

  2. Actually, some of the punk-era musicians have later admitted that they secretly enjoyed Black Sabbath and Genesis all along, but were just striking a pose.

    Likewise, some crafties have embraced Harveys Sussex Best, but I think it will be a long time before they're reconciled to Robinsons Unicorn.

  3. Johnny Rotten was a big VdGG fan and made no secret of it. I saw them live last year, they were ... uncompromising. Thinking on it, UK craft beer might have more in common with the rave scene, making American brewers the house and techno. Craft NWOBHM would start with a hopped up recreation of Ruddles County and maybe a bangin' Old Peculiar from the Northern contingent.

    But I have a thought that my analogy boat may be a craft with a leak. Because, having cited house and techno, genuine question: how many black brewers are there?

  4. I had the pleasure of meeting Jules at this year’s European Beer Bloggers Conference in Brussels, so it was with particular interest that I read her blog on IMBC 2015 and Craft Beer as a Subculture.

    I would agree with much of what you say about the music analogy, Mudge, and my rock music interests are probably fairly similar to your own. However, going back to the main subject of Jules’s blog about beer sub-culture, I would argue that there was a whole “sub-cultural” feel about CAMRA, during the early days of the campaign.

    Forty years on, and it’s difficult to put this feeling into print, but as someone who was around in the early days, and who attended that first Beer Exhibition in Covent Garden, there was a feeling of excitement that we were doing something different. I would also go so far as saying there was a “pioneering spirit” present during CAMRA’s formative years, even if it involved trying to catalogue what remained of traditional beer in Britain and discovering more about the independent brewers who were still in business.

    Obviously there was no social media in those days, so things moved at a much slower pace, and much of the information being gathered was word of mouth. There was a sense of camaraderie amongst CAMRA members, and other beer enthusiasts such as the SPBW, and a sense of identity and” belonging”. These are attributes which Jules alludes to when she talks about the sub-culture associated with the craft beer movement.

    I am not saying that the craft-beer sub-culture is re-inventing the wheel, but I do think that today’s beer enthusiasts (geeks if you like), have much more in common with the early CAMRA pioneers than they might realise – or might even wish to admit to!

    ps. For the record, I was fortunate enough to have seen the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Who (the latter with all four original members). I’ve also seen Yes, Hawkwind, Focus, Barclay James Harvest and plenty of other bands from that era. Regrettably, I never saw Jethro Tull.

  5. I'm about a year younger than you, Mudge, and I would still argue that punk changed everything. Apart from anything else, the rise of the new bands made it obvious that prog was already running out of steam. Going for the One may have sold well at the time, but it's been forgotten since - possibly because it was dreadful (I know, I owned a copy - briefly).

  6. I stumbled across the beer scene as a somewhat bemused 35-year-old. So, my perspective is, like everything else about me, unusual.

    Mind you, when I was a teenager in the early 1990s, I was taping 60s songs off the radio. I preferred The Move from 1993-1998, Joe Meek from 1999-2005, and been with the Bonzo Dog Band ever since.

  7. Lord Egbert Nobacon29 November 2015 at 09:36

    Meh,Jethro Tull ?
    Not a patch on Adge Cutler & The Wurzels.Pride of the West Country.And defining band of the Scrumpy and Western genre.
    Twice Daily was even banned by the Beeb.

  8. @Dvorak - as someone who believes in freedom of association, the lack of black brewers doesn't really concern me, although it's only a matter of time before some over-earnest person gets worked up about it. However, it can't be denied that craft beer is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the white, liberal middle class.

    @Paul - yes, there was a strong feeling of being part of a movement about the early CAMRA, but it was essentially preservationist rather than iconoclastic. CAMRA was trying to reclaim the mainstream, whereas a true subculture defines itself by being apart from the mainstream.

    @Phil - I'm no music critic, and indeed much of the stuff I like tends to be that which the critics don't. I would agree that punk/new wave changed the popular music landscape forever, but it's noticeable how the acts that went on to global success such as The Police, Simple Minds and U2 adapted the energy of the pioneers into a more user-friendly formula. And Andy Summers is five years older than Ian Anderson!

    Most of the bands that dominated the early 70s had to some extent burnt themselves out by 1977, and I would agree that "Going for the One" was a last hurrah for that era of Yes. I did once have it on vinyl, but it's one of those that I chucked out and I have never acquired it on CD. Incidentally, their 1980s comeback 90125 is IMV a cracking album.

    It's interesting how hard rock and metal came back with a vengeance in the 1980s, but prog never did. I find the classic 70s prog albums sound much more dated than their hard rock equivalents.

  9. So basically the point is that craft beer is a fad that will pass? A fashion for todays 20 somethings and by the time they are 30 a new set of 20 somethings will decide the next social change?

    Firstly, prepare for the temperance bar to make a come back.

    Next, on your point, to some degree I agree. Odd tasting beer that makes people wince that is just for those "discerning enough to appreciate it and foolish enough to buy it" is a fad.

    What will stick are some of the values behind it. Not so much the small brewer crafting an art bollocks, but the idea of better keg beer.

    Some craft products will remain well into the next trend. Those that maintain quality and deliver a reliable product you can trust. So a small portion then, and some of it the current "faux" craft. Better lager as a standard and colder carbonated hoppy pale ale will stick around.

  10. I like very little of the rock music produced in the early to mid 70s and I see the era as an aberration; a deviation from the pure and simple rock and pop music of earlier years. Punk was a return to that earlier era.

    Mine's a pint of Outstanding Red.

  11. So are the new micro breweries and micro pubs the equivalent of the small indepenenent labels that all the great punk singles a came out in '76/'77? I remember labels like Stiff and Chiswick turning everyone's heads - before their inevitable demise. Got a New Rose, I got it good.

  12. I think there's a surprising amount of depth in the comparison, actually...

    Either one can be seen either as being totally new and unprecedented or as just carrying on stuff that had been going on for ages beforehand (punk: pub rock etc, beer: Oakham, Meantime, Steel City)

    Brewdog as Malcolm McLaren - guerrilla marketing genius, unarguably massive influence, not quite clear which of revolutionizing a moribund culture and making loads of cash was the primary goal and which was the side effect.

    And the obvious next step is the beer equivalent of New Wave, which I think we're starting to see already, as the more user-friendly end of craft beer (Punk IPA, Beavertown Neck Oil, Camden etc) starts to go a bit more mass market.

  13. Another music comparison that occurred to me is that CAMRA in its early days had similarities with the 1950s Trad Jazz movement :-)

  14. Craft beer subculture is just a load of people who have discovered a style of beer they like and want to share the news with other people, and don't like their positive message being undermined by the constant sneering and griping of a bunch of knob-heads, be they temperance-leaguers or the "all keg is shit" nutter brigade.

  15. Yes's 90125 a cracking album ? I think I'm on safer (though probably losing) ground debating politic than music here :-)

    I don't think I'd equate craft with music, but if it was a band it would be The Blue Nile, whose 1983 debut was a cracker.

  16. Pop and rock music is an area where, perhaps more than anything else, there's no generally recognised definition of "good" and "bad" - it's all a matter of individual taste. To be honest, many of the greatest and most affecting pop songs are actually pretty dumb.

    And you could also muddy the waters by introducing the concept of "true to style".

    I would say the initial point of saying that the craft beer movement has many of the characteristics of a music subculture is a good one, but it perhaps breaks down when you try to draw too much of a direct connection with music.

  17. ... interesting parallel here is how a term relating to the producer - "indie" - becomes applied to the product. And, bingo, a marketable genre is born, so that it doesn't seem contradictory for a major to have indie in the catalogue.


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