Sunday, 21 April 2019

The craft monoculture

Last week I described how the craft beer movement had, in Europe, to a large extent ended up making its pitch against established, indigenous beer styles rather than the international brewers. This is a theme that is echoed in this recent blogpost by Will Hawkes:

What is important is variety and regional diversity: craft beer is making everything the same, everywhere. It emerged to challenge industrial pale lager’s hegemony by allowing customers to access a whole world of other flavours - but it appears to be on the way to creating a market that is almost as monocultural. I appreciate being able to get what I want to drink in London, from IPA to witbier, but it’d be better if there was more that spoke specifically of London.

What is the point of craft beer if what you get in Strasbourg tastes largely the same as what you drink in Glasgow? Mikkeller is opening a new bar in Paris later this month; Brewdog has dozens already. This is not exciting. Regional variety is exciting.

All too often, craft’s appeal seems to be that you can now have a Five Guys and not just a McDonald’s, while conveniently ignoring all the chip shops that have closed down.

He reckons that the bubble has now well and truly burst:

The shine has decisively gone off craft beer, and its previous calling card - It’s innovative! It’s new! - is all used up. (That’s why the scenesters are moving on to natural wine: it’s exciting and new and when it gets dull … well, there’ll be something else along in a few years.) The interesting stuff is happening at the fringes - coolships, barrel-aging - and the obsession with intense hop-dosed beers is dragging what remains away from the mainstream, deep into trainspotter territory.
He suggests that part of the reaction is “the fetishisation of ales like Landlord and Sussex Best”. However, I’d argue this is very limited and in general tends to be no more than paying lip service to tradition. “Oh, I really like some of those real ales”. But the trail rapidly goes cold beyond a few familiar names, and I see precious little evidence of enthusiasts actively seeking out these classic British ales on their home turf, in the way that CAMRA members did in its early years.

As he concludes, “in a world where everyone is doing the same thing, going back to where you began is the only sensible thing to do.”

22 comments:

  1. The Stafford Mudgie21 April 2019 at 08:31

    “Craft beer is making everything the same, everywhere” is certainly what I’ve noticed, citrusy grapefruit murk from Strasbourg to Glasgow.
    In a new Disley micropub on Wednesday evening my “Have you got anything not too citrussy ?” was about as futile a question as “Have you got anything not to gassy ?” in a 1970s Norfolk pub. The venue’s American sounding name should have warned me off.

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    1. "Malt Disley" is American? Run that past me again? It is located in Disley for gawds sake

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie24 April 2019 at 19:19

      "American sounding name" isn't quite the same as American.
      Or maybe I was wrong in assuming it was a derivation of Walt Disney.

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  2. I think this is what I was trying to get at in my comments about distinctive breweries on the Beer and Pubs forum. There's never been so much style choice but that means it's uniform across the world and you couldn't pick out the origin without seeing the label. Distinctive beers seem to be ones that have been around for ages and hence not trendy. Can anyone name a "new" brewery that has established a character ?

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  3. Great analogy with 5 Guys. Similarly, trendy looking chain restaurants have killed off the scruffy but characterful ones (Eraina and Varsity gone in Cambridge).

    We are getting a microbrewery specialising in sours in Waterbeach, though, so that's OK.


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  4. It's an obviously-too-subtle-for-some pun on the name of an obscure and sadly deceased American maker of animated films. You may have seen his Snow White? Can't think of any others offhand.

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    1. Ah. Would that be the famous Okie, Milt Dimley?

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  5. Previous comment was a reply to dcbwhaley, but the "reply" link failed, apparently.

    Replying more seriously to the thread, though, I have recently noticed some very good traditional bitters emerging from new(ish) breweries. Tapped (based at the Sheffield Tap) have what they call "Ale", only 3.5% but full of flavour and with a lingering bitter finish; last week I had Nomadic Strider 4.4% in Arcadia in Leeds, a pub that tends to major on extraordinarily badly made IPAs, but this locally brewed bitter was boldly labelled as being made with British hops - and was still in excellent condition when the barrel was sucked dry; back in January I stumbled upon the Plough just outside Uttoxeter, where they had three traditional English-hopped bitters from three different local breweries; and at Plas y Brenin in Snowdonia, the very good Paradigm Shift from VOG (Vale Of Glamorgan brewery), which belies its glitzy modern pump clip by presenting in the glass a very traditional and very bitter "English Bitter style beer".

    Maybe things are starting to improve?

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    1. Good to hear. Hopefully this is the start of a trend rather than just the latest novelty.

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  6. Not sure that Will Hawkes has got that right.I think its great that you can get the same tasting beers in Strasbourg as you can in London or Glasgow .Does he think we would be better off with industrial French lagers.Strange also that the shine has gone from craft beer.Seems to be taking over in my area from traditional beers.Might be the hundred or so brewers that are doing craft in London have got it very wrong.

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  7. Had a beautiful couple of pints of Taylors Landlord in the Thornhill Arms in Bradford at the weekend. I don't often get Taylors living in Wiltshire. I had forgotten how good Taylors is. Far better than any overpriced craft grapefruit. On a par with our local excellent Wadworths.

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    1. It's lovely when it's well-kept, but it's one of those beers that does need a fair amount of TLC, which it rarely gets in pubco outlets outside its home territory.

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    2. Damian at Heaton Hops (Heaton Chapel, Stockport) knows how to look after Landlord. He's had it on quite a few times and it's always excellent.

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  8. Down with craft beer. Boo. Hiss.

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  9. Lucky for me, I enjoy the blonde/pale/citrussy styles and Morrisons in Todmorden has half a dozen to choose from. I particularly recommend the Cragg Vale brewed Tod's Blonde and Withens Pale.

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  10. "I see precious little evidence of enthusiasts actively seeking out these classic British ales on their home turf, in the way that CAMRA members did in its early years."

    Ah but that is inherent bias. The first CAMRA beer festival in Wales had not got much beyond traditional styles, as well as a much smaller event. GBG and other pubs were littered with outlets selling Crown Buckley for example. You are ignoring that there was essentially no choice, other than traditional. So the comparison is not fair, and not valid.

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    1. I was thinking more in terms of visiting the Cotswolds to sample Donnington ales, or the Black Country to drink Bathams, Holden's and Simpkiss.

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    2. Ah I see. That has disappeared in terms of ale style of an area so now it would be for pub visits. I am not sure how popular it was back then mind though as more holidays were UK bound, it was certainly a feature of the holiday.

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    3. Oh, you could still do both of the things I mentioned (excepting Simpkiss) or, for example, go to Wisbech for Elgood's, Swindon for Arkell's, or Llanelli for Felinfoel.

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  11. Interesting that your anti-craft views override your working class credentials here.

    Hawkes' piece was predicated on the assumption that beer bars in Paris etc. are there to serve tourists. Yes, it isn't particularly exciting to go to, say, Budapest and see a BrewDog bar on the corner serving the same beers they would back in the UK. But who are you or I to deny Hungarians the opportunity to try British craft beer if they want it?

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    1. When have I ever claimed to have any "working class credentials"?

      I have no problem with tourists in Budapest being able to get a BrewDog, likewise a McDonald's. But the point is that it's leading to a kind of international homogenisation of the beer scene rather than expressing local traditions.

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