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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

What's the difference between craft beer snobs and Kopparberg drinkers?

Are we really chasing authenticity, flavour and story? Or just endless novelty?



If you follow North American beer writers on social media (and if not, you should) you might have seen this piece from yesterday, in which formidable beer writer Andy Crouch writes a perfectly balanced profile of Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Co, and craft beer's first billionaire.

Jim, it seems, is pissed off. His brewery has become so big, the hip craft beer joints that arguably wouldn't be here without his vision will no longer stock his beers. His brand is no longer new, and the beers themselves, according to detractors, are mediocre and middle of the road. And he doesn't think that's fair.

While the claim that Boston Beer Co 'invented' craft beer can be challenged (the likes of Anchor and Sierra Nevada would have ultimately fathered the current craft beer scene even if Boston hadn't been there) it is undeniable that BBCo has shaped it more than any other. Jim Koch was a graduate of business school and brand consultancy, and he used the big corporate brewers' own tactics against them to create a challenger brand that ultimately took craft beer mainstream.

Amid all this brandspeak, what about the beer? Is it really mediocre? Well, not in the eyes of the judges of every single beer competition I've ever seen it judged in. It's always winning prizes.

BBCo's sin is to brew a wide variety of traditional styles very well, from Bavarian-style lagers to English-style bitters, from wheat beer to Kolsch, from seasonal specialities such as pumpkin ale and Christmas ale to mainstream-style beers that balance flavour and accessibility. Andy's article says that, reluctantly, Jim has now been forced to brew West Coast-style hop bomb IPAs just like every other craft brewer.

And Jim Koch is not alone. Another piece that went online yesterday features the brewers of Widmer and Deschutes - two more American craft beer pioneers - defending themselves from attacks from the craft beer community. Their crime? Being so good at what they do, they've grown substantially to become big businesses.

This all strikes a chord on this side of the Atlantic.

Curiosity about flavour is one of the defining characteristics of people who like interesting beer. It's always great to find something new. But with so much new stuff around, we can forget the old.

It happened for me with Belgian beer. Ten years ago Trappist ales were the centre of my world. And then I discovered North American IPAs, and then their British counterparts. When I found a dusty bottle of Chimay Blue in my cellar a few years ago, I realised I hadn't had a Belgian beer in years, and tasting it rekindled an old love affair. Now, Saison Dupont, Westmalle Dubbel, Duvel, Orval, Rochefort and St Bernardus are back at my beery core, despite having no new news, no rock star brewers and little distribution in craft beer bars.

Forgetting old favourites in the rush of the new is one thing. But actively deciding that beers or brewers are boring, bland, middle of the road or sell-outs simply because they have been around for a while, or have grown much bigger than they were, is foolish, snobbish and blinkered.

This is why it pisses me off when craft beer neophytes slag off 'boring brown beer' and include all classic best bitter in that description. Sure, some traditional beers are boring and bland, just as some single hop IPAs are monotone and grating after the first pint. But there are wonderful examples of both.

Sure, some breweries do compromise on quality, ingredients and brewing time when they grow and the accountants take control. Others stick steadfastly to their principles. And as Gary Fish of Deschutes says in the second piece linked to above, commercial success can improve quality. Though it pains me to say it, Goose Island IPA is actually a better quality beer since it has been brewed with cutting-edge A-B Inbev technology than it was on knackered old microbrewery plant that couldn't keep up with volume. Budweiser Budvar remains one of the best quality lagers in the world, thanks in no small part to its 90-day lagering. Timothy Taylor Landlord is one of the finest ales on the planet when kept well. All are dismissed by craft beer purists whose definition of the word 'craft' has more to do with scale and novelty than with any measure of skill or quality.

Which brings me to Rekorderlig.

I'm sure most fans of the latest craft breweries would run a mile from any suggestion of similarity to drinkers of a glorified alcopop constructed from industrial alcohol spirit, sugar and artificial flavourings. But the success of the faux-cider alcopops is based entirely on novelty: it's all about which flavour variant is coming next. As soon as they run out of different combinations of fruit syrups, they'll run out of road.

Let's not allow the current momentum in beer go the same way. Because at the moment, it looks awfully similar. One brewer creates a single hop citra IPA, and everyone else does. Then that gets boring and it's all about 'saisons' brewed with the contents of the brewer's spice cupboard, some of which are about as authentically saison as Rekorderlig is cider. Then it's endless different takes on Berliner-Weisse. And so on. And woe betide anyone who doesn't follow the path, who instead simply carries on making great beer that was fashionable five years ago, and sells it in greater quantities now than they did then.

Last year, I was deeply impressed by relatively new kids on the block such as Wiper & True, Siren, Tiny Rebel and Orbit. I was also pleased to see the likes of Camden, Beavertown and Waen reach new levels of scale and skill. But I also wondered why Otley, Redemption and Windsor & Eton didn't seem to be getting the chatter and buzz they once did.

Thornbridge celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. My adoration for what some argue is the 'original craft brewery' is no secret. But I'm starting to hear rumblings about them that would sound depressingly familiar to Boston Beer Co, Deschutes, Sierra Nevada and others: they're too big. They're blander than they used to be. They're selling out and going mainstream.

Bollocks.

Craft beer, whatever you want to call it, has gone mainstream. Now, it's growing up and maturing, and it already has several generations of brewers. Without the pioneers, the rest wouldn't be here today. And while today's newbies push the envelope ever further - which is what they should be doing - the bigger, older breweries are getting better at what they do, building bigger names, and providing a bridge between the mainstream and the cutting edge.

If you simply reject their achievements and their vital contemporary role in favour of what's new this week, whatever that is, you're not interested in authenticity and story at all. You're just following the latest fad among your peer group. And that makes you no more discerning, no cooler, no edgier, than the guy pouring his strawberry and lime flavoured 'cider' over ice.

53 comments:

willstrangebrews said...

Thank you Pete. This needed saying.

The people jumping on the bandwagon will be gone in 5 years time (to spirits or wine, or having kids and not having the time or inclination), but I hope that we are still left with lots of great brewers, brewing great beers.

There are a multitude of fantastic brewers outside of the 'London Craft Bubble' not getting the recognition they deserve.

That's not to say that those in the 'bubble' are all bad. Some are fantastic.

I think you've nailed it with the fashion following / slagging off 'boring' brown bitter, though. That is the sign of a faddish brewery and a faddish drinker.

All beer is great. All beer should be celebrated. Regardless of scale. And there's nothing wrong with drinking the odd mass-produced beer either, if the occasion suits.

Hester said...

I agree with a lot of what you've identified, and I recognise my own eagerness to try what's new in your description.

But really, does it matter? As you observe, they're selling more than ever. It's not hurting sales: they're just whinging that they're not cool any more.

Well, you can't be cool and sell in volume like that. And while they might complain that their drinkers were happy enough when they were small, the fad-followers could equally respond that the brewers were happy enough with their money when they were the only drinkers, evangelising about their beers to their friends and family.

They're at a different point in their business now. Let it go, enjoy the success.

Peter McKerry said...

Good article. I for one welcome the improved accessibility of Thornbridge, Brewdog etc. In the case of Brooklyn Lager I don't care for the contract brewed version but that's another story.

Martyn Cornell said...

Haters gotta hate – which, like many cliches, is no less true for being a cliche.

I've had a 36-pint polypin of London Pride in my shed since before Christmas. It's been excellent all the way down. But to read the comments on Facebook from Camra members, you'd think Fullers was selling unfiltered Thames water. So it's not just the more modern brewers that suffer from kneejerk "big is bad" syndrome.

Dan said...

Absolutely spot on! I've always been dead against people who say shit like "oh [thing] has sold out!", whether that thing be music, art, film or indeed beer.

If the product is the best it can be, I don't give a shit whether it's brewed by Hill Farmstead or Coors! Scale of production, money in the bank and number of employees, isn't toxic for the craft beer scene; compromise is. That's what saddens me about Jim Koch's revelation that he now brews styles that he doesn't want to just to compete.

But there's no telling some craftwankers.

Cooking Lager said...

I don't disagree, but in the main "craft" is a middle class reinvention of a working class product with the intention of adding value and charging more. Necessary for domestic producers in a society with an expanding middle class and reducing working class to compete with established middle class imported product.

If I ran a multi beer geek pub and noticed the Spoons were flogging the same brands cheaper, I'd sack off those brands in favor of ones the Spoons were not stocking.

My logic would not be dismissive of the many great beers spoons are now selling, but simply that punters would now expect the Spoons price and only be willing to pay a premium for something else.

Likewise if I ran a tied pub, I would be happy to sell cooking lager, but I would prefer to stock one that wasn't on continual discount in Tesco, simply because I would think punters would not see it as worth what I needed to charge.

It's great that good beer is becoming more affordable and mainstream, I'm a drinker, I love it. However, if your business model requires a high price, you need products that punters think are worth it.

The Beer Nut said...

"In the case of Brooklyn Lager I don't care for the contract brewed version"
*geek face* It's all contract brewed.

Very well put, Pete.

The Beer Wrangler said...

Good piece Pete!
This is one of the issues with trying to define 'craft' beer. If (large) size prevents something being considered to have good or great qualities, then what are we telling brewers?-'Don't be too successful or else we'll turn on you!' While living in Vancouver BC a fairly ordinary amber ale (Blue Buck from Phillips) was and still is their best-selling 'craft beer' by a long way. What it serves to do is allow, financially, for them to develop and make lots of funky, out-there, but time-consuming, labour intensive, and often loss-making speciality beers that keeps them in the blogoshere and beer press as well as the good graces of the fickle craft beer fanatics.
Our obsession with anything new or extreme is not always a sustainable model for the craft beer industry. Happily I am now of the age where I will happily try a bottle of the latest fad, but the volume of my drinking will be my good old regular but quality favourite beers. They may bore some people, but subtlety, balance and 'drinkability' will gain my loyalty regardless of size or fashion.

jesusjohn said...

This is akin to a point I made at Stonch's gaff:

http://stonch.blogspot.com/2015/01/happy-birthday-stonch.html?showComment=1420287998225#c8852673734326434066

Once the white-hot interest in beer-as-cool fades, the tide will not roll back to a pre-craft revolution position, but those breweries that survive and continue to grow will be those that consolidate their reputation for a core range of excellently made and consistent beers, likely supplemented with one-off releases for the niche market that wants it.

(A side point, but I do bitterly regret that we can only get Shep Neame's utterly sub-par licence-brewed Sam Adams Boston Lager in the UK - a beer I love that tastes nothing like the version we now have.)

Bailey said...

"But really, does it matter? As you observe, they're selling more than ever. It's not hurting sales: they're just whinging that they're not cool any more."

Think Hester's point is a good one, and it's natural to feel warmer towards underdogs.

Having said that, Boak and I have become much slower to enthuse in recent years (miserable bastards...) because we want to be sure we're not getting carried away with hype.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with this, but at least the Rekorderlig/Kopparberg products are imported from Sweden and claim to be a Swedish Cider - that's fairly authentic. They've also moved away from multiple flavours in the main (especially in pubs), and are just focusing on the winners of that flavoured race.

Not sure how authentic a 'North London Hells' brewed in Europe is though?

Peter McKerry said...

@TheBeerNut - I'm referring to the imported version versus the brewed under licence one by SN version. Good Geek-face action though.

Phil said...

I've had a 36-pint polypin of London Pride in my shed since before Christmas. It's been excellent all the way down.

Ooh. The first time I drank beer - which was also, uncoincidentally, the first time I got drunk - it was from a polypin of Pride. It was lovely.

And yet, I've got to admit that for the last five years or so I've been avoiding Pride when I see it (usually on supermarket shelves), for much the same reason that I avoid Bombardier and Hobgoblin. Considering that I fairly regularly buy Bengal Lancer, Wild River and EPA (and 1845 when I see it), this may not make much sense. Maybe it's time to renew a beautiful friendship.

I don't think it's going too far to say that this is a real downside of 'craft' - the dominance of fruit-machine neophilia means that solid performers (like Fuller's, or Brains) need to play at doing the craft thing, or be ignored (like Timothy Taylor's).

Ben Viveur said...

There are a lot of comparisons with the music industry here and cultural trends in general.

Popularity can have its basis in two distinct phenomena.

In essence, do people like something because it's proper good or do they like it because it's trendy and they're told they should like it at this particular point in time.

Craft beer clearly has a solid fanbase in the first category, but it's highly likely that there is a substantial more transient drinkership in category two who will move on to some other fad at some point.

But, crucially, that doesn't mean that good beer is a fad, just that there will always be a type of person who will like something for faddy, rather than considered or heartfelt reasons.

Time will tell what the split between the two is.

BTW, Thornbridge have upped their game massively in the last six months. Cocoa Wonderland. Kandel. Baize. All classics.

Anonymous said...

In the US in recent years the ones who are getting to be the bigger players are receiving less awards than they used to. Same number of competition categories and Gold, Silver, Bronze and the ante has been upped each year regards quality. Its newer players taking a lot of the awards and a wider number of them (rather than multiple medals to a brewery)which says a lot about diversity of flavor and popularity.

scribblercraig said...

Good read (and links). It's gotten like bands now. "Oh REM are so uncool. They sold out after Green." Anytime someone gets too big or established, they get grief.

The truth is the same as it always was: some beers you like, some you don't.

Robert Wicks said...

Hi Pete, Beautifully put as always. Having lived in the US for 5 years in the mid 90s I was acutely aware of the beer scene as a member of a monthly subscription service called "Beer Across America". 12 bottles of unusual craft beer delivered every month. Pure beer heaven.

Many of the brewers today regarded as "too large" were starting out then and survive to this day because of their quality. Odells, Boulevard, Goose Island, Oskar Blues to name a few.

Today's craft brewers are doing great things but too often they remind me of the wannabe fashionista teenage girls who want to emulate the super models. They plaster on too much make up, their skirts are too short to be skirts and they teeter on 5 inch killer heels like a drunken flamingo. Like many craft brews they lack the balance of their idols.

I dived into a can of an unnamed craft IPA the other day. Great nose that blasted out of the glass. Got to the palate and it was all over the place. Unbalanced, harsh, lean and lacking finesse. Oh, and it was cloudy! This is too often my experience

With size goes the responsibility to maintain the quality or even better, to improve it. My experience is most achieve this.

Our best selling beer is a brown beer.....

Anonymous said...

You seem to be arguing that people shouldn't prefer choice to large-scale production. IMO the two aren't compatible - Boston Beer Co and Brewdog offering a range of products doesn't mean choice. Plus, just because Jim Koch has upscaled doesn't entitle him to market share in today's economy..

Pete Brown said...

Anon, I have no idea how you read that post and came to the conclusion that I was arguing against choice. I'm patently not - just look at the number of beers and brands I namecheck throughout - old, new and ancient.

Jim Koch's scale doesn't 'entitle' hi to market share. I'd argue the excellence of many of his beers means he deserves some though.

Phill said...

@PeterMcKerry do you mean the Sam Adams that SN contract brew? I'm pretty sure Brooklyn is still imported over. Hence the new brewery they're building down by the docks in Long Island.

Peter McKerry said...

@Phil - yes I do. The anxiety induced by posting while trying not to be seen at work has me mixing my Brooklyns with my Bostons...

bierhuis1 said...

Never a truer word spoken Pete

HopZine Rob said...

I think there is a "kids these days" feel to this piece. Boring brown beer isn't all that bad but I like these "craft" brewers too so don't dismiss my opinion kids?

Sorry Pete but it feels like you are attempting to dodge in actually stating your opinion.

Of course we wouldn't be where we are if it wasn't for the people who came before but at the same time the newer converts may not be aware of this.

So who are these new breweries that people are raving about and have in turn forsaken the likes of Thornbridge for?

I’m sure there were many people picking at Thornbridge when they turned up with hopped-up pale ales and Imperial stouts in whiskey barrels. Nothing has changed they have just become a bigger more established company and now newer breweries appear and taken the place they once occupied.

The "King of Craft" crown still probably sit upon the head of BrewDog regardless that they are one of the bigger producers in the UK. But they continue to expand on a core range and push the scene forwards. Quality has improved massively since moving to Ellon so those who think small equals good are mistaken.

Attention no doubt moves from brewery to brewery and interest will wane in one whilst it sky-rockets in another this is just the way things go. 5-6 years ago Marble were the brewery everyone raved about as they were doing exciting new things that set them apart from the crowd. Nowadays its probably shifted to maybe Beavertown due to their excellent cans that has speared an interest in canning in the UK. I expected Magic Rock to start putting Cannonball in cans be never thought real ale pioneers Roosters would beat them to the punch.

Yes this craft thing is going mainstream with SixPoint in Weatherspoons and Wild Beer Co on Sunday Brunch but the market will always be progressing and brewers will continue to express themselves and their art. If you stand still someone will pass you by and if you think you’ve perfected something someone will create something new that you never thought of and people will become interested in that.

Personally I go into my local bottle shop a couple of times per week to see what new is in stock but I’m not going to buy something new for the sake of it being fresh on the shelf. I overlooked Bullfinch and Vibrant Forrest because I’ve no idea what it is and don’t want to waste money on it in case its not up to scratch or to my tastes…7/10 times I’ll come out with a couple of cans of Beavertown Gamma Ray because I like how it taste not because it’s signifies me as a member of the Crafterati.

Peter Rafferty said...

Well said Pete- common sense, as always. And true.
Keep up the good work.
Thank you.

Pete Brown said...

Don't think we're disagreeing on anything at all after your first two paras, Rob.

robert plumer said...

Great article. I'm sick of those that bad mouth brewers like Sam Adams that get too big. Boston Beer Company brews some very good stuff I think gets overlooked because hipsters turn it aside on brand name alone rather than the brew itself. Craft beer is making it mainstream I think some are trying to hold onto ideal that has no flexibility to it. I'm sure many brewers would like to be on the scale of Boston Beer Co(or more). What happens when others like Sierra Nevada. Lagunitas, Stone or New Belgium grow too big? Discount all of them because they're too big and not hip? I liken like those fans of favorite club or garage band they fall in love with but are thrown aside cause they were successful(and good enough) to get a record deal and now they've "sold out". Silly and immature. Jim Koch is passionate and proud about his business and beer. I don't blame for being miffed at the snubs or insinuations that his stuff is mediocre. I would be too if it were mine. I appreciate and celebrate beer no matter who makes it. Cheers!

Chad9976 said...

Awards don't mean diddly. All the major macro breweries have medals for their fizzy yellow lagers. When everybody gets a trophy, the trophy is meaningless to anyone aside from the trophy-winner.

IdontLikeSamAdamsAndWhatRuGonnaDoAboutIt? said...

You're crying because somebody said he doesn't like Sam Adams beers? You're seriously typing whole article to tell him his opinion and taste are wrong? Go back writing school.

Pete Brown said...

"Go back writing school?"

Er...

py said...

Who cares what craft beer knob heads think? They're almost as bad as the old fat camra dinosaurs who think beer should be as close to warm john smiths smooth as possible.

Breweries that are relying on them for their income will have a short sharp shock when they move on to some other trend.

David Martin said...

All fair, but it's natural for articulate enthusiasts to like novelty - the analogy made to music is very relevant. I bet the brand managers for (cask) Tetley and Stones 30 years ago would just as likely have bemoaned Camra enthusiasts' enfatuation with Cordwangler's Old Scroat - or whatever.

I suspect a difference this time round is the young age profile of the craft audience, and the craft brewers themselves, which makes the fashion accusation easier (and sometimes merited).

On the plus side we can hope that as a result of this age profile, it lays a better foundation for the beer market in future than for some time.

Simon said...

To those criticising the Sheps brewed Sam Adams, have you actually tried blind tasting them back to back. Having drunk it at both Sheps and the Boston brewery (yes it's not brewed there but if anywhere should be able to serve a decent SA...). To me the Sheps version had slightly more of a hoppiness and freshness to it.

Be careful you're not just imposing your expectations of a Sheps beer on it.

kaiserhog said...

Hear, Hear!!! Well said Pete. Do they want smaller breweries to succeed or not? Hops and other exotic flavor can mask a lot of flaw in brewing. Show me a great pilsner or bitter and I will show you a superior brewer. Keep preaching, bro.

Peter McKerry said...

@Simon - I had no idea about the SN contract brewing initially, but one day I picked up some bottles at Morrisons and noticed they were 330ml rather than 355ml which puzzled me (and I think the label had changed?). It was only after tasting it I found it wasn't the beer I'd been accustomed to. Perhaps it's down to personal taste, as well as a whole host of other variables.

Chris said...

To me this comes down to three things, one: a desire to be the first - and to prove to others and your mates you're in the know/loop as to what is going down so you can only do this via new beers coming onto the market.

The second is people collect tastes now in much the same way we used to collect LP's or singles. So being sniffy at old long standing quality ales like Sam Adams which is seen in hundreds of bars, hotels and airports is to be expected. lets face it no-one gets excited when they see GK IPA on the pumps as its not a find or special.

The third is to do with scale of the product production, that is to say the nano-brewer, (bearded possibly, tattoos and check shirt running around in a wallace n gromit style garage c/w with an edgy back story of struggle against the corporate machine or dropping out of the city law firm to persue a life-long dream to make real tasty beer etc etc) is far more appealing to the collector than the thought of a waged/employed man in a white lab coat pushing buttons on huge kit to make hecto-litres of a brew like a bland corporate automaton. The followers and collectors want authenticity and to be able to relate to the hands on small guy (or gal!) the market saturation of certain brands or beers means they no longer appeal as a "real craft" product as any old joe can find them and they're made in a non-craft way i.e with big bits of kit.

Anonymous said...

Some Brown beers are boring though......

Quite apart from the Craft beer Neophyte tendency that occupies our colonial cousins and some British Yout, there is the other end of the same argument with the undemanding fetishisation of anything traditional, brown and served from a cask that is the province of some volk.

The best sort of Beer is good beer......

David said...

I get annoyed about this too Pete, but what perplexes me is the strange beer and brewing phenomenon of pissing in the shared pot. For years, I tracked the growth of wine, enviously it must be said, wondering what the code was, what beer was missing. And one factor was the wine makers generally support the industry overall. Sure, 'premium' wine makers will be snooty about the £2.99 Ozzie chards, but they keep quiet, knowing that the more people who start drinking wine, the greater chance they have of trading them up, in time. But with beer, there's this tendency to slag off, be it such-and-such a brewer is passed it, sold out, whatever. It's peculiar, pernicious and damaging to beer.. The real test should be when companies sell out their values and principles: start using cheap ingredients and hiding it, that sort of thing. But I still think the best action is to vote with your wallet not your tongue.

pdtnc said...

I agree wholeheartedly :)

Pete Brown said...

Anon, I did say exactly that in the piece

Anonymous said...

Ultimately it's all about tastes, tastes change for whatever reasons, when I first 'discovered' Hoegaarden I was accused by a few people of only drinking it to 'be different' but the truth was at the time it was more interesting and flavourful than the offerings on hand at the places I frequented. British beer, especially of the brown and 'session' variety has been very restrained and watery. Many of the younger sometimes bearded and tattooed drinkers would agree and having been fortunate to be exposed to 'craft beer' while still growing and forming opinions on the plethora of life's opportunities are initially open to non nostalgic appraisals. I have tried A few different beers from Boston, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn, Founders, Flying Dog and personally would forego most of these offerings for something from Beavertown, The Kernal or even Thornbridge, again it's personal taste, through experience I now know where I will find what I want. I prefer an clean, intense hop blast than a sturdy malt fruitiness. Hops are no different to herbs, spices, garlic and other ingredients that can be adjusted to provide a more or less intense taste to food/drink. I like high levels of all these in my food and I like a lot of hops in beer. Tastes are expanding so I'm guessing it's part of a sensory evolution and not a fad, I just think younger people in general can make anything look 'faddy'. The older more established breweries in this country and people who appreciate them and have done for years seem to be knee jerking at the prospect of being left behind in some way and it's all part of nature. In my opinion there is a load of sub par beer being brewed in this country and some of it from new breweries jumping onto the band wagon but most from the larger, older, boring ones that haven't had a kick up the arse in a while, hoppier paler beers brought real ale more mainstream some years back and Camra membership subscriptions went up, we are experiencingd a second phase of that with craft beer but its intensified by a hipper more savvy generation of consumer.
Thank god (of beer) for choice. For the record Goose island Ipa is still one of my favourite beers, because it's awesome and not because i feel like I should because of what they have done for beer.

Anonymous said...

@David 3 places above - I agree with you that brewers lose credibility when they start cutting corners on quality ingredients, especially when they've been vocal about how cheap and nasty some mainstream brands are by doing the same. The fact is there aren't enough hops in the world to account for all the hop-forward craft beers we consume so some brewers must be cheating by using hop extracts and essences. Can you think of any craft brewers who have grown very rapidly recently?

Craig J Willis said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

Brewers have already replaced harder to come by hops with oils, here and the U.S and some breweries are complicating the hop side of their recipes so that when a hop is difficult to source the impact on consistency isn't noticeable.. There are far too many breweries around now and according to someone I know in the trade we are close to tipping point. Its the wild west of beer at the mo and it'll all right itself in due time, there will be casulties for sure and in a few decades I think some big names will suffer and it will be good for beer in general. Dinosaurs will disappear and good beer regardless of its heritage will prosper. The only real losers will be the big boys who sat on their arses twiddling their thumb slagging off the innovative craft brewers and they'll be kicking themselves for not anticipating that what America has been doing with beer just might influence new brewers over here, and in turn might become what the consumer considers a superior product. We shouldn't pretend that the mass of boring beer that exists today will exist forever. Alot will vanish and we will drink hoppy beer, pay more for it and probably drink less, it will be more memorable, we will get less pissed and have a better time! I think.

Anonymous said...

@willstrangebrews
I disagree that all beer should be celebrated, some of it is dreadful and I would feel like an ass if I willingly handed over my hard earned cash for a product I didn't support. We vote with our cash and if we care about beer we should buy good beer and ignore the bad, if beer here hadn't been so in need of a shake up then it wouldn't have one on its hands. The band wagon which you speak of will be overall responsible for the rise in quality and taste of good beer, compared to when I first started drinking in 1996 great beer is a very recent thing and the bandwagon is to thank for that. The brewing of insipid crystal clear filtered to hell and back coloured water which SATURATES the market is a far less laudable venture than any bandwagon jumping that may be perceived.

steve thackray said...

I'll be honest on a warm afternoon I quite like that Swedish alcopop. Only odd bottle a year but it has its place. Far as Sam Adams goesI think I can get better beer for same money. Also boss comes across as bit of a **** seeming to think he has right to market shar nothing about the brewery makes me keen to try any of theirother beers. Small and / or local brewers I'm more likely to try and I guess cool beers I want to try to see what fuss is about. Personaly best lager I had last year was the Lakeland dry hopped from hawkshead (are they cool? ) and if I wanted bottles from supermarket then it's coop own brand Czech or budvar for me. Novelty, size, locality and internet buzz may affect if I try beers but personal taste (and availablity) will be main factors indrinking it regularly. US brewers named its interesting brewers I thought were pretty cool seem to be being referred to as unfashionable due to being too big /common / last years thing. Some of this really makes me wonder where the taste makers and bloggers drink.

Thurston McCrew said...

The Hop Back Brewery in Salisbury has been knocking out a great,limited ranger of beers including the superb Summer Lightning for 25 years.
In that time they've grown at a steady pace,acquired a small but steadily expanded estate of pubs and although occasionally have come up with a new beer have steadfastly refused to jump on the craft bandwagon.
You won't see "craft" plastered all over their website even though founder John Gilbert is as iconic and esoteric as they come.
You also don't hear much about them in the blogosphere.They're Old Skool beer types and I bet there are loads of breweries like this all over the country getting on with knocking out decent beer without the hoopla and fanfare.
They'll still be around when all those IPA hop bomb wannabes have fallen by the wayside.
They're the real beer future in the UK.

Gary Gillman said...

"Good beer is becoming more affordable and mainstream". (Per Cooking Lager above). Yes. Beer was never only a workman's drink, whether in North America or the U.K. (not to mention Germany, say) It was probably the favoured drink of working people, but all segments of the population have always consumed beer.

Good quality beer has always been produced for those who could pay more. The only thing happening now is, the commodity phase of brewing is in decline, and this other phase albeit in a different guise, is in ascent. Internationally, this isn't as noticeable for brands such as Heineken, Becks, Stella Artois, they will have a long life, but their national equivalents, such as Bud or Miller in America are losing sales and I believe the same will happen ultimately to the English inexpensive lager market. It will never disappear, but it will contract.

This is due not just to the reduction of mass ranks of factory workers and miners but simply too because more information is available about beer. People want better, they learn about it through the interweb, social media and television, and also travel.

Gary

Pawel Pietraaszewski said...

Hi Pete

Great write up. I agree with most of the points you touched on, although somewhere deep inside me I really don't want my favourite breweries to become big and commercialised. I want to see the connection with the customer and want to feel that the brewery is accessible to me. If I have two great tasting beers from big corporation and small local brewery, I will go for the local one. I touch on it in my first and only so far post (about the Polish craft beer scene)on my blog allbrewing.blog.com

Anonymous said...

That day you realise you've become a grumpy old man.

Pete Brown said...

That day you realise you're a cowardly troll because you daren't put your name to insulting comments.

K.B.T said...

hi pete, well belated here but only just seen the blog,
i also agree with some of the stuff what you've identified, what im not agreeing on is mainstream growth and the words bigger sales. the customer doesnt give a flying f+*k
about the size of the brewery, there only interested in the quality of the beer these days, i agree all day long, local instead of mass produced, we know in the UK 1985 the pubs were busy the beer tasted better, the brewers hadn't sold their souls to GREED' thats what happens with some of the big brewers, BIG BUSINESS, nothing to do with the quality of the beer, the more short cuts the better, inferior ingredients, additives , adjuncts all equaling to a big serious HANGOVER, you stay on hand reared beer all night, NO HANGOVER, write about what us the customer wants Pete, not what a billionaire brewer who started of brewing in his bath wants...they should be giving back, they've finished their race...do something for the greater good, not for more money, we've lost most of our pubs, because of the big boys being absolutely ruthless with their tenants...the most important thing is what you put in your body, so why are these loyalists beer drinkers stuck on mass produced shite,? they need waking up educating, its all about the ingredients, every cooking programme these days on tele ( not that i watch it much ) its all about the ingredients, they dont show any chefs buying there produce from the big supermarkets do they ? NO they get there produce from the best suppliers, and they dont go to a big factory to cook ( the size of some of the breweries) the food is hand reared not automated, my point is for all the public houses closing down, there is an opportunity to bring back the old style taverns, that pay attention to quality of drink & food brewed on the premises, ingredients local not big cooperates, bring the old ways back, where quality is first, not money & ego...my brewery is bigger than yours, bollocks !

Anonymous said...

Pete, here is the issue with Samuel Adams. They are NOT like the Trappist breweries you mentioned, because they make a ton of styles. I think everyone recognizes that Boston Lager and Boston Ale are good beers. Utopias is well-respected. The problem is that they've tried and missed badly on so many other styles - fruit beers, bad Belgian-style wits, bad spiced beers, lemon-flavored atrocities, "white" everything, their iffy ciders, etc. They diluted their brand, making themselves synonymous with lesser beer. It's not because they're too big, it's because they've branched out and hurt perception of their quality. If your menu has two good dishes and everything else is pretty bad, I'm not entrusting you with my money.

Anonymous said...

I think which is better will come down to how fresh the bottle is :)