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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, 5 May 2015

I am so fucking bored by the beer discourse of 2015

It started off odd, like a beer that tastes OK at first, then has something nagging that attracts your attention, and on the second and third sips, starts to reveal something badly wrong. Suddenly it all got legal. Then, it got nasty.

When I write stuff for the consumer press about beer, I stick to the line - which I believe on good days, when the medication is working - that there's never been a better time to be a beer drinker. More brewers, more styles, more experimentation and inventiveness...

And whatever your views on big brewers trying to muscle in on craft, their intense interest proves that the old paradigm - that drinkers just want cold, fizzy suds and are scared of flavour - has been shattered.

When I write for the consumer press, the narrative is that 'we' - the people who read and write about beer, the sad minority who were often ridiculed until a few brief years ago - have won. We've done it. We - the brewers, the drinkers, the advocates, the aficionados, the fans, the proselytisers, the people who care - have managed to reposition good beer as something that is worth the average, non-beery person having a look at.

I've always said that the discourse around beer is happening in a bubble. Bloggers say shit about brewers and brewers worry about it; brewers say shit about beer and bloggers debate it; people wirrit away about big questions of style and definition; and it all takes place in a bubble outside which most people - most beer drinkers - are completely unaware of the discourse, and wouldn't be interested in it if they were.

Then, in the last two years, the bubble has expanded. Non-beery mates started talking about what hop varieties they prefer. Old, traditional brewers started experimenting with new techniques and ingredients. My wife's friends, increasingly, started to order beer by default in the pub rather than wine.

Everything was awesome.



But of course, it wasn't really. Just like in the film.

Success makes people uneasy. Remove the easily identifiable enemy, and people become unsure what they're fighting for, or against.

And so as soon as 2014's Christmas hangover wore off, we turned on each other like a pack of starved, neurotic, Stella-drunk piranhas.

The sexism in beer thing needed to come to a head, but it seems to have had the effect of bringing sexist dickheads out from under their rocks for one final hurrah. Craft beer delegates organise events in strip clubs, while America's biggest beer brand goes out with labels that fall into an uncomfortably rapey narrative. People insisting that "it's all a bit of fun" show a distinct lack of humour and launch menacing attacks on those who call out their neanderthal attitudes. (Sorry, that's an insult to neanderthals.)

Everyone got litigious, suing each other over degrees of similarity and pinhead dances about the difference between a style or description and a trademarked name.

New breweries are criticised for having widespread support when they launch, or for being good at promoting themselves, or just for being new. Older breweries are criticised for being older or bigger, or for being so good at what they do that they become commercially successful and grow.

And the fucking definition of craft beer debate lumbers on like a zombie, eating the brains of talented people who could otherwise be writing something inspirational, or at least interesting.

I count myself highly among the sinners. We're all guilty.

The tipping point for this rant was the 43rd article I've read this week about the lawsuit against Molson Coors for their crime of calling Blue Moon a craft beer. Or maybe it was the 65th thing I've read about the dickhead American brewer who thinks it's cool to peddle sexist shit because it's all meant to be a laugh. I'm drunk, and I can't really remember.

But this nasty, unpleasant, navel-gazing, paranoid, defeatist, frightened, hostile discourse is putting me off my beer.

It's tedious. It's boring. It's negative. It's against all that I love about beer.

Astonishingly, given that I've criticised CAMRA so often on this blog, they suddenly sound like a breath of fresh air, having passed motions that start to move the campaign into the twenty-first century. Moaning craft beer twats now sound more like flat-earth CAMRA twats that flat-earth CAMRA twats do.

My new beer book - one of three I'm currently writing - is about hops, barley, yeast and water. It's returned me to a purer, distilled form of what I love about beer, and why I first started writing about it. It has me visiting hop gardens and maltings, thinking about the miracle of fermentation and attempting to find new ways of articulating what makes beer so special. I love working on it.

And then I keep making the mistake of checking out my Twitter feed or Facebook, and feel like the hop gardens have been ploughed up by orcs, like Sam's vision of the shire when he peers into Galadriel's pool.

I often comment on industry stuff, and I apologise for my part in perpetuating these negative, reductive debates. Shit needs to get called out. But can we please all try to remember that it's beer? It's just beer. Trivial and by-the-by. Beer, the simple liquid that's capable of transforming meals, social occasions, friendships, perspectives on reality.

Cold we please have some conversations about beer that reflect what an utterly wonderful place beer is in right now?

Thank you. As you were. I am now going to finish the extra pint of Peroni which I probably didn't need.

22 comments:

Andrew Bowden said...

Peroni? [goes off on mad, foaming at the mouth rant]

No, seriously. Completely agree with everything you say. Sorry that's not the most interesting comment I could have made, but sometimes it's just necessary to stand up and say "yes. What 'e said."

Ghost Drinker said...

Damn Right.

Phil said...

Moaning craft beer twats now sound more like flat-earth CAMRA twats that flat-earth CAMRA twats do.

I love this blog post, and indeed this blog. And, yeah, the craftie atmos has got a bit weird lately, hasn't it. I'm wondering now if I've been confusing two superficially similar but very different positions - a smiley one that says "issues like how you define 'craft' don't matter - we can all agree that beer is the main thing, whichever definition we prefer" and a more hard-edged one that says "issues like how you define 'craft' don't matter - they really, really don't matter, and anyone who says they do matter is just wrong". I'm coming round to the second one.

englishbeerman said...

Pete, you are absolutely right, if drunk, and there is nothing wrong with that! Beer is a personal thing, we all like different things, it is impossible (unfortunately as a brewer) to brew something everyone likes. A Porter/ Stout drinker will not like highly hopped pale ales, and vice versa. Get on with it, drink what you like, and enjoy. Beer drinking is great. ENJOY!! I even have some friends that like drinking Carling and Fosters. Their choice nothing wrong with that. Craft/ Cask/ Strong/ Weak (etc. etc.) are just descriptors. I only urge people to experiment, test your taste buds, but if you don't like something, don't call it a "bad beer" it's just something you (YOU) don't enjoy. Big isn't bad, and small isn't good necessarily, a beer you enjoy is the best!

Jeremy Cherfas said...

This was a very interesting read, and you're so right that so many enthusiasms degenerate into sophistry and side-taking. On the definition of craft beer, you might like to listen to my interview with Michele Sensidoni, head brewer at Mastri Birai Umbri. http://www.eatthispodcast.com/industrial-strength-craft-beer/

We agreed, in the end, that what counts is a dedication to quality, not quantity.

peter smith said...

More variety is a good thing, less criticism of stuff that I can perhaps taste and judge myself by the "media". People will find their own Happy Beer if left to themselves...... Love your posts continue blogging it's all good.

David said...

LIsten Pete. I agree with you; it's why I started my own beer writing: to be 'pro beer'. And yes, debates about, for example, the meaning of craft are uhhhhh..... sooo tedious. BUT, what would happen if we stopped? Not now, not next year but 10 years from now? I'll tell you: the 'big brewers' (which by then I assume will include BrewDog, Stone, (blimey, there's a book right there)...) will think they've won and they'll all start focusing on removing costs from the their ever lighter, ever less hoppier IPA to please their stakeholders from their recent PLC flotation. As Mufasa said, "it's the Circle of Life". A constant barrage dear boy, a constant barrage is what's needed.

Mark Johnson said...

"But the petty debates only matter if you pay attention to them: the momentum behind beer is now bigger and more powerful than a bunch of bloggers and hopheads can have any control over."

That is a comment you wrote on a blog post of mine when I went on a similar tirade against negativity. There's no doubt that sometimes the negative feelings fuel the passion for writing more than the positive thoughts of 'this beer is nice. this pub is good.'

But you're right - you wrote in the same comment in August that it's the best time to be a beer drinker and that's only increased 9 months on. It's just the bigger it gets the more bullshit appears. There's a lot of people who could do with spending a few nights just enjoying a few pints without it being an "event." I think we're all guilty of forgetting a little

Mark said...

I'd go further. Can we please have conversations in pubs and bars that don't start 'This Beer.....', like what the overwhelming number of pub-goers and beer drinkers do.....

Jeff Pickthall said...

I am so fucking bored by IPAs and undue reverence thereof.

Subtlety is the new big hops.

StringersBeer said...

Oh, the "utterly wonderful place beer is in right now"? So everything is awesome now? Brilliant!

Joe Stange said...

Your post is like a nice slug of cool water this morning. Thanks Pete.

I'll fess up and say I'm as guilty as anyone. I'm a journalist by training and I'm looking for issues -- not just new beers to taste, because anyone can do that -- but about ways that beer relates to and affects our lives, besides giving us pleasure. That last part's easy. People don't need writers for that.

But when my daughter sees pump clips with tits on them, or brewers are being less than truthful on their labels, or bigger breweries are paying bars to keep the smaller ones out... I don't know. I think issues these do affect drinkers and are worth writing about.

Having said that: The Internet as a medium takes rather too easily to outrage and negativity. Click-bait, outrage cycles, and so on... We become desensitized to the sensational. Downright fatigued. Probably we are over-emphasizing that stuff at the expense of the more useful and uncontroversial.

Alex Tennant said...

Rah! You tell 'em! :-)

Professor Pie-Tin said...

At least it's not a rant about the general election !

Don't forget to vote UKIP - we're the only ones with a smile on our faces these days.

Apart from the SNP.

Wahaay !

Pete Brown said...

Joe, I thought your piece on the Blue Moon thing was brilliantly written. I loved the prose. And then I thought, 'Why is this prose being wasted on something tiresome like this?' It was one of the things that prompted me to write. Not a criticism of you and the necessities of earning your crust, but of the scene in which we have to do it and which we all contribute to.

Pete Brown said...

Mark,

Thanks for reminding me of that - I'd completely forgotten! Obviously written from a much more chilled out place than the one I was in last nigjt.

Pete Brown said...

Mark,

Thanks for reminding me of that - I'd completely forgotten! Obviously written from a much more chilled out place than the one I was in last nigjt.

Tom said...

I do enjoy your writing.

Tom said...

I do enjoy your writing.

Neil Walker said...

Great piece Pete.

I think CAMRA's AGM was a real turning point for the campaign and I was really impressed by the decisions made in Nottingham.

Optimistic, inclusive, forward-thinking motions were approved with huge majorities - whilst navel gazing, negative motions were defeated.

John Medd said...

At the end of the day Pete, it all comes down to taste. And if you like what you like, I don't give a flying f**k if it's cask, keg, fast cask, craft - it really doesn't matter a jot.

CAMRA have won the war (the war they started fighting in St Albans in 1971, anyway), now they've got to liberate the pubs and the bars and the taverns in which the beer they fought for is drunk.

Gary Gillman said...

I agree except for the swear words which I don't like - the current fashion for it is a complete mystery to me.

As you are frank in your posts, Pete, I am sure this bit of feedback won't upset you and it is meant in good faith from an admirer.

By the way I share your taste in Peroni (when it is fresh).

Gary