Tuesday, 14 March 2017
If you were a CAMRA member, life used to be simple. There was cask conditioned beer (or "Real Ale" as they termed it themselves) and there was KEG beer. Bitter, lager, stout. Didn't matter. It was all mass-produced, adjunct-laden, expensive fizzy filth. And many CAMRA members, if not nostalgic for the days of Watney's Red Barrel, preferred the simple dichotomy.
Then the new wave of brewers arrived with their IPAs and Imperial Stouts. And because they were taking their cue from America, they put them in kegs and used carbon dioxide to dispense it. And, despite these being the antithesis of bland keg beer, a lot of CAMRA members didn't like it. It was from a keg. And keg is evil.
To be honest, these fundamentalists were few in number, but they filled the local CAMRA magazines and the CAMRA newspaper, "What's Brewing", with their views. Reading these copious missives about the forthcoming keg takeover brought to mind those apocryphal Japanese soldiers captured on isolated islands in the 1960s who thought World War 2 was still ongoing.
Needless to say, a lot of CAMRA members, even many in lofty positions in the organisation, drink this "craft" keg beer. They're just not allowed to talk about it in their own publications lest it be seen as not "promoting cask ale".
The world will move on. The future will happen whether the diehards like it or not. But it will hurt. By god, it will hurt.
Monday, 13 March 2017
Back in the Dark Ages, by which I mean around 2008, anyone wanting to appreciate the subtleties of beer had to do it the old-fashioned way. They first had to find the beer they wanted, then buy it, taste it, and write their own subjective impressions of what it's qualities were. Looking back, it makes one wonder how the whole beer scene survived. I mean, such a multitude of opinions. Who knew what to think?
Thankfully help was at hand. Noticing a gap in the market, a certain type of person charged through it like a gap on a bar on a Friday night. These people were known as the "Beer Communicators" and they came from various backgrounds. Some were bloggers who had overwhelming enthusiasm for how AWESOME the beer scene was and, like, needed to tell everyone about it, Some were already "media professionals" who had an interest in beer and saw communication about it as a potentially profitable sideline to going to dismal local gigs or rewriting news agency copy. And some were, undoubtedly, people who neither knew nor cared about beer, but swotted up on it in an effort to gain some sort of career prospects.
What none of the above were much interested in was the quality or veracity of information they were disseminating. After all, beer is a fairly saturated industry. One more sale is one fewer sale for someone else. So based on whether they liked the beer itself or the people behind it, they talked their favourites up to the expense of others who, in their opinion, were lesser regarded.
And this is why they were called "Communicators" rather than "Journalists". Journalists ask questions because, in most cases, they seek the truth and wish to make that truth known. A Communicator is merely someone who spreads the word, true or not, because they're an inherent part of the industry. If the industry is "done down", then their potential revenue stream is likely to be reduced.
In Beer Communication, there is no Bad News. BEER PEOPLE ARE GOOD PEOPLE, and making money and taking market share is a lesser concern, despite such an ideology going against all known rules of good business.. If, like, everyone is good to each other, then beer (or more to the point, the beer being promoted) will become so wonderful, the industry will grow forever.
Of course, the said Awesome Breweries are gradually being taken over by larger concerns, so the Communicators have to realign themselves to the new reality. Watching them do this is one of the few amusing things left in the beer world. But as long as the freebies and access keep coming, everything stays Awesome and inconvenient truths are glossed over.
Some have said they should drop the Journalistic pretensions and just come out as Public Relations people. But that wouldn't be, like, awesome, man.
In the very early 80s, whenever my parents were fed up of me (which was often, I hear), I got given to my grandad to be entertained. Salt of the earth, my grandad. A forklift driver in a wallpaper factory. Apparently never had an accident, despite rarely being sober enough to walk the streets legally. Anyway, during these occasions I was usually taken somewhere that was explained to my four-year-old self as "Grandad's special pub".
When I was older, I worked out the official name for this place was Galgate Working Men's Club. All I knew at the time was it had a snooker table (which I was never allowed near), a cellar underneath which the floor was audibly hollow (which I was never allowed near), and a noisy and colourful fruit machine (which for some reason I was allowed near). Of course, I was only allowed five 10ps to play with, and as my capacity for fizzy pop and scampi fries was limited, I reckon any surplus winnings went to Grandad's next pint.
When I got a little bit older, I was no longer invited to Grandad's Special Pub. Perhaps I was more tolerable to be around for my parents, or perhaps they didn't want me "corrupted" by the alleged malign influences there. I usually heard my Nan ranting about someone called Maurice Ryecroft who apparently led Grandad astray (though, to be honest, I think he needed precious little leading) and, worse, had a dog that worried the local sheep. After that, I was only taken to the more salubrious environs of the Green Dragon, the local Yates & Jackson pub. Though always outside with my pop and crisps. This was the 1980s after all.
My Grandad is long gone. As is his Special Pub. And presumably Maurice Ryecroft and his dog also. There are, I hear, working men's clubs still going, but as their milieu is in terminal decline it won't be long before they're gone too.
Perhaps the "working man" in the old sense of the word no longer exists.
Friday, 3 March 2017
Small Craft breweries are in the position that they generally have 'goodwill'. Beer is associated with good times and GOOD PEOPLE, so it's natural that it engenders warm feelings in its consumers. And so many breweries wishing to fund ambitious expansion plans have, naturally, exploited this with Crowdfunding. They issue a prospectus, usually named in a emotionally leading way inviting those interested to emotionally identify with the brewery and its intentions, and give various tiers of investment with increasing levels of benefits associated with them.
Usually, said benefits involve discounts on beer from the online shop, or maybe a yearly invite to an Annual General Meeting held in a remote location at an inconvenient time of year. But that doesn't matter. To those investing in the crowdfunding scheme, the money or the benefits are of little importance. In such vacuous times as these, people endlessly seek things to identify with. And a few hundred pounds given to a Craft Brewery shows to others that they are a good person, and committed to the future of a small business involved in doing Good Things. Everybody wins. The brewery gets it's cash for minimal outlay, and the Crowdfunders get a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Until, of course, the day the funders want to cash in on their investment. That might be difficult.
Wednesday, 1 March 2017
Once upon a time, a brewer was fed up of his beer being bashed about, left to go off and generally mistreated by the chiselling pub landlord looking to cheat the Working Man out of his pennies. "This cask fermentation thing leaves too many variables." he said "What if I brew it, filter all the solids out, and infuse it with carbon dioxide for make up for the fact it's gone flat? Then I can put it in a sealed barrel and no amount of stupidity or penny-pinching can ruin my beer." That was the theory. Cut out the British small businessman with packaging, and your product will be served as intended.
Not many people can remember the original Watney's Keg Bitter, as it debuted at East Sheen Tennis Club in the 1930s. Presumably there were few complaints about the actual taste as after an hour or so of knocking a ball back and forth over a net and shouting "Jolly good show!", a chap can get rather thirsty and any refreshment is welcome.
But whereas Keg Bitter survived the dubious cellarmanship of the times, it fell prey to Big Business. Over time, the carbonation was increased, cheaper ingredients were introduced and the price, of course, went up. Premium product. old boy. It's "consistent".
Flavour undoubtedly suffered, and, according to received wisdom, The Campaign for Real Ale came and saved us all from nights of burping and mornings of diarrheoa. And everyone was grateful. Or so they say.
Sadly, nobody asked the Working Man his opinion, because of course such things were never done. He repaid CAMRA's efforts by ditching bitter and mild, and increasingly turned to mass-market lager.
It was fizzy and consistent, after all.