Down with this sort of thing

One final note about the “craft beer” post, focusing on the reaction it got from US readers. (For anyone who doesn’t recognise it, the title refers here.)

Most posts on this blog seem to get 30-40 views the day they come out and another 60-70 afterwards. I’m happy with that; to the extent that I’ve got an audience in mind it consists mainly of other people who write beer blogs, and there aren’t that many of us, so reaching anything up to 100 people seems pretty good. (Disclaimer: I have not only met but actually drunk beer with 66% of the bloggers linked in the previous sentence. It’s like the Masons, I’m telling you.)

This post got 1,232 views the first day it was up; the total currently stands at 2,463. That’s an awful lot of new visitors – and I think it’s probably fair to say that a lot of them weren’t too keen.

I think this is more about envy of hype. Right now it is the American beers that are getting the hype and some people (especially in Europe) can not abide anything American being considered good.

Just another blogger making sweepy generalizations about something they don’t like or don’t agree with.

This guy’s a bummer. I wouldn’t want to drink a beer with him.

this blogger is a jackass, and i wouldn’t be surprised if they work for Coors.

Some of this negative reaction was entirely predictable – some people reacted badly to my critique of the elitism of the “craft beer” mentality because… well, take this comment:

Craft Beer….is better. Period. That’s why we love the stuff. I’m proud to have some level of literacy,culture,awareness,spirit of adventure. … Am I “Elite” probably not,but I’ve put an effort into being more evolved than the herd.

Moving swiftly along… In other cases there was more of a genuine communication breakdown, due partly to the attention-grabbing title I used. The US beer scene was never my main focus in writing that post. I don’t know a lot about it (although I know a lot more now than I did before I wrote that post) and I’m, frankly, not hugely interested in it: by and large, what happens there doesn’t affect me. After reading the reaction from US beer geeks, I’ve got a bit more of a feel for what “craft brewing” means over there and why, in the US, it might be a standard worth rallying around. (Short answer: it beats the hell out of the alternative.) But I still think that, even in the US context, it’s a rough-and-ready label with no precise definition – or else with a definition that raises more questions than it answers – and I think that’s likely to cause problems further down the road. Ultimately, though, that’s not what I was writing about; it’s not my fight. Here and now I’m certainly not attacking the actual liquids sold in the USA under the name of “craft beer”. (Well, maybe some of them.)

What I wanted to write about was the use of the term “craft beer” in the UK, and the associated growth of a certain kind of mentality, also found in parts of the US craft beer scene. Strictly speaking, my title should really have been “Down with the use of the term ‘craft beer’ by British brewers and beer geeks; also, down with the particular kind of ‘craft beer’ mentality which this is associated with”.

And what mentality is that? Firstly, “craft beer” in the UK is generally promoted as an alternative to “real ale”, the implication being that the insistence on cask ale is a shibboleth or even a bad thing; this is perhaps the main reason why the term sets off alarm bells for me (I dealt with this in this post).

Secondly, “craft beer” in the UK is a cliquey project: what “craft beer” actually is never needs to be defined, because you can read off what it means from the people who use it, and what they use it to refer to. As such, it’s inherently elitist, in a way that’s simply not true of “real ale” – which is, after all, how all beer was brewed and served for most of history. (Campaigning for “real ale” may be reactionary, but it’s not elitist.) As Zak said in comments, the “craft beer” mentality is very much FUBU – “for us, by us”; if the masses don’t Get It, so much the worse for them. (Just go back to drinking your mass marketed, bland, cheaply made watered down lager, and close the door behind you.)

And (thirdly) it’s strongly associated with a focus on extremes: strong is good, hoppy is good, weird is good, but stronger, hoppier and weirder are better. I stand by my comment on the Double IPA festival Mark wrote about – it sounds like hell on earth, and it certainly doesn’t sound like a beer festival (it doesn’t really sound like beer). I would hate to see that kind of event over here, because I think it would represent a real wrong turning for the British beer scene.

Which is still, primarily, a “real ale” scene, focused mainly (not exclusively) on stuff you can drink in pints, defined (mostly) in fairly inclusive technical terms. And long may it remain so.

Update I’d just finished fiddling with this post (apologies to anyone who caught the first published draft) when I read this terrific post from Velky Al, tackling the vexed question

What do craft brewers do that industrial brewers don’t?

Read it and find out. (Sample quote: Sometimes this whole craft vs industrial debate sounds like kids in the playground and when one kids says “my dad is bigger than yours” the craft kid replies “but my dad punches with artisan style”.)

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 12 December, 2010 at 7:07 am | Permalink | Reply

    I get a bit bemused when fans of American craft beer (let’s stop pretending that we don’t know what that term means, shall we?) get so upset about people not thinking it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

    Personally, I love American craft beer (ACB), although I have found that there is a ceiling to the amount of oddness and intensity I will tolerate. But liking ACB doesn’t make me like classic English ales any less. It’s not like I have such a limited mental capacity that I need to stop liking something before I can start liking something else.

    When I hold beer tastings (for fun and profit), I love to point out to people that some of the most exciting beer in the world is being brewed in the USA. But the American brewing tradition has a very short history. The UK has centuries upon centuries of brewing history – I routinely drink in British pubs that are much older than ‘modern’ America. There is a powerful argument to be made that despite the great brewing tradition that America inherited via the first big wave of immigration, Prohibition stamped that out. It wasn’t until the micro-brewery ‘revolution’ was started in the 1970s with J. McAuliffe’s ‘New Albion Brewing’ (the clue is in the name, guys) that anything interesting happened on the American brewing map.

    Personally, I feel that it’s OK to like English real ales AND ACB at the same time. And if someone wants to like one more than the other, that’s fine too. And if someone wants to like neither, and prefers wine, well, that’s their loss, and I know that means they’ve never drunk good beer. But why do we have to have cultural imperialism, where something has to be either embraced or despised? It’s the 21st century, for goodness sake – the age of ‘for us or against us’ has surely passed, hasn’t it?

  2. Phil
    Posted 12 December, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I feel that it’s OK to like English real ales AND ACB at the same time

    Yes, absolutely. What bugged me about “craft beer” evangelists over here to start with was that it seemed to be presented as either/or: “new and exciting” (meaning strong, extreme, in keg or bottle) vs “old and boring” (cask, session-strength, traditional styles).

    I’ve probably ended up taking a more extreme pro-“real ale” stance than I really believe in – in real life I’m as tolerant as the next beer geek. I just think people yelling about what they really care about is a better guarantee of variety than people politely agreeing on what they quite like. (Also, it’s more fun.)

    • Posted 13 December, 2010 at 6:18 am | Permalink | Reply

      “I’ve probably ended up taking a more extreme pro-”real ale” stance than I really believe in – in real life I’m as tolerant as the next beer geek.”

      Me too!

      “Secondly, “craft beer” in the UK is a cliquey project: what “craft beer” actually is never needs to be defined, because you can read off what it means from the people who use it, and what they use it to refer to. As such, it’s inherently elitist, in a way that’s simply not true of “real ale”

      Oh. That’s why! (-:

One Trackback

  1. By Lijstjes « Bier & Trein on 1 February, 2011 at 11:51 am

    […] Oh Good Ale: Down with this sort of thing; […]

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