What's that then? Well the dictionary would say "the attribute of being easy to meet or deal with". "Accessible". Now hands up those that think (most) beer should be seen within those (reasonable) definitions.
On Saturday I had two beers at opposite ends of the approachability spectrum. First was the 3.5% pale, citra infused swigger, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, then, a few minutes later in a different pub, the strong, 6.5% hop bomb, Hoppiness from Moor Brewery. In the Angel, I was just beaten to the door by a group of six, three men with their female companions. They wanted to drink cask beer, so asked for tasters. I watched as they went through two or three. "Ooohs" and "aaahs" announced the result - Hawkshead Windermere Pale all round. I ordered it too, as it is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine.
In the Marble Arch, I had a pint of Pint. (As an aside, a gentleman beside me in the standing room only crush asked me what I was drinking. "Pint" quoth I. "I know" he said, "but which one?". Tedious explanations followed about arcane beer naming practice! ) I had however spotted that on the bar was Moor Brewery Hoppiness. Now this is 6.5% abv. Not big by some standards, but a beer requiring caution and respect I'd say. By then I'd found a seat and nipped to the bar for a half. The first thing I'd say is that it was a very well made beer. It was clean, no obvious brewing faults and clear as a bell. But boy was it hard to drink. The sheer amount of big C hops and obvious alcohol precluded anything but sipping and each sip required more effort than you should have to put into beer drinking. I'd struck up a conversation with two of my table companions. They were drinking cask, so I offered them a taste. I think it fair to say, neither liked it. So a very well made beer, but not very approachable on this very unscientific observation.
So why am I saying this? I suppose the background is the recent posting by Dave Bailey and the Publican piece by Caroline Nodder. I rather think this aspect (approachability) is related. Am I saying then that all beer should be 3.5% quaffers? Not at all, but I am saying that for most "ordinary" drinkers and for new ale drinkers, the attraction of drinking beer will be more slanted towards the weaker, easy drinking beer, than the other example I quote. Maybe that's obvious, but the need to reflect the likes and dislikes of the mainstream is sometimes overlooked in the search for the exotic or unusual. (That is possibly what Caroline Nodder was on about.) I'd contend that the gateway to a more diverse and appreciative view of beer is through better made beers that the ordinary punter can sup a fair bit of, understand and build upon. To read some beer commentators though, you'd think ordinary people, ordinary drinking and pubs are so "yesterday". Not so I'd venture. You don't get the egalitarianism of the pub so easily in upmarket bars or from drinking at home, nor do you get the easy chat that can lead to tasting beers with strangers elsewhere. (I don't subscribe to the view either that pricing people out of certain types of beer is a good thing, but that's not for now.)
To spread the word about beer, (assuming one thinks there is a point to that) we need to increase the quality, range and diversity at the everyday level, as well as swooning with pleasure over big beers the vast majority of us will never even come across and which, if we did, probably wouldn't like. Even for for niche markets, to ensure sustainability, we need a better focus on "entry level" beer, for that is the gateway to all beer for most, whether that beer is consumed in the pub or at home. Micro brewing is already challenging mainstream brewing and thinking very successfully now and is forcing change elsewhere. (I mentioned this in my response to Caroline Nodder). It looks possible too that smaller brewers will have the opportunity to sell their wares to a wider audience, as further pubs will become available as pub groups retrench and become smaller. Pubs aren't dead yet and those that survive will have pretty good prospects if allowed to do their own thing. (There is possibilities too in this for the niche by the way and though the big opportunities will always lie with the bulk of drinkers, I for one don't see why these things can't run side by side, rather than as separate posh beers bars on one hand and "bog standard" pubs on the other.)
So, summing up, while there is opportunity for all, ignore, or even worse disdain the majority at your peril.They are the niche drinkers of tomorrow and should be nurtured. Most of what I say refers to pubs and bars. While soulless home drinking will increase, the need to nurture the majority applies there too, even though most are drinking Carling!
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, CAMRA Chairman and (local) activist, beer author, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
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