Monday, 13 December 2010

Approachability



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!

32 comments:

Velky Al said...

Entry level beers are to be encouraged, however, I am not convinced that entry way should ever equate to "crossover" or as I like to call them "transvestite" beers - blonde ales that are really just warm fermented lagers.

There are enough beer styles that are flavourful and sessionable that can be promoted more as the gateway to great beer without heading down that particular track.

HardKnott Dave said...

I don't think I can disagree with what you say. I have no problem with the fact that the majority of beer drunk is, and always will be between 3.5 and 4.5% and be, from my perspective, fairly bland.

As you say, all these things can run alongside each other.

I still think that there is an increasing availability of the more esoteric beers. This is good, but is unlikely to detract from the core of beer drinking.

Tandleman said...

No argument with that.

Tandleman said...

The no argument bit was with Al. I don't agree that weaker beers need to be bland. Your Light Cascade isn't Dave.

Barm said...

Approachable is a weasel word. There are lots of bland beers if you think people are scared of the taste of beer. But I find it's often the rich chocolatey stouts or citrussy poppies that win people over — just as people who "don't like wine" are often swayed by an inky, blackcurranty New World red. Bold flavours can be as approachable as bland ones.

Tandleman said...

Nah - approachable is just a word which in this case I used in its dictionary meeting to illustrate a point. It can be used weaselly by the unscrupulous though and perhaps I should have mentioned that, but frankly, I was getting tangled up enough already without introducing a new aspect that I wasn't particularly discussing!

Approachable shouldn't mean bland, but should mean accessible. I agree with your last sentence.

ZakAvery said...

You tried a beer that you didn't like. Move on, get over it. Just don't extrapolate that into a theory.

Why does the majority of anything need to be accessible? Why do we need more accessibility? There are enough accessible beers out there - oceans of them are brewed and drunk every day, without comment, without thought.

It's like complaining that the cheese sandwich is going to be wiped out by the duck hoi sin wrap - of course it's not, it's just another alternative. If you like cheese sandwiches, then great, but saying 'I like cheese sandwiches' isn't saying much. What sort of cheese? What bread? Chutney? What sort? Have you tried, like MFK Fisher, wrapping it in cling film and sitting on it for half an hour before you eat it?

These days, the gateway to beer appreciation isn't just wide open, it's been pulled off its hinges, smashed to pieces and set on fire, and there's probably a CRAFT BREWER using it to smoke malt for imperial porter.

There has never, ever been a better time to be into beer, to be telling your mates (or the mildly interested general public) about beer, or to be buying beer in pubs, specialist shops, online and even supermarkets (well, except for when Glenn Payne was at Safeway). Why anyone - ANYONE! - would want to complain about that, and the enthusiasm it creates, is totally beyond me.

Mark said...

I'm with Zak, although this is a nice piece.

It's about choice. The Marble Arch is a rare exception of a pub that serves a lot of real ale but also one that is known on the beer geek circuit as somewhere to get good beer and different beer. If Pint was on the beer and I guess 3-5 others that were 5% and under then there's no problem. Start worrying when you've got everything over 6% and nothing under... We all know that few drinkers even touch the stuff over 6% anyway.

Tandleman said...

"You tried a beer that you didn't like. Move on, get over it. Just don't extrapolate that into a theory."

You think you can't look at a situation and then analyse it a bit? I detect a bit of hostility there and throughout your response. That isn't needed.

"Why does the majority of anything need to be accessible? Why do we need more accessibility? There are enough accessible beers out there - oceans of them are brewed and drunk every day, without comment, without thought."

Your second point gets at why I wrote it. You appear to be saying that we shouldn't comment on them either. That only the exotic deserves attention and the mainstream can just keep its head down and let the real brewing that matters shine. I don't think so, but then maybe I'm a touch less elitist about it all?

"It's like complaining that the cheese sandwich is going to be wiped out by the duck hoi sin wrap - of course it's not, it's just another alternative. If you like cheese sandwiches, then great, but saying 'I like cheese sandwiches' isn't saying much. What sort of cheese? What bread? Chutney? What sort? Have you tried, like MFK Fisher, wrapping it in cling film and sitting on it for half an hour before you eat it?"

Your analogy doesn't work. It wasn't that I didn't like it. I've been around beer long enough (and know just as much about it as most) to not worry about that. The point I was making and you seem to ignore is that it was hard to drink. Not that it was bad or I didn't like it. I used the comparison to illustrate a point that's all.

"These days, the gateway to beer appreciation isn't just wide open, it's been pulled off its hinges, smashed to pieces and set on fire, and there's probably a CRAFT BREWER using it to smoke malt for imperial porter."

Your imagination and enthusiasm do you credit, but no-one is saying he shouldn't do so, just that we should sometimes give credit to the ordinary good stuff as opposed to the exotic good stuff. (That doesn't work if you are so uninterested in the day to day that only a porter from a busted gate ticks your box by the way.)

"There has never, ever been a better time to be into beer, to be telling your mates (or the mildly interested general public) about beer, or to be buying beer in pubs, specialist shops, online and even supermarkets (well, except for when Glenn Payne was at Safeway). Why anyone - ANYONE! - would want to complain about that, and the enthusiasm it creates, is totally beyond me."

I'm afraid if you want unbridled cheery beery, you've come to the wrong place Zak. My feet are firmly on the ground. You seem inordinately protective of one aspect of British Brewing, but remarkably unconcerned about the rest. My piece was actually positive about beer if you read it properly. I was looking at how this "wave" can be sustained and the future of beer protected. How we improve at the ground level to encourage interest.

Finally debate is good and a small reminder to all. On my blog I'll write just what I please.

Coxy said...

With the ever increasing costs of beer maybe in the future less quantity could be purchased and higher strengh or niche beers may be sampled more, the Belgiums are not that far behind us in consumption but have an array of choice mainly on a higher strengh than ours, but then maybe our pub culture would need to change , which seems unlikely now but with the £5 pint not long away perhaps. I would go for a full flavoured Hophead rather than a stronger Abbot anyday, I know which one I think is bland or maybe I just mean boring.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

There's nothing soulless about my living room Tandleman...

Dominic, Marble Brewery said...

I think you'll learn to appreciate beers like Hoppiness in time Peter, when you palate matures ;)

Tandleman said...

Dom. I'll have to wait until I grow up I suppose. In the meantime I'll stick to easy beers like Dobber, Steel City, etc.

It's a journey you know! (-;

StringersBeer said...

Of course, sensitivity to taste (including bitter tastes), and the the taste effects of alcohol, vary widely in the popoulation - and with the experience and health of the taster.
I've often wondered what proportion of the fans of the 'easier' beers are "supertasters" and how many of the aficionados of the more'extreme' are relatively "hard of tasting".

Rather in the way that my tolerance of loud music might be related to my partial deafness.

arn said...

Your lucky to have such a great pub your able to visit. Desperately bad pubs and the legal requirement to stay in whilst my kids sleep are what contribute to my 'soulless home drinking'.
I enjoyed the post otherwise.

Tandleman said...

Coxy - The Belgian mostly drink lager I'm afraid.

Velky Al said...

On the taste issue, this was a very interesting post:

http://brewingreality.blogspot.com/2010/12/flavour-panel-christmas-tasting-around.html

Tandleman said...

Stringers / Velky Al

Yes - interesting comments, though I've nothing at all against very hoppy beers myself. But it wasn't about me.

Whorst said...

I love it when Avery gets a bit hostile!! Peter, you have a knack for bringing out hostility, even in the most well mannered beer writers, bloggers. I have Avery winning in the second round with a strong upper cut to the groin.

Tandleman said...

Thought you liked a bit of biff Kev? We all have to watch out for the unexpected in this game eh?

Tyson said...

Oh well, at least I got your point and, for what it’s worth, agree with it. In the cold, sober, light of day, perhaps you should have called it “Accessibility” instead of “Approachability”. Although Zak doesn’t seem to like that word.
But since we’re not actually talking about a platform of bland beer, I can’t see why.

To me it’s all about accessibility. Surely we want literature to be accessible? Education? Shouldn’t the majority of buildings be accessible? Nope I can’t see anything wrong with applying that concept to beer. It seems to me that some people have got the wrong end of your argument.

Anyway, off to the pub now to find some accessible, but hopefully not bland, beer.

Tandleman said...

Well "accessible" is in the second line.

"It seems to me that some people have got the wrong end of your argument."

Rather!

ZakAvery said...

OK, OK, I was a bit hostile, and for that I'm sorry. Hostile, passionate, whatever, the internet is a sterlie medium in which to throw that sort of attitude around. A pub table would be much better.

"Your second point gets at why I wrote it. You appear to be saying that we shouldn't comment on them either. That only the exotic deserves attention and the mainstream can just keep its head down and let the real brewing that matters shine. I don't think so, but then maybe I'm a touch less elitist about it all?"

I'm surprised that you're saying I'm elitist. I don't think I am, not one bit. If anything, as both you and Phil (Oh Good Ale) have mentioned, your hackles go up a bit when people start talking about craft beer - one could call that inverse snobbery, if one wanted to be provocative.

It's perfectly possible to be anti-elitist while at the same time enjoying a wide variety of beers, from Carling to Brooklyn Lager to Pliny the Elder. If you can point to anywhere that I've said otherwise, I'll post a tasting video of me drinking a can of Morrissons Value lager (from a drinking vessel of your choosing).

Out of curiosity, I've put up a tag list at the bottom of my blog. Yes, like you, I rolled my eyes when I saw BrewDog at the top, but say what you like about them, they are bringing something fresh to the table, and it's not high %abv beers that are getting them into supermarkets - it's the tasty beer. Supermarket buyers are very hard to please.

Move down the list - sure, there's DFH, Birra del Borgo, Baladin, De Molen and Stone. But there's also Fuller's, Badger/H&W, Greene King, brown beer, Sharp's and Crown. So when you say "You seem inordinately protective of one aspect of British Brewing, but remarkably unconcerned about the rest", perhaps unsurprisingly, I don't agree.

And anyway, Carling is way more accessible than Windermere Pale. That doesn't make it a better beer in my book. To me, what you're talking about is one step removed from the 'beer for women' debate. A beer for newbies? Come on, really?! The whole point of beer is the range and diversity of flavour, and that's why I am try to be as enthusiastic as Greene King IPA as I am about Deschutes The Dissident. Well, maybe not AS enthusiastic, but you take my point. You call it cheery beery, I call it objective and open-minded.

Again, apologies for going off the deep end, but I don't agree with what you've said here.

Phil said...

one could call that inverse snobbery, if one wanted to be provocative.

Not wanting to be provoked, I'd rather stay out of this one (although I agree with a lot of the post, and don't believe in inverse snobbery.)

Erlangernick said...

How was the Phoenix do, or did I just dream that?

Coxy said...

I meant in terms of drinking habits not to what they drink , ie they slowly enjoy their strong lagers rather than guzzle like us

HardKnott Dave said...

I can't help thinking this is being blown a bit out of proportion.

The beer world is a continuum, there is Carling at the bland and highly approachable end of the spectrum. Somewhere in the middle is Light Cascade, Pint, Cumberland Ale etc. It then goes through White Shield, Jaipour, Punk IPA through to the crazy esoteric end which is niche and highly unapproachable and includes stuff like Bourbon County Stout, Arrogant Bastard, TNP, End of History and so it goes on.

We need that continuum, so much so that I called one of my beers after it. Unfortunately Tandleman doesn't like that beer very much as it has too much crystal malt in it. He's not the only one who thinks that, and I see his point that all brewers should look to provide a continuum of approachability. The first rung of that approachability is down to the business model of the particular brewery.

Sometimes the other end is really only for fun, and yes, to get noticed. Even BrewDog make most of their money out of Trashy, 5am and Punk.

Some breweries start at C2 and end up at the rather tasty P2 and Celebration Shield. (coming soon to a blog post near you) Others start at the likes of Light Cascade, which you'll be pleased to know will continue, as will Continuum, the clue is in the name, and haven't yet got to their end point.

I like the fact that there is a very clear overlap.

I'd like to think that ties together the views on here, but perhaps that is asking too much.

Tandleman said...

@zakavery "I'm surprised that you're saying I'm elitist. I don't think I am, not one bit. If anything, as both you and Phil (Oh Good Ale) have mentioned, your hackles go up a bit when people start talking about craft beer - one could call that inverse snobbery, if one wanted to be provocative."

My hackles go up when almost all that is talked about is exotic beer.

"And anyway, Carling is way more accessible than Windermere Pale. That doesn't make it a better beer in my book. To me, what you're talking about is one step removed from the 'beer for women' debate. A beer for newbies?"

Not what I'm saying at all and why should you conflate "accessible" with comparative quality? I certainly didn't.

"Come on, really?! The whole point of beer is the range and diversity of flavour"

What I actually said "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"

Doesn't seem that bad an aim I'd suggest and agrees entirely with your point above.

"You call it cheery beery, I call it objective and open-minded."

Then why not read what I said a little more carefully? It seems to me that you entirely miss the point. What I am suggesting is that we need to bring more people into beer by making the range and quality available to most (not some) better than it is in most places as a way of getting them interested and seeking better things from beer. That doesn't seem a bad aim either.

"Again, apologies for going off the deep end, but I don't agree with what you've said here."

Actually I think to all intents and purposes, you actually do agree with the substance of what I say, but I'd postulate you are somewhat hidebound in doing so by challenging me on what I neither said nor intended.

Still, it's all good knockabout stuff, so no hard feelings from me at all.

Tandleman said...

Dave - I think you are right and have understood the point I am making. As for your beer, I am not a big fan of crystal malt as you know. Doesn't mean you shouldn't make it though for those that are.

Gazza Prescott said...

"In the meantime I'll stick to easy beers like Dobber, Steel City, etc"

Bloody hell, Dom, there's a challenge for us if I ever heard one... ;-)

Our beer needs more hops, note to self...

ZakAvery said...

Hey, it's all good fun. But you're right, we agree on a lot of things. And if I misunderstood what you wrote, maybe I should read more carefully - it seems that I'm in the minority.

And as for elitism, well, I still maintain that there is room for it all and like you, I don't like to see only trophy and ticker beers being written about.

Tandleman said...

PS. Mark - it's the drinking that is soulless, not the living room!