Wednesday, 8 December 2010

She Knows What She Likes


There's an interesting and somewhat provocative article by Caroline Nodder who is the editor of both the print and on-line versions of the Publican, in the Publican On Line today. Basically when you boil it down, she is saying that there's too much beer geekery around and it and the brews it spawns are doing the industry a power of no good at all. She says "I’m worried that the revival of the cask ale sector has gone to some people’s heads.....What we have is a wave of over-indulgent niche brews that are only going to be of interest to beer geeks."

Now I'd say she's wrong on a number of points when she expends her argument, as clearly the niche brews she is concerned about are not likely to be on cask and anyway, no real ale brewer is going to risk its future by a deliberate dependency on brews that are of limited interest and saleability. Nor for that matter will producers of such bottled exotics as exist. They have their own markets and that's what they aim for. Not that I'm hugely bothered about most of them, but I don't think experimental or adventurous bottled beers - for that is what most of them are - are likely to change the brewing industry as a whole, for better or worse, despite the wishful thinking that I have remarked on before. Nonetheless there is an underlying point that building the on trade with modern interpretations of classic British brewing is the way to go for most. Where she is wrong again is in her assertion that few such beers and brewers exist. Clearly she is unaware of the activities of Phoenix, Pictish, Dark Star, Purity, Elland, Crouch Vale, Thornbridge and many more. Even Adnams are branching out a bit and the slow moving Family Brewers are starting to turn their own Titanic round, little by little. Horror of horrors, I'll even give a nod to Lovibonds here.

Caroline goes on to say "I’m not going to be overly popular with some of my fellow beer writers for saying this but they haven’t helped the situation by indulging brewers in their shoe-gazing activities either." Now I've always argued that brewers should concentrate on their pub trade and producing beers that people want to drink in volume and have argued the toss with fellow beer writers on these points many a time. It's still a bit of a departure though to see some of us accused of counter productive fawning and doing actual harm to beer and pubs. I do know that most beer writers and bloggers care deeply about the future of beer and brewing and indeed, pubs, despite leaning sometimes too far in their indulgence of certain brewers and over-reverence of the exotic. I can therefore imagine quite a few being a little miffed by her opinion of them when they read the article. Still, comment is comment and needs to be looked at seriously when it comes from such a source.

While we may disagree with her conclusions, there is a lot to think about in what she says. It is (among other things)a warning that as beer writers, we shouldn't move too far from the majority and and that we need to think a little more clearly of how we can sometimes appear to those who agree with her statement " I am passionate about beer, just as passionate as they are, but from a drinker’s perspective. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what I like. "

We are all just drinkers in the end and the more we move from that to geekery, the less we'll matter. The majority isn't always wrong.

Her Jamie Oliver analogy is interesting too.

23 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

What the majority want is Carling.

Tandleman said...

That's fucked my argument up then!

RedNev said...

I do believe that Caroline Nodder, is overrating the influence of beer writing on the beer market. I believe that if you went around all the real ale drinkers in any pub, the vast majority would struggle to name any beer writers. CAMRA types might mention Roger Protz, perhaps Pete Brown, and the older hands Michael Jackson, but overall, I think that'd be your lot on a good day. Most real ale drinkers aren't CAMRA members and don't read beer blogs. Their exposure to beer writing, if it happens at all, is likely to be confined to a local CAMRA magazine found in the pub.

That being so, I fail to see how anybody's scribblings can possibly have the effect on the real ale market that Ms Nodder ascribes to them. Small runs of beer will sell only to small numbers of people, logically, and are incapable of skewing the market in the way she suggests. The geeks will not inherit the beer world.

Beer writers provide a commentary for the minority of drinkers who read them; they don't provide direction, and they ultimately change nothing.

Sid Boggle said...

Interesting. I can forgive somebody for not being a geek (am I a geek? I wouldn't say so, but am I the right person to judge?), but I'd have trouble overlooking their own seeming lack of awareness of what's happening with a large and increasingly influential group of brewers. I mean, what's her alternative? More brown beers? It's a shame that BrewDog seem to distort some perceptions of what's happening in UK brewing. They aren't the only story in town.

RedNev is correct about the impact of beer 'writers'. However, I'd like to think that, on occasion, some of us cover the ground that trade magazines like The Publican or MA don't. But does that much of what we write get into the food chain or affect mainstream (if there is one) scribbling? Convince me, Caroline...

TIW said...

'Self indulgence' can lead to very nice things. If a company wants to noodle around like a Captain Beefheart of brewing and it eventually trickles down into more interesting, mainstream beers then it's all to the good.

Darren T said...

Well, I've been reading a lot more beer blogs, beer magazines and beer websites since I started beer-blogging myself a couple of years ago and I can honestly say that's the first time I've ever heard of Caroline Nodder.

Maybe that's the root of her complaint? "Dammit, I've been churning this stuff out for years and nobody knows who I am - better say something controversial, raise my profile a bit..."

Anyway, speaking as a confirmed beer geek, I'd much rather have the opportunity to try the sort of weird and wonderful brews that a few breweries are putting out there, than not. Alongside session bitter, lagers, milds, regular-strength stouts, everything...

Variety, spice of life, etc. no?

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

Dare I say it, some of that article is utter tripe. Diversity will help beer survive. And many of the breweries that try niche things make very good session bitters too.

No one is creating a portfolio of strong modern Caroline? So not Wold Top, Roosters, Liverpool Organic, Dark Star, Leeds, Thornbridge, Saltaire?!

And even if the things that apparently aren't happening are, what's wrong with the esoteric end of the scale? As Zak Avery pointed out recently, couture trickles and sometimes avalanches to the high street. Even if it doesn't someone enjoys it and the world still shops at George and TopShop.

Anyway, we all love beer and we all want good beer of different kinds. Geekery won't stop good ale hitting pubs, it's likely to lead to more.

And even if that was irrelevant,the masses generally do want Carling as Cookie says!

Barm said...

I don't remember Caroline Nodder objecting to the hideous beer fonts that the marketing executives have foisted upon pubs up and down the country, though many of them are very adventurous — nor did I notice her complaining about the dumbing down of beer recipes, or the endemic advertising that seeks to elevate the brand to greater importance than the actual product. But God forbid anyone should try to make the beer itself more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's crazy man. They should really try to do something to fix that.

Private Poontang said...

By the look of her picture I'd say there was a pub on every corner of the black she's been round a few times.

Wahaay !

Private Poontang. said...

Or even block !

Tim said...

I think the fact that there are so many niche breweries popping up to serve beer geeks demonstrates that beer geeks are a market unto themselves.

Why wouldn't people try and make money from supply a market which remains relatively unmet?

ZakAvery said...

RedNev says it all really. Nothing to add, other than to observe that, as Tim points out, if it's a sustainable economy, what's the problem? If beer writers are writing about a bubble, they are going to look stupid when it bursts - but I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.

Fater, son, und holy Wurst said...

Not to be a negative prick, but who really gives a flying fuck?? Tandleman, you're beyond this. Get a video camera and lets see your hardness in action with loads of pints and curries in a projectile!!! I am so sick of this bullshit, beery journalism. The world wants to see you naked, rolling around in the gutter, pissed out of your head. Total blessed to you and E though.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Confession time... This struck a chord for me, and I think it's only fair for us all to be frank when challenged in this way.
Very early in my campaign to review bottled beers, I found myself combating a strange urge to sideline brews whose labels I recognised, and to apply my energies instead to the seeking-out of more 'local' or 'obscure' delights that fewer people would know about. Now, it's one thing to bring lesser-known brands into focus, but turning my back on a beer just because it is already a successes - that does seem to smack somewhat of the 'danger geek' mentality Nodder is hinting at.

Perhaps I need to re-evaluate...

Tandleman said...

RedNev / Zak - I agree and said so in my piece, but clearly Caroline reckons they have influence in some way (she states what it is too) and she does edit the Publican which also has some influence, so maybe she isn't just speaking for herself?

I am a pub man and see a bit of what she is saying. The niche market can tend to overlook the pub in general though supports the more adventurous bar. Maybe she is just saying there is a wider opportunity here?

Sid. Whatever she is saying, it isn't "more brown beers"

Barm. Fair points. Admit the faults then identify where and how to put it right is always a good policy. She should have done a bit of that.

TIW. That's why I mentioned Adnams.

Darren - Maybe you need to read the trade papers a bit more and I think you miss her point a tad.

HG. Thanks for taking an open minded look. I disagree with a lot of what she says, but taking on board counter views helps one a lot. That's why I read other blogs so avidly. Speaking as an ex professional manager, it's not the good things you hear about yourself that improve you, but the bad ones.

ZakAvery said...

I think she IS speaking for herself - and if not, then who for? And I don't believe that anyone is hurting sales of Old Hooky by talking about Moor JJJ IPA.

And we DO have a Jamie Oliver of beer - it's Ben McFarland. Or then again, maybe it's James Watt? What we don't have is any interest from the mainstream media. Why? Because beer isn't 'sexy' - yes, I know you'll hate that term, but in the media, and in broadcasting in particular, which is where the sea change is going to occur, if it ain't sexy, it ain't getting talked about. The best we've got lately (and it's a damn good start) is Nigel Slater.

And ANYWAY, what would happen if all our beloved niche brands crossed over and everyone was drinking them? Why must success be measured in unit volumes of sale? See this article for Anchor Brewing's take on success and growth.

Tandleman said...

"Why? Because beer isn't 'sexy' - yes, I know you'll hate that term"

Why should I hate it?

As for volumes, that brings punters. Punters drinking beer is good. I kind of regard beer drinking as a "more the merrier" type of thing.

Mark said...

Very interesting... These beers are, as you say, largely for the bottled market and they are speciality. Anything which costs £5+ a bottle isn't going to impact the mainstream. And it's only being bought by a niche few who again don't influence the larger market. BrewDog might make a lot of noise about their big beers but it's still Punk and 5am which they have to churn out. Same with Marble - they make a couple of esoteric bottles a year but concentrate on their core range.

And RedNev covers it. It's similar to restaurant reviewers. Most people couldn't name one nor could they care what someone thinks about some restaurant in some town somewhere - they know what they like and they drink it.

It's an interesting point and I understand it but I think it's a view that's coming from a position that's too central to these things and therefore sensitive to loud noises about essentially small squeaks of change.

ZakAvery said...

Because 'sexy' applied to beer is the sort of brain-dead, meaningless, vacuous term that anyone in their right mind will run a mile from. But it's true that beer needs to get a bit sexy, or at least a bit less unsexy, before the mainstream will take notice.

Cider wasn't sexy until Magners served it over ice, now it's too sexy for its own good.

Tandleman said...

Nowt wrong with sexy in my book. Beer or otherwise.

HardKnott Dave said...

"Now I've always argued that brewers should concentrate on their pub trade and producing beers that people want to drink in volume..."

Isn't that what the core of the beer market is, and always will be?

This is not a good reason to not also have a premium market. What is wrong with beer being accessible to everyone, even the posh gits who have more money than sense?

Tandleman said...

I said "concentrate" , not exclusively produce Dave and of course I do defend niche brewing in the same piece.

Your argument about premiumisation increasing accessibility, defies logic though. I break off writing a piece on that very subject - well sort of - to make this point. Charging the soft gits you refer to more for their (premium) beer has little if anything to do with accessibility. The opposite in fact. Accessibility and availability are different. Nor do niche markets increase accessibility by the way. They are very legitimate indeed, but a quite different thing.