Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Call it a Draw?


People keep asking me how the big debate went on. The "What the HELL is Craft Beer?" one. It was held (undertaken/endured?) at the famous IndyManBeer Con a couple of Fridays ago and featured your hero, Tandleman, BrewDogJames, Zak Avery, Toby McKenzie and John Clarke?  Don't know who these geezers are?  Stop reading now. It was moderated by Jonny from the organisers.

That's by way of background. You want the blood and gore don't you?  Well, sorry, more background first.  Fittingly we were in yet another swimming pool in the wonderful Victoria Baths.  Right in the thing, sloping tiled floor and all, with an audience in front of us, disappearing up to the shallow end and a baying mob on the balconies. It was cold. Mortuary cold. It would have frozen a yak.  We sat on chairs, while Jonny, like a perished ringmaster, set the scene.  We were all introduced. Me to a chorus of boos. From the BrewDog accolytes?  You may say so, I couldn't possibly comment. Have they read that I don't care for them?  Surely not. But it wasn't all about them was it?  Wait Dear Reader, wait.

We were all given three minutes to cover our views in general terms.  John started in his reasonable manner, outlining a position that differed little from mine in that we agreed that a burgeoning craft beer scene was good for beer generally.  Toby took a much more laid back position (though he later told me he was frozen stiff, so that might have contributed to it) and felt that basically good beer was good beer and he didn't really care for the debate that has arisen around it.  John and I outlined some of the characteristics you might find in craft beer, while Zak took a more philosophical view of craft being a state of mind. I think basically, as may be suspected, Zak, John and I took the view that craft is not easy to define, but you know it when you see it. Toby made some very good points about his own experiences as a brewer.  I think we all tried to see the wider point of view and to try and answer Jonny's promptings as moderator, though of course we all had our own points of view to get across.

What of James?  When it came to his turn, he leapt to his feet (the rest of us just sat down) and launched an attack on mega breweries jumping on the craft bandwagon, got some of his figures wrong and was corrected and postulated that craft in the UK should be defined as a brewer brewing a million barrels a year, using whole hops and some other such things.  I think it fair to say that he didn't convince the audience about that one, as not seeing the UK scene in terms of the US, seemed to strike a chord with them. It did seem to me that his position was broadly that "BrewDog" does this, so let's fit our definitions around it.  That's fair enough though from his point of view. I'd have probably done something similar, though undoubtedly with a lot more humour.

The audience had their turn too and while there was plenty heckling throughout (fortified by strong beer no doubt), they seemed to enjoy the back and forth. Again I got the impression that they were fairly ecumenical (in its broadest definition) as a whole, but there were exceptions.  Zak has outlined a bit of the banter here and I'd recommend his account of the proceedings too. I'd have a liked longer time on the audience section, but then if we had done, they would have taken our frozen lifeless bodies out at the end of it.

So there was no bloodbath and no agreed definition, but there was a fair degree of agreement nonetheless.  Afterwards we all raced off to the relative warmth of the other pools - sorry - bars and loads of people came up to me afterwards to say how they enjoyed it and nobody had a pop, which was nice.  I think, as suspected, though it was rather inconclusive, there was still a good dollop of concensus and a reminder that what we all do agree about is that we like beer and it is important to us. Of course there were many comments angled from our own particular points of view as you'd expect and while nuances were different, I reckon we could all (most of the time) have a beer together and enjoy the company.

Would I do such a thing again?  Sure I would, but I'd rather just have a brief introduction and get the audience up asking questions.  Maybe that's an idea for next time?

I braved the lion's den later for some BrewDog, got sort of booed again, had my photo taken somewhat against my will and thoroughly enjoyed Dead Pony Club.  A really good beer.  I went back for more a couple of times.

25 comments:

Coxy said...

I like Sierra Nevada Pale ale in a bottle but hate the keg, is it only craft to me in a bottle then?
Brewdog is probably worried because they have a trendy image and the problem with this is that trends change quickly and the younger element will realise what a load of embarrassing bollox they talk and quite soon and will change to other Craft beers.
Problem with talking about Craft is it will be an eternal argument like talking about Sparklers!

RedNev said...

Your account, Tandleman, merely confirms my impression of Brewdog as the pushy kid brother of the beer world shouting "Me! Me! Me!" to get attention. In general, I've noticed that the way they are referred to on beer blogs over the last 3 years or so has gone from complimentary to increasingly impatient. Behaving like a spoilt brat all the time soon becomes boring.

Erlangernick said...

I was tempted to have a can of Punk whilst at the Rutland in Sheff, but then that would've violated at least two principles I can think of. Such as I have them, anyway.

py0 said...

I think Brewdog's brand of attention seeking publicity has served both them and the UK craft beer industry quite well so far in getting press attention, but I think the lustre is starting to fade and they're starting to get on my nerves. I'm sure this won't phase them at all. He was probably deliberately annoying just to get everyone talking about them, and look, its worked.

RedNev said...

Despite the cliché, not all publicity is good publicity. I doubt that I'm the only one put off buying their beer precisely because of their juvenile antics.

py0 said...

Yeah, but every time they pull an annoying stunt, for everyone like yourself who had already heard about Brewdog and is put off, there will be 10 people who had never previously heard of Brewdog and will now know their name and that they make beer. As they say, 90% of advertising is just generating name recognition.

Bailey said...

We reckon their aim is to become a household name at all costs -- i.e., to be in the consciousness of 'normal people', and not just beer geeks. Possibly subscribers to this philosophy?

Cooking Lager said...

The craft beer debate is like Rocky, it goes on and on but we never tire of it. Go Tand. Go Tand. Go Tand.

John Clarke said...

The thing that struck me was that James seemed to have almost nothing original to say. And when he did venture an original opinion on the nature of craft beer I though it was pretty risisble.

He first suggested that craft beer was made by brewers who thought their beer was amazing, or something along those lines. Hmm, that would be instead of all those brewers who think their beer is undrinkable slop. Not much progress there.

Then of course, as you mention, he comes out with a clearly "make it up as you go along" definition of a UK craft brewer as one who makes less than 1 million barrels a year, uses whole hops and all malt. Right, so that will include most of the UK family brewers then and exclude the likes of, say, Kernel (who, I am told, use pelletised hops - not that there's anything wrong with that). Bugger all use that as a definition then.

Y'know, I really was expecting more from one of the self styled leaders of the UK's "craft beer revolution".

Of course the fan boys and girls thought he was great but I think he fell pretty flat with the rest of the crowd.

An Anonymous Boozer said...

Did he really say that about whole hops and all-malt beers?

It's just they've been very open about using hop pellets (particularly for dry hopping) in the past, and have no qualms in using adjuncts (the brewsheet of their anniversary beer Dog A including 25kg of raw cane sugar: http://www.brewdog.com/blog-article/some-cool-beers-that-are-in-our-tanks ).

But then it's not the first time Brewdog have said one thing but done the exact opposite.

He did't by any chance happen to mention yet again that no brewer who cares about their beer would ever put it in anything other than brown bottles (ignoring the fact the entire Abstrakt range always comes in a shade of green)?

Birkonian said...

Brewdog had a satnd at the Alvinne fest in belgium a few years back. They were surly pillocks in contrast to all the other brewers present who looked genuinely pleased that punters wanted to talk to them.

Ben said...

During the discussion he was sat there playing on his phone. Can't say I was impressed by that or his talk!

John Clarke said...

Anon Boozer - yes he really did say that.

Ben - I guess he was tweeting his triumph to the adoring masses.

Anonymous said...

so the Craft beer debate continues.Whether you like Brewdog or not they are still producing some good beers.Look beyond the hype let your tastebuds decide. cheers john

Tandleman said...

I'm a kind man. I won't tell you what BDJ said to me before the thing started. And there's more.

John Clarke said...

Anon (John) - Yes they do make "some" good beer, I don't think anyone is saying they don't. Although I would say that apart frm the big boozy stuff (which they do seem to do very well) some of the newer beers, to me at any rate, seem to be one dimensional affairs - plain malt base, huge but obvious hopping and wait for cheap applause from the easily pleased (although I see that Tanders has fallen for Dead Pony Club and he's anything but easily pleased)

They had a "launch" of Libertine Black IPA at PSBH not so long ago. Unfortunately for them Buxton Imperial Black was on cask (cask, mind you) at the same time and it knocked the socks off Libertine in terms of structure, depth and pure drinkability. And it's not just me saying that - they were quite a few major craft drinkers there that night and there was general agreement about the comparison between the two.

Anonymous said...

Can everyone just agree that yes they're twats but it would be far better if pubs took out all the Stella pumps and replace them with Punk. Cask or 'craft' keg is never going to completely replace lager in this country but there is a chance that BD could end up sitting alongside lagers in mainstream pubs. The cask revival has led to far too many pubs stocking crap, poorly kept cask beer. I would be happy to at least have the option of a BD beer rather than vinegary cask or Carlsberg et al.

RedNev said...

No, I don't agree that it would best if all Stella fonts were removed and replaced by Punk. And to think that we real ale drinkers get accused of being dogmatic! Stella drinkers are just as entitled to their preferred drink as I am to real ale and you, Anon, are to BrewDog. And why anonymous anyway? No one's going to bite you.

Rob said...

That better?

Stella was just an example. How about they swap one of their lager pumps or add a BD one. That would do. I have no particular love for BD but they are far better than all mainstream lagers (imo). There are other keg producers who I would rather see available but that ain't going to happen but I could see it happening with BD.

I would far rather have a decent cask beer than lager but the majority of pubs near me don't know how to keep it. Of about 10 bars/pubs 7/8 have cask but only one manages to keep it in reasonable condition. So much so that if I'm in one of those pubs I will have lager instead. If I have to drink something on keg I would far rather it be BD than Carlsberg etc.

(PS I think this has been one of the downfalls of the revival of cask. So many pubs have brought back handpumps but don't give a shit about keeping it properly. I have had far too many 3 quid pour aways recently.)

py0 said...

But you don't understand Rob, if people preferred to drink Punk in pubs to Stella, they would already be doing it.

The only possible reason I can think of that Punk isn't already available in every pub in the country is because, like all craft beer, its a "niche drink" for pretentious ponces who only buy it because its expensive and its a way of showing off. If it became more affordable and available, that would only mean less people would consume it. Mark my words, craft beer will never become mainstream.*


*This is a parody. The fact that the same argument could have been employed with real ale vs Watneys Red back in the 70s passes some people by.

Cooking Lager said...

I think we ought to lock up Tandy, Clarky, Avery, BD Jim & Co in a room with nowt but cheese and onion crisps, value scotch eggs and cans of fosters. Only let them out when they come up with a watertight definitive answer to "what is craft ale?"

Then, with the definitive piece of beery scripture we can finally move on to the next big question in beer. "Are Wetherspoons proper pubs?"

Anonymous said...

agree with you Mr Clarke their are few better brewers around than Buxton.cheers john

Ron Pattinson said...

Whole hops and all-malt only? That's similar to what some of the more doctrinaire CAMRA members wanted back in the 1970's.

A stupid idea that has as much connection with beer quality as the Reinheitsgebot.

Glyn Roberts said...

So how was the rest of the Brewdog convention? ;)

Matt said...

There's a bit of the debate here: http://vimeo.com/51806931