I read a lot about the beer revolution that is sweeping through a (relatively small) number of beery establishments and its small but growing band of devotees and noting what Zak Avery says here, offer a few observations.
It seems to me, irrespective of a sterile and futile keg versus cask debate, that the main dichotomy in beer drinking is coming from the increasing divide between those that like to, for want of a better term, neck a few, and those that want to have something stronger and more complex (harder to drink) in much smaller measures. The other great divide that is emerging is that between the younger more experimental type of beer drinker and those more traditional types that drink mostly cask beer in volume. I am ignoring for the purposes of this argument, the vast majority of beer drinkers that do neither, preferring their tipple to be Carling, John Smith's or whatever. (It is instructive sometimes to remember that whatever we imagine about the beer scene, most people neither drink cask nor craft keg, so in one sense, whatever camp you mainly fall in, the so called discerning beer market, whether craft keg or cask, has more in common than we sometimes recognise.)
While stereotyping is lazy, in some ways it does serve a purpose when identifying trends. When I visit places like Craft or the Port Street Beer House (less so) , I'm concious of the fact that I am one of the oldest there. It doesn't mean that people like me don't drink beer any more, but they don't necessarily drink it in the same places as the new emerging beer enthusiast that prefers to pay top dollar for something either exotic, from afar, or both. There is also undoubtedly a snobbish element about this too. Just look at Twitter to see what such people are drinking. They boast about beers I have never heard of, not so much to tell you how wonderful they are, but how unusual they are. And often, how strong they are.
Zak mentions the growth in this niche market in his blog - and he is right. It does have some legs yet, but I doubt if it will take over the British beer drinking scene to any great extent, though grow it will. London will set this trend. It has been the sleeping giant for far too long and now awakened, there is plenty room to both catch up and exploit a still affluent market further. Other beer drinking cities will follow to a lesser extent. Further from the capital though, there is only so much money to go round and those willing to pay nine pounds a pint, or whatever, are limited in number and will further be weakened as economic gloom continues. To that extent, going back to Zak's title, the revolution can indeed be economised.
There is of course an up side. These new drinkers and new beers and brewers bring a vibrancy and enthusiasm which should be welcomed, but as the exotic beers get ever more expensive, most of them will inevitably be drunk at home too. Zak and other retailers are already exploiting this demand, but all home drinking has a knock on effect on pub and bar drinking. It could not be otherwise.
I assume the reason for the expensiveness of such beer is initial cost, rarity, mark up and the need to keep a lot of relatively low turnover stock on hand to satisfy choice. Cask beer, with its limited shelf life is more immediate and is consumed quickly and with gusto. Those that do best mix and match the two. I have long thought that without CAMRA there would be no "craft" and now I imagine the volume drinking cask drinker plays a large part in the mixed economy of the pubs I mention. Maybe we need each other a bit more than you'd think? That's something BrewDog may find out when they open in England. It is all very well selling exclusively keg beer in their Scottish bars. Scotland to all intents and purposes is a keg bastion. Will that work just as well in England? We'll see.
As I said, these are just observations. I am delighted to see such interest in beer generally, despite reservations about emerging snobbery. (Of course the same charge can equally be levelled at some cask drinkers too.) I would also guess that most of us reading this are pretty well attuned to drinking in volume sometimes, but sipping at others. There is no conclusion to offer you, except perhaps that whatever and wherever we drink, we should remember that beer might well be the best long drink in the world, but at the end of the day it is is just malt, hops, yeast and water. Sometimes these simple ingredients are in perfect juxtaposition and often they are not. Drinking expensively does not guarantee drinking well - price does not necessarily equate to quality. Sellers should also be aware that beer doesn't have an intrinsic value that can only go up, like gold in a depression. (To go back to why you pay much more for craft beer things, I leave you with a quote from the Economist. " By selling more profitable “craft premium” beers, in the marketing lingo, they can thrive where other pubs have failed. As always - follow the money." Of course cask beer, the volume drink in these places, is also expensive.
In the end, maybe the one rubs off the other, enabling both to have a place in these new beer bars and a new generation of open minded beer drinkers would be a good thing, but new drinkers, like traditional ones, should avoid painting themselves into a corner.
This piece draws on the Economist article that Zak mentions. I won't mention his photo, except for one thing. Anyone watch Emmerdale?
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, 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, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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