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.
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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