Tuesday 15 October 2013

Opinion Piece

I recently gave a tour to some young (well younger than me) people who were in the craft brewing industry. You learn a lot from speaking to them. You learn what people on the cutting edge of brewing fashion believe. I loved their passion and their interest in beer. Ten years ago style-conscious people would have dismissed beer brewed on a small scale as something their dad likes so it’s great that they are enthralled to “craft”. I didn’t expect to find people with such a limited experience of beer with quite such certainty about what was right and wrong and what was delicious and disgusting. A lot of what they believe was true but a lot of the technical facts were demonstrably incorrect. I learned that dried yeast was better than a managed liquid stock taken through several generations. I learned that whole hops gave inferior flavour and lead to off notes in beer because their flavour and bitterness were less stable in beer than that of pellet hops. I learned that breweries making less than 10,000hl per year are charitable organisations that only make beer to give people a better life and that I am only in brewing for the money using the word craft to con people. 

 All of this is news to me and rather flies in the face of the knowledge I have gained from my 20 years of life in beer and brewing.

My tip for any aspiring beer aficionado either in brewing or beer appreciation is to maintain an open mind and a palate receptive to all kinds of beer. If you like it, it’s good if you don’t it’s not. Don’t feel ashamed for liking a beer not favoured by the ironic haircut brigade. It was probably brewed to taste nice rather than to prove a point, rebel against something or break a record.
Don’t believe what brewery promotional information says when it’s selling an aspect of the beer’s production as vital for making great beer unless you have tried the same beer made in a different way. Breweries use their point of difference as a selling point. It may be what they think makes their beer good but it won’t automatically be a prerequisite for quality. Often with small breweries it will be the only option (dried yeast).

Don’t separate beer from commerce unless it’s homebrew. No brewery can expect to give their beer away and still be brewing a year later. And you need marketing up to a Brewdog standard to get away with charging more for beer than it’s worth. There are an increasing number of breweries who are suggesting that they are rebelling against “the industry” or “commercial” breweries as if there is something inherently wrong with brewing beer above a few hundred barrels a year, labelling everything that they and their mates don’t brew as mass-produced crap. Some may sincerely but misguidedly believe it but some are publically maligning other breweries in order to further their commercial interests. Anyone who cares about beer should find this objectionable. I find it hard to believe that these rebellious ”punk” breweries would torch their brewhouses if their sales grew to the point where they needed to employ a sales manager or a company accountant. 

I don’t have anything against those who believe the punk brewing fallacy. I’m just disappointed that the wider brewing industry hasn’t been able to give them a balanced view based on reality.

I know, I’ve said all this before. It’s just that I think it needs saying. By all means drink with a critical palate but base this on an open mind and an understanding of beer and brewing which goes beyond hype, rhetoric and fashion.   


Pivní Filosof said...

Great piace! Couldn't agree more. It reflects what I've been saying in my blog for some time.

I have the impression that there are some brewers that want to make us, consumers, believe that whatever they are not able to do due to a lack of resources, will or infrastructure is contrary to the very concept of "Craft", as if such thing could be defined beyond the marketing.

Alistair Reece said...

Exactly. I remember years ago hearing that the whole BudMillerCoors fraternity had 'better marketing than beer' and I can think of several so called 'craft' breweries to whom the exact same comment can be applied.

BeerReviewsAndy said...

Well said!

Stuart Howe said...

Thank you gents. Time should weed out those who can't make nice beer and those who are only drinking craft beer because it goes with their outfits.

Let's hope they don't spoil the market for the small brewers who are making great beer before they fall.

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MartinG said...

I completely agree with you about the rather bitter (no pun intended) and twisted philosophy of the "punk" breweries. These people are particularly well balanced by having a chip on both shoulders.

My local is a Greedy King pub and allows the landlord to sell beers sourced from smaller breweries. Whilst there is the odd gem that gets thrown up the majority are to my taste over-bittered and rather foul tasting. There seems to be a prevalence for using very strong apha-acid hops which I believe serve to cover up deficiencies in the beer (and actually serve to exacerbate it). I need a good cup of tea to get rid of the fur build up on my tongue after drinking such beverage.

In general beer brewed by the 'big' commercial breweries is produced using proven scientific methods to ensure a consistency and quality not achievable by smaller breweries. Such technology include reverse osmosis and whirlpool centrifuge to remove trub. This is expensive technology and clearly not within the means of the smaller 'craft' brewer. Having said that, technology is only as good as the person using it (you could put me in a formula 1 car and I still couldn't beat Lewis Hamilton, although I would love to try!).

There may be individuals that could produce great beer without the training and experience gained over years of hard work but I would wager they are as rare as hens teeth.

I suppose I love the idea of the diversity but the reality is that there is only a small sub-set of brews that I like to drink on a regular basis.

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