There’s been a profusion of animated – and occasionally fiery – discussion on discount culture and beer snobbery in recent weeks. Matthew Curtis published a thought-provoking feature contemplating the upshot of pubs and retail outlets selling heavily discounted beer on Total Ales. This provoked differing perspectives on the subject, such as this piece from Brew Geekery. And then there’s the recent Telegraph article on TV chef and candidly spoken Anthony Bourdain, who, in a Thrillist interview, likened the rituals of craft beer drinkers to something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In response, Luke Raven of Ilkley Brewery retorted with an insightful open letter on the brewery’s blog, where he thought Bourdain’s remarks had been taken out of context, but promoted the movement of beek geeks rather than beer snobs.
This is a weighty introduction, but it's demonstrative of the discord expressed by independent beer advocates. Is craft a premium or a commodity? And why have all passionate craft drinkers been tarnished with the same brush, painting them as bearded, tattooed types who melt at the mere sight of a can of Budweiser? But this image of a typecast beer drinker is harmful to propelling beer culture towards where it should be – the craft industry desperately wants to appeal to a wider demographic. I’ve heard this from local breweries time and time again.
It’s not a secret that at any given beer event, the majority of punters will be white males. As a woman, I take notice. But, in the same breath, I’m seeing improvements. Only this week, while taking part in a pub quiz, our server revealed that she was leaving her post to pursue her passion, working in a brewery. Her sheepish admission prompted me to mention that my friend sitting adjacent to me, also a woman, was head of sales in a local brewery.
For The Sessions Beer Blogging Friday, this week’s session asks what the picture of Beer Future will be and what we will likely see more of. For me, I’m optimistic that the backlash against a new and surprisingly inclusive culture will abate. As people embrace craft beer as a local revolution rather than a trendy movement, the pleasure of drinking good beer will become increasingly normalised. In my experience, exposure is key – two years ago, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of spending a Saturday at a brewery taproom, where an unfamiliar gamut of styles was scribbled on a chalkboard. The approach to the bar was a painful and embarrassing task. But I took it all in by osmosis, mostly piggybacking the knowledge of my friends who were savvier than I.
I recently had a moment of deep gratification, seeing the deconstruction of hipster scorning first-hand. In September, I spent three weeks in Nova Scotia, where my father accompanied me along to two local breweries and his closest growler station. He was already ‘craft-curious’ and often stocked bottles or cans of Nova Scotian breweries in the fridge. Despite this, he dismissed the local taproom in the same terms that we’re now overly familiar with – a haven exclusively for beer snobs with beards (again with the beards).
I didn’t see any of this- I saw an assortment of people from diverse backgrounds, from locals to university students, socialising over a drink. I crossed the threshold into Battery Park in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, with my dad and he left with a growler fill of a farmhouse ale.
Then only a few weeks ago, I Facetimed my dad on a dreary Sunday evening in London, catching him mid-afternoon Atlantic Time. He was standing inside the same growler station, getting his evening’s beer from local North Brewing Company. As far as I was concerned, this was progress. I’m sure he’d disagree, saying that he always drank good beer. But he then published a piece on the local beer industry for the Canadian Broadcasting Company following the conversations we had with brewers on our road trips.
This type of engagement with the craft beer industry is what I’d like to see more of in the future. If we could refrain from using contemptuous labels to dismiss, whether it’s ‘craft’ of ‘hipster’, then we can demonstrate what, to me, drinking local really means. It doesn’t comprise an assigned drinker persona, nor does it involve curling your lip at the choices of others. Beer brings people together, but drinking craft beer can mean drinking local, supporting local businesses and bottle shops and sampling seasonal and small batches of new and inventive styles. It doesn’t need to be discounted to appeal to more drinkers - like buying from your local market, it’s a different product.
In the future, local breweries will hopefully see their customer demographic change – appealing to their local neighbours as a local business should. This doesn’t mean they can’t coexist with the macro breweries. But drinkers will be willing to pay the real price for an artisan product when they feel included in the revolution.