I was going to post the following to gauge readers' views on how things have changed, but then I saw Melissa Cole's latest blog, where comments from Brewdog in the recent book by Stone's Greg Koch and Matt Allyn have provoked a gush of steam from her fragrant ears and some pointed comments from elsewhere in the industry.
This is from the scrapbook, a letter to the Ed published in What's Brewing February 2005...
You'll see it's from Peter Haydon of Meantime Brewing, then a newish brewer making beer for Sainsbury's and annoying some UK pundits with their reluctance to sell beer to domestic drinkers in favour of exporting to a more open-minded market. Sound like anybody we all know?
I wished I'd kept the original letter and the editors' comments (from Ted Bruning?) which provoked Peter's response. At a time when the new young brewers were start-ups or just starting to gain reputations outside of their local markets, when there wasn't a large blogosphere, and craft brewers didn't exist in the UK (they were all 'microbreweries'), he foresees the importance of the US beer scene and makes some pointed observations about the UK scene.
Things have changed a great deal in the seven years since his missive was published. I remember thinking at the time, supping regularly on a beer like Dark Star Hophead, that evolution was inevitable, as brewers were exposed to influences outside of the UK. Safeway was about to cease UK trading, but they'd already put a wide range of US beers in front of their customers, thanks to visionary beer buyer Glenn Payne. Beer lovers were gathering online in multinational communities and becoming aware of the scenes growing up outside the UK.
And so it seems to have come to pass. You could argue that beer going global is enabling beer lovers to drink well locally. Would London's scene be so exciting without foreign beer and brewing? In an online world, it's a benign virus infecting and mutating beer cultures everywhere. Even German brewing is feeling the impact. Schneider have kicked on from their early collaborations with Brooklyn and boutique brewpubs like Braustelle in Koln are mixing tradition with experimentation.
Why this chimes with Melissa's post relates to Peter's comments in the final paragraph. He bemoans the British brewing industry as "complacent, insular, staid and introspective", perhaps not a million miles from the complaints of James Watt in that Stone book. Perhaps that was the case in 2005, but is it true now? Are those family brewers and established regionals still wary of talking to their peers? Is it just the new younger breed who take a lead from the American experience? Have things really changed so much in the period since Peter's letter, or was his view wrong?
Incidentally, when I read those comments at Melissa's, I initially thought they were made by Stone top man Greg Koch. Following his Wetherspoon adventure in 2007, I remember him noting that UK brewers seemed 'aggressively disinterested' in the US scene. Wonder which brewers he was referring to...