Tuesday 31 January 2012

Who Killed Bambi?

At 1910 hours on 30 January, in his response to Melissa Cole's criticism of his views on the unfriendly British brewing scene as published in the beer book authored by Matt Allyn and Greg (Stone CEO) Koch, James Watt from Brewdog followed up some initial comments and an exchange with Kristy McCready of Molson Coors and Sharps head brewer Stuart Howe, thus:
I would rather quit beer than work for an evil multinational, faceless, generic corporation pedalling insipid liquid cardboard like MC.

Good luck with that. However, you should realise, that by working for them, you have zero craft beer credibility whatsoever. That must suck. I would almost be sorry for you if you were not so mean about BrewDog. Jealous? probably.

Still I guess for some people being paid well and comfortable beats putting absolutely everything on the line for something they believe in.

Oh and Mr Howe, as for the fact that we don't make great beer, how many World Beer Cup Gold Medals do you have? We have 2. Are you on the ratebeer top 100 list? Thought not. And we also don't work for Satan.
"Craft beer credibility"? Eh? What's that? James appears to know, and so presumably there's a list somewhere at Brewdog. If you want to know if you're credible, write to James, c/o 'Craft Beer', 15 Credibility Street.

Or maybe you shouldn't ask him. As sometimes happens, you turn over a few rocks, and things look different. Like the fact that under their old distribution deal in the US, their beers were distributed around New York by the same distributor as Budweiser's. Not the one brewed by cool and plucky Czechs, the other one. The evil, multinational, faceless, generic corporate one. These days Brewdog in the US is handled by Anchor Brewers & Distillers, but for all I know, they're still using AB-I's distributors. How many 'credibility points' would that cost them? If Molson Coors is Satan, what is AB-I? Come to that, what about the Big Four supermarkets? Are they on the credibility radar?

I know this whole idea of what 'craft beer' is bamboozles and annoys beer lovers as parts of the blogosphere struggle with trying to define it. But really, 'credibility'? We might as well just call it all beer and find something else shiny to look at. It really does smack of a bunch of indie kids comparing bands. Does being recognised by the ticker fanboys of Ratebeer and Beer Advocate mean anything? Maybe James can foresee the day when the fanboys turn on Brewdog and accuse them of selling out by becoming too big and popular. Somehow right now, they're pulling off a clever sleight-of-hand by making themselves seem like the small guy being picked on. Or maybe there's something to the idea that they're not all so cool and confident as they make out. I dunno. But in the future I might think twice about using craft beer as a term if there's some kind of unsavoury point-scoring baggage sitting behind it.

Monday 30 January 2012

British Brewers, Then And Now. A New Worldview?

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...

Friday 27 January 2012

Bullshit Detector Set To Maximum

Recently, our elected great and good organised a little beer tasting, supported by the BBPA. Tyson already referred to it in his post here, and like a lot of bloggers, I got a press release about it.

Tyson's post is titled 'How Low Can You Go'. Judging by the views of one of the brewers invited to participate, low calumny in the form of a bit of wool-pulling over eyes was going on. The press release lauded the high turnout of our representatives - well, it's free beer after all. We are informed that
The beers on show in Parliament demonstrated the speedy commitment of brewers large and small in taking up the Government’s challenge to offer customers lower alcohol alternatives to what is anyway a low alcohol drink.
Robert Humphreys, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, had this to say:

"Members from all parties were amazed and greatly impressed by the variety of styles and characters of the nineteen beers on show. The response of UK brewers large and small to the tough challenge of brewing exciting and saleable beers at this strength hugely impressed our members and demonstrates what a small change in the taxation regime can achieve"

That bold is my emphasis. The Pub Curmudgeon has speculated that, given an inch, then the likelihood is that it will be tough to stop the neo-prohibitionists and their fellow travellers from attempting to take a mile.

Andy Tighe from BBPA, didn't appear to be drawn on the issue of taxation, but the press release noted that "with considerable retail interest in this burgeoning but nascent sector, the BBPA is looking to do more to highlight this growing category of beers in the coming months."

All very jolly. But at least one brewer with a beer on the list decided not to participate in the event, stating that they

...dropped out over the super tax on strong craft beers. They were using the event to make it look like brewers supported them. I don't.

With the Irish looking to develop a cross-border initiative for minimum pricing of alcohol (the Department of Health notes alcohol is Ulster's "favourite drug" according to the 'facts' on the BBC website), and Parliament yet again dragging its feet over reining in the unfair business practices of the pubcos (report back from Independent Commission in the autumn, equals what? Another 600 pubs lost?), how long before the health argument is used to tighten the squeeze on stronger beers.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Bass Beer: Staid, Traditional, Boring..?

I've been having a clear-out. No missus. Not what you're thinking. Cheek.

Piles of clipped and torn articles, ads, items which caught my eye some years back, and which I finally forced myself to deal with. So I've been reviewing, second-guessing myself about why I kept stuff in the first place, and scanning items which still have an interest. Some of it is beery-related, so may well appear here.

First thing is Bass-related. Our Bloggers In The South-West, Boak & Bailey, report here on finding a pint of Bass in decent condition, but I'm not in that market.

Below is an ad for bottled Bass Ale in the US. I believe it's from the early Noughties...

A different take on 'traditional', I guess. If B&B are right, a good job it wasn't for cask Bass, or the boots might have been a tastier alternative...