Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Social Feng Shui

Many thanks to all that replied to my wonderings about the price of craft keg. A couple of observations from me.  One is that debating the thing on a blog is not made easier by the same debate being carried on simultaneously on Twitter.  Some great comments were made on Twitter, but I certainly didn't have time to trawl them all together and add them into the blog mix.  Is this just the way it goes?  I suppose so, but it would have been more comprehensive if it could have all been done on the same social media, but I suppose, sadly,  that's yesterday's thinking.

The second is that it seemed from the replies that there is a genuine concern about prices.  Justifications by the chargers to the chargees seemed rather tenuous, not wholly convinving and appeared to indicate that there are limits for most that commented and those limits are already being pushed.  The exercise was, I think, very informative, but to see it all played out, we'll just have to wait and see.  I doubt that we've heard the last of that debate.

On the more general point of craft beer and bars, I was struck by the similarity to beer, with some of AA Gill's remarks about restaurants in this week's Sunday Times.  Now love him or hate him, he is a guy that can turn a good phrase and he is quite an acute observer.  Speaking of expensive restaurants he said "one of the social dividing lines of a city is between those that can afford to throw their credit cards onto the plate along with the bill and those who can't."  And here is the key bit. "We like to hitch ourselves to things that are going well. It's a sort of social feng shui."  He later went on to say ( and while he was speaking of trendy restaurants, you could just think craft beer bar and local pub) "if you haven't got a hip corner, or if all your corners are boarded up charity shops, just keep going to KFC."  His final remarks (and here I've substituted beer for food):  This is smart muscly anti drinking that gives a lot of people exactly what they want with flair and good nature. But it's monosyllabic drinking. It's culty without being cultured, civil, but not civilised."

Now I don't think this does apply to beer in quite the same way, but if you stop and think about it, it does all kind of apply to the divide between craft beer and its devotees, as opposed to those that regard the whole thing with a hefty dose of scepticism.  I guess that what is being said about trendy and upwardly mobile eating establishments, is that there will always be places that some simply can't afford, before you even start thinking of those that won't afford it. and that is simply how it is.  Additionally, there are those for whom the Zeitgeist is more important than the price.  That of course presupposes that place and time are more important than the product itself and I certainly wouldn't go that far.

Still, set in that context, since the world isn't fair, it can't really matter if beer in some places is ouchy on the wallet. Can it?

Maybe there is some kind of app to pull twitter comments together?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Glasgow - A Mixed Bag

As previously mentioned, our first stop in Glasgow was the Clockwork Brewing Company, where mixed results were the order of the day.  My first pint was vinegary sludge, but was exchanged after the staff had tasted a sample from the same pump.  The offending beer was then removed from sale immediately, so top marks for that. At least there was no question of continuing to sell it.  Our party then had 45 minutes in West, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. German style beer and a great place, great atmosphere and great staff , marred only by the odd pricing. Pints are around a very reasonable £3.60 - £3.80 mark, with halves being around £2.60 to £2.80.  No sample trays are offered, so if you want to try a few, you either need to cough up, or sup from someone else's glass. It just seems silly and the only jarring thing about what is a wonderful pub.

Keeping on the Glasgow theme, when we retuned from Ayr, Troon and Houston the following day, we finished in the famous Three Judges in Partick.  Again the verdict was that the beers didn't really hit any high spots of cask presentation, which is astonishing considering the pubs almost legendary status.  We were mob handed there. All 26 of us, but nobody thought the beer much better than average. Nor was our cider bod was impressed by Scotland's Cider Pub of the Year having only one cider.

Four of us diverted to BrewDog as one of our party was particularly keen to see it.  We all enjoyed excellent service, great views of the Kelvin Hall at sunset and me an unremarkable pint of 5 AM Saint.  Despite there being no cask beer and a lot of very strong offerings, it was a good half hour and the staff couldn't have been more pleasant or helpful.  We then headed up Byres Road to another famous pub, Tennents Bar. This is an old favourite of mine, but it seems to have gone mainstream in its beer selection.  Mostly English and of the Everards/ Brains/ Wadworth's ilk, the beer was OK, but nothing special. Lager flowing from the pumps like a river, perhaps explains why.  I was the only one of our party that liked the place. Oh well. Our last stop was the Curler's Rest, poshified from my memory, but superb Harviestoun Wild Hop hit the spot - several times  - before we grabbed a taxi for late night reflection in the Bon Accord, just across the road from our hotel.

Next day in conversation with others on the bus south, we found those that had gone to the City Centre and the Merchant City had fared much better quality wise, but had still hit some lows.  This reflects to me the problem of too many beers for the clientèle that are likely to drink cask beer. Choice is often good, but quality is always good. I'd rather have two beers in top nick, that ten in so-so condition.  Poor quality beer has always been cask beer's Achilles Heel.  Pubs really do have to ensure that they always serve beer well, particularly as they struggle to lure customers in. Failure to do so really is both inexcusable and suicidal these days.

As always, when these things are undertaken, it is only a snapshot, but I've said it before and it is worth repeating. "It's the offer stupid."  Why do so many pubs fail to get that right?

On the way back to Greater Manchester, we spent a warm, sunny couple of hours in Lancaster. Lovely town, brilliant beer and pubs. I haven't been there since Mitchells closed. I'll be back soon though.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Excluding Tip

I meant to post about this way back in August, but forgot. I came across the photo when I was looking for something else. My readers will know I go to Germany a lot. I like it there and it is a place where you tend to know what is what. Once you've worked it out or read up on it that is. When I first started to go to Germany a good number of beers years ago, I looked up customs and etiquette, one of which was about tipping.  The advice then, as now is "It is typical to "round up" the amount to some more-or-less round figure generally ending with a full Euro amount."  Of course it was a Deutsche Mark then. 

It is a kind of odd situation on some ways. Tipping nothing at all is still perfectly acceptable for, say, a single drink, or even a meal, but the simple rounding up works. Waiters and waitresses don't need tips to survive as they are paid a decent wage by and large, but of course it is nice to be given something and a few coins for pleasant service is a worthwhile investment.  The point is that it is not expected. If you have a look at the bill illustrating this entry you will see something I haven't seen before. "Tip is not included."  It was our last day in Berlin and I haven't yet been back, so it was perhaps not typical.  We didn't see it anywhere else, yet there it was.

This is another unwelcome creeping Americanisation which I for one could do without.  Anyone else noticed this in Germany?

I probably just rounded it to €22

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

How Much Is It?

I notice a lot more rumblings and grumblings on t'interweb about the perceived high costs of craft keg beer.  Pete Brown did a nice piece on what he feels is the most worrying aspect of craft beer, which is quality at the point of dispense.  I agree with most of what he says, but not that it is a problem which has recurred.  To me quality may be better than it was - and that's arguable -  but problems have never gone away as such.  I too am always keen to bang on about the quality thing, particularly when it comes to cask beer, though Pete makes many more far reaching points too, particularly about unfined beer.  More power to his elbow on that one.  And he does mention prices, although in the context of getting bad beer.

So, price. The moaning on the internet has been about how much craft keg costs at the bar.  It is justified by brewers by saying it costs them more through equipment, keykeg costs, ingredient cost and more, though many would argue that ingredients cannot justify the cost differences, especially for the same beer in keg and cask.  That in turn means higher prices at the pumps say pub and bar owners.  Another point about craft keg (and it is mainly but not exclusively keg) is that high prices and alcohol levels mean you are also likely to drink a lot less of it, which creates its own vicious circle of needing to charge higher prices, not just to cover the higher costs of buying it, but to account for lower turnover and to maintain profit.  If nothing else, this will limit the spread of bars than can charge such a lot.  There's only so many that the market will stand.  So while brewers (and pubs and bars) may have these lovely margins now, they may be heading for a brick wall if the market expands.  The customer and the market will decide in the end and my bet is that price will play a bigger part, as or if the spread of craft keg increases.  There may be rockier times ahead for this craft beer boom.

One thing is for sure and for now. Beer in certain places is becoming eye wateringly expensive and drinkers are starting to notice and question it.  You are bound to get a lot more shirty when you pay top dollar for a duff pint and a lot more likely to kick up about it.

I really recommend Pete Brown's article. The link is above in the first paragraph.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

All About Quality

What is?  Beer is and more specifically real ale is.  The cask conditioning process adds a variable into beer that can take it from ordinary to phenomenal, or to the depths of undrinkable, all because of not knowing how to keep it, how long to keep it and how much of it to keep in the first place. Our CAMRA trip to Scotland showed some of these problems off first hand. Now it has to be said that real ale, cask conditioned beer is not nearly as common on Scotland as in most places in England.  Subsequently, even in the best of pubs, demand is not so high. There are exceptions of course and there are reasons, but it does make drinking cask beer far more of a lottery than it already is. And it already is a lottery more is the pity.

We started off brightly enough in Dumfries, which for a small town, has quite a number of real ale outlets. The local JDW, the Robert the Bruce, seemed to know its stuff. Beers were clean, well looked after and enjoyable, as they were in the Cavens Arms. In both cases the staff were cheerful and welcoming. Even the half of Draught Bass I had in the Coach and Horses showed the undoubted wisdom of having only one beer served very well and knowing what your trade will stand, rather than several served poorly . Our first stop in Glasgow was the Clockwork Brewing Company, where the results were a lot more mixed.  All the beers seemed off that elusive mark that can only be hit by good turnover and cellar excellence.  Later the same was undoubtedly the case for both the State Bar - a pub I like - and Hengstler's Circus, which I don't really - but it is opposite. Tired, flabby beers would have done nothing to convince the largely Tennents Lager swilling crowd that they were saluting an entirely incorrect flag.  Spirits were raised again in the Bon Accord, where in 1974, I drank my first ever real ale, and now, having undergone many changes, it is still doing the biz in some style. All the beers tried by our exacting crowd were in tip top condition. This pub knows its stuff and it shows.

On Saturday, we moved on to Ayr and visited the home of Ayr Brewery, the Glen Park Hotel, where the beer, brewed just yards away,  was in excellent condition and served by handpumps with sparklers.  A number of awards from both CAMRA and SIBA adorned the walls attesting to the quality of both pub and beer.  Later in Geordies Byre, a wonderfully welcoming pub, spotlessly clean and interesting,  this time, dispensed by Scottish tall founts, we enjoyed a range of  three beers, all good and all oddly, but co-incidentally 3.6%, before boarding our coach to Troon, where a veil needs to be drawn over the lacklustre beer and pubs with the exception of the excellent Fullartons, where not only super quality beer was dispensed by handpumps, with the bar staff asking "With or without sparklers?", but the welcome was warm, as was the atmosphere.  It was buzzing and deservedly so.

Bright, welcoming pubs with good beer and cheerful service can still drag customers in.  In these hard times it has never been more important to get the offer right.

I commend this piece by Pete Brown to you too. It says many of the same kind of things.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Call it a Draw?

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.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

IndyManBeerCon. How Was it for You?

How was what? IndyManBeerCon of course. Well if you read some of the gushings on the blogoshere it was the best thing since sliced bread. It was awesome. OK. Was it really? Actually, it was pretty good and I can see where many with leanings towards such an event happening, would be impressed. It did a lot of things right. First of all in any beer festival is to get, if at all possible, an impressive venue. Most festivals fail on that score right away. Impressive venues are hard to come by and they cost a lot. This was an impressive venue. A gorgeous, partially renovated set of Victorian Swimming Baths; a wonder of brick and tile. loads to look at and no smell of chlorine. It was a fantastic venue. Awesome even. A major tick before a drop of beer had been consumed and most customers seemed keen to view it in all its splendour, gawping happily, beer in hand.

 Then there is the beer of course and this lived up to its promise, with a cask area and a keg area, each in a different swimming pool, one covered over(cask) and one (keg)reached by descending a set of stairs to the pool itself. That would have made disabled access somewhat difficult, so a minus there I suppose. The cask bar was set up in more or less traditional manner, with a bar and handpumps. It served a decent selection of beers, though as is the way of beer festivals, some were better than others and the range was a tad limited if you were a fan of milds, stouts and speciality beers. Seating was German beer garden bench style and I thought that worked really well. It provided a touch of difference and helped the atmosphere. The keg bar area was another kettle of fish entirely. No seating at all and just a set of tables for several brewers to serve from, with the beer behind. Variety wasn't a problem here at all, with the brewers (and yes, it a lot of cases it was them) dispensing their chosen range. Or was it chosen by the organisers? I don't know. Either way it was different and it seemed to work well.  The keg selection was better on the Friday night, but as beers go off and on, that would no doubt have changed.

So from a veteran festival organiser's point of view, what did I think?  Well I liked it by and large. The venue and organisation was great. It did what it set out to do, though it was undeniably very expensive. Ten pounds plus to get in and prices from £3.00 a pint to £9 odd a pint* ) served in thirds is pretty hefty. Brewers serving their own beers was innovative for the UK, but I wonder how that worked? I know the beer was bought from them, but did they offer their services free for the weekend?  If not, subsidising the brewers may explain some of the prices, but if not, how sustainable is that model?  Brewers aren't charities by and large.  The food offerings worked well too for the kind of crowd attracted, which on the Friday night at least, for the most part, was young, geeky, well heeled and predisposed to the offerings and prices.  Some have claimed that the third pints only rule was restrictive and yes, it was a nuisance to have to go to the bars so often and would have been even more so if the place was more crowded, but it wasn't, presumably because of fire limits.  I didn't mind that aspect, though it could only work in this kind of festival with this kind of crowd.

BrewDog, oddly, had a separate bar, set in one of the many tiled side rooms and occupied by a rash of its fanboys and girls, with loud music and an atmosphere that was totally different to the main festival itself. I don't know whose idea that was, but I feel it would have been better to have BD on the inside of the tent. It seemed to me they were on the outside doing what people on the outside of tents do.  Put them along with everyone else next time.

So we had that elusive mixture of keg and cask.  Some claimed that as inclusive, but I reckon it's horses for courses. Inclusive to me is way more than just beer. It does show it can be done (at a price) and that there is a demand for it and those like Port St Beer House, who understand the cask/keg mix are the sort of guys that can put on a show for a targeted audience.  And it was a targeted audience. I won't mention the beer. Others have done that already, except to say, while I liked a lot of the keg beer, I do wonder if the expensive ingredients that apparently justify the high prices, would be quite so needed if the beer wasn't served so ice cold and so carbonated that taste is affected. Anyway, I digress.

Should it be a regular event?  Well I think, as I hinted in my opening remarks that some commentators have got a bit carried away.  It didn't change the world, but of course it should continue if the economics stack up and demand exists - and I am sure that demand does exist. It was different and interesting enough to make it worthwhile and provides an alternative to mainstream real ale festivals for those whose boat is best floated that way.  That can't be bad surely?  I mentioned getting it right. I doubt that there are many in the craft beer world that understand their audience better than Port St Beer House.  They pulled off a good show by understanding their potential customers and putting the hard work in to make it a reality. Well done them.

Finally, choice is a good thing, but how it is offered is surely up to those that organise such things.   Let's just let beer festivals do it their way.  Their audience and their risk after all.

* You got a free glass and two beer tokens as part of admission.  Tokens were £10 for 11

My "What the HELL is craft beer?" bit will be coming next.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Must Get Out More

I'm a pub man as my readers know. I love the social interaction and the variety that the pub brings, quite possibly over the variety of beer that is available.  Like most people though, I'm a creature of habit. I tend to go to roughly the same places by and large, unless I'm in a strange town.  Funnily enough, though it is in the strange and seldom visited pub that you renew that connection with the randomness that is pub denizens, rather than in your own cosy local, where the assembled oddballs are comforting, though quite possibly, alarming to the outsider.

Yesterday I met an old mate in Manchester for an hour as he and his wife passed through.  It was in a pub near the main railway station that I visit now and then when I get a train. While waiting, an old guy came up to me and asked "What day is it?".  Tuesday I replied confidently.  "And what date?"  Aha. He had me there. Now that I'm retired dates have little daily significance.  My various electronic devices provide me with them. Dates are on a need to know basis for me now.  I consulted my phone and told him. "9th October."  Off he went. Some minutes later he was back with a scrap of paper on which he'd written his newly acquired information.  He presented it to me. "Check that for me will you?".  Priceless stuff which makes a nice little anecdote.

Today I'm off to Ironbridge and tomorrow Shrewsbury. Me and three old friends go off every year on such a journey.  I have written about some of it in this blog.  I'm glad about going to Ironbridge. We've been before quite a few times and as I always regard the Black Country in particular ,as a crucible, not just of the Industrial Revolution, but of good pubs, I'm looking forward to it.  Shrewsbury is a great place to drink too. It's another old haunt, but I'm sure that we'll find new places on the way.

I hope to have more anecdotes for you, but even if I don't, I'm going to the pub in a big way over the next three days. How good is that?

For those awaiting my post on the IndymanBeerCon. Next week. My verdict.

Friday, 5 October 2012

England Expects

The day of glory has arrived, to borrow, paraphrase and badly translate a line from the French National Anthem.  Independent Manchester Beer Convention takes place this weekend.  It is fair to say it has caught the imagination of many that live in the beer bubble and hopefully of many that don't. I can't recall seeing so many geeks in a tizzy of excitement.  This is for them.  The answer to the question, the holy ground.  A beer festival that mixes cask and keg and adds more in between. 

There has been lots of pressure from a limited section of beer folks for CAMRA to change its policy on no keg at its beer festivals, but why should they.? As has been said often, the clue is in the name.  If today and tomorrow succeeds though, it provides a way forward where both sides of the argument can have their way. It is a big beer world out there. One size doesn't fit all, but the answer for me has always been that those that want change should instigate it either through CAMRA's democratic processes - or just plain rules if that suits you better - or, more practically, get off their collective arses and do it themselves, which is exactly what the Port Street Beer House gang has done in organising and superbly publicising this event.  They know what they are doing, so that's a great start.

I expect this to be a very geeky do, but like CAMRA, those that support craft keg have to open their world up too. Instead of the neat beard, just too small clothes brigade, I hope to see a broad section of the beer drinking public there.  I am looking forward to drinks stands staffed by brewers and their teams. I like that.  I hardly subscribe to the "brewers are gods" theory of things, but having someone that brewed, or is involved in the beer production there to talk to and serve you is fantastically interesting. Reading t'interweb, anyone who is anyone will be going. That's great too. Beer bores to some, but to another beer bore like me, an ideal set of  drinking companions. Even an old cynic like me feels rather excited, so I'll be there as one of the turns later on this evening.  I'll be discussing craft beer with a lofty panel of experts.  Maybe though this will put to bed some of these arguments too.  I doubt that. There is no answer, though I'll expound my theories at half past eight tonight.  If I'm still sober that is.

Commentators on Twitter and elsewhere have placed a huge weight of expectation on the organisers, not only to deliver something enjoyable, but some different and ground breaking.  You know what? I think they just might.

Looking forward to meeting friends old and new tonight.  I do have some you know.  E is coming as my minder, so that's great too. She likes an hour out.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Crafted by Marstons

I don't do tasting notes that much as most of my readers will know. In fact I rarely read that thoroughly the blogs of those that solely do,  with the exception of the Beer Nut, as he is one of the few that does it in an interesting way and whose palate seems up to the job. (That is it sometimes concurs with mine.)  What I do do though, is make occasional recommendations.

Last night I had four different beers, all golden and all pretty damn good in their way.  I know that golden beers get a fair bit of stick, but I like them and when done properly, they make drinking a pleasure.  (Drinking should be a pleasure by the way, not an ordeal of sipping and trying to make the best out of a mass of conflicting ingredients.) But I digress. Phoenix Pale Moonlight was clear, citrussy and dry.  Roosters Cogburn (geddit?) was rather grainy and husky, but once my palate had adapted, easy to drink though, as I often find with Roosters, a touch under conditioned.  These were tried in the Flying Horse in Rochdale, a Good Beer Guide pub and well deserved too on this showing.

These were horse's dovers though. The main meal as it were was served up in the Regal Moon, another GBG entry and where I met the lads (OK my fellow geriatrics).  Ossett Silver King is an old friend and was distinctive, full bodied and lemony hoppy.  Lager malt is used and the beer was so polished that you could see my mates ugly mugs through it. Dave, who works in the chemical industry said that its turbidity measurement looked pretty near zero. This is astonishingly clear in layman's terms, so would not count as good beer to some murky beer lovers.  Dave himself had started on Marston's Citra. He liked it, but found the grapefruit flavours a little overpowering, so switched to Silver King. I picked up the challenge.  I thought it a delight.  No holding back on the hopping, this Wolverhampton brewed beer showed the Citra hop off well. It had the full gamut of flavours from peach through to grapefruit and all tropical points between.  It wasn't perfumey though, but had just the right amount of bitterness and was full bodied and easy drinking.  Pin bright too. To me it was the beer of the night against pretty stiff opposition. Well done Marstons and of course the Regal Moon for serving the beers in top condition.

So there you have it. Three and a half recommendations, all golden, all hoppy and all with that most elusive of attributes, drinkability. That is if you actually want to drink beer, rather than sip it.

Citra was craft brewed at the Wolverhampton (Banks) Brewery. See here for further details.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Cask IS Craft

Well it is if you believe beer geeks that read this blog.  My poll about whether cask beer can be considered craft is over and the results aren't that surprising.  Of course, like all polls, some didn't like the questions and suggested that different questions should have been asked.   If I'd thought about it at the time, would have included one suggestion - "that there is no such thing as craft, it's just a marketing term."

So what did the voters say?  A respectable 130 voted. Only two brave souls (1%) agreed with the proposition that craft beer comes in bottles and kegs/keykegs.  That is a little surprising, as actually, I think a very good case can be made for postulating that when people think of craft beer, that's usually what is conjured up in their mind's eye.  Of course, my readers being a sophisticated lot, saw through that and most (83%) thought that cask could be, or indeed is, craft beer.  The majority within that group thought it depended on "who, where and how" which is interesting.

What conclusions can one draw from this?  Firstly that real ale, to most minds at least, is or can be craft beer. Secondly, that what for example BrewDog calls craft (keg) may well be, but then again, so would the cask beers they made before, which they subsequently abandoned as part of their "craft revolution".  Thirdly and most importantly I venture, is that since people largely thought that cask is craft "depending on who brewed it, where and how, there is a fair degree of  "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it". For my part, I'm tempted to come to the conclusion that craft beer is actually just "beer I approve of" and including cask is done more as a sitting on the fence, politically correct sort of thing, while actually associating "craft" in their mind more with keg and fancy bottles.

Like many though, I think that I'm tiring of the subject a bit, though I have to admit that airing it is usually fun. Inconclusive fun, but fun nonetheless.  No doubt the debate will rage on, not least at IndymanBeerCon in Manchester on Friday, where I'm on a panel to discuss it with, among others, BrewDog James.  Now he clearly thinks that craft is keg and that cask isn't and you know, in differentiation terms, I might well agree with him.  In quality terms, I certainly don't.

So there's a bit of my take for Friday. Craft is at least partly a marketing term to differentiate new keg from traditional cask beer and from other discredited "old" keg beers. Bit like New Labour was termed to set aside Old Labour.

Of course none of this covers the important fact that increasingly the term "craft" is being hi-jacked by bigger breweries, thus muddying the already muddy waters even more.