Thursday 20 March 2014

Craft in a Box

There have been ructions in Crafty Land in recent times.  Forked by the twin prongs of Wetherspoon's selling Sixpoint in cans and BrewDog promoting their own self-serving definition of "Craft Beer", the Crafties have been opining that Craft Ain't What It Used To Be.

But was "Craft" ever what it supposedly was?  The more self-conscious British microbreweries have taken their cues from The USA's craft scene.  Unfortunately, the typical American definition of a craft brewery would apply to every UK brewer from Greene King downwards.  Not the sort of image Martin Dickie and James Watt would want to promote.

Forget the "shedload of hops and made in buckets" type definitions - "Craft" is not really a style of beer.  It's nothing more or less than a marketing term.  Yes, the BrewDogs of this world want nothing else but your cash.  "Craft" is merely something they have seized upon to relieve you of it.  Needless to say they would be making Temperance Cordials or, god help us, Watney's Red Barrel if they thought they could make more money that way.
"Build Your Own Craft Bar Kit - only £250,000"
The whole Craft scene in the UK is startlingly uniform.  Ever been to a Craft Beer bar? All high stools, slate floors and reclaimed bricks (or in BrewDog's bars case, probably brand new bricks painstakingly chipped and randomly whitewashed to look reclaimed). These are the visual cues that tell you what to expect.  And you're all the better a person for enduring the discomfort for the sake of better beer.

"Craft" beer never was.  There is merely great,  good, ok, crap and awful beer.  The rest is just window dressing.

Friday 7 March 2014

The Honest Opinion

I was in the pub the other day. Surprising, I know.  I was drinking my way as usual through the local microbrewed ales.  Once I got to the end of the pumps, the barman flipped around the (hitherto hidden) far pumpclip to reveal something called "Silver Lining".  It did not look too convincing, being as it was an faded inkjet catridge effort, laminated and roughly cut out.  This was, apparently, the Festival Beer of the Lancaster Beerfest.

"As the pub company's one of the Beerfest's sponsors, we've been told we have to have this on." winced the barman.  "Oh, and Fuzzy Duck have done it."
 Ah, Fuzzy Duck.  If ever there was a less hip Lancashire microbrewer, I have yet to see them.  Not content with the dubious spooneristically named beers, and Syd Little running their pub restaurant in Fleetwood, the damn duck on the pumpclip is, in fact, smooth.  Their beers do very well at Festivals though.  I can imagine someone with next-to-no beer knowledge entering the hall with the programme and being baffled by the choice of 100 ales.  Then his eyes alight on the entry for Fuzzy Duck's beers.  "Cunning Stunt!  Hur hur hur!" he will chuckle to himself, as he rewards himself with a pint of Poulton-le-Fylde's 'finest'.

Anyway, eventually the bloody Silver Lining had to go on, as two of the other beers ran out that afternoon.  I decided to order a pint of it due to lack of better options (to be fair I'd had six pints by now).  I tasted it.  Or at least I would have done if I'd been able to discern any flavour in it.  Full of watery goodness, I thought, as I tried to dispatch it with reasonable haste so as to be able to drink something better.

I was about halfway down when a group of four blokes entered the bar.  These, I was informed, were the organisers of the Lancaster Beerfest, out on the piss and (of course) checking the Festival Beer was being served.

"Anyone tried it, yet?" one of them asked.  The barmaid, well-meaning soul she is, pointed towards me.  "He ordered one a few minutes ago.".  Hmm.  Thanks.

"How are you finding it?" enquired Mr. Beerfest of me.  Well, I took a deep breath and gave (to my slight regret) My Honest Opinion.  "Well, I'm guessing I'm not really your market for this kind of beer.  I'm more into this stuff <pointing at the Hawkshead IPA>.  It's not horrible beer by any means, it's just that I prefer my beer with a bit more oomph.".

Mr Beerfest slunk away without reply.  "I think you've hurt his feelings" said the barmaid, just to make me feel better.  "But he did ask me what I thought, right?  And if you don't want to risk hearing something you don't like, then you shouldn't ask the question."  She didn't reply, but simply looked doubtful.

Was I wrong?  I tried my best.  I could have said "This beer is crap and I'm trying to finish it as quickly as possible.  I gave it a chance, but found it severely wanting".  But no, I tried to be diplomatic about it.  And anyway, it's not as if Mr. Beerfest brewed the beer himself.

So, should you really give Your Honest Opinion when asked by someone whether you think their beer is any good or not?  Answers on a postcard.  Or rather the comments section below.