Social Media Buttons

Description

WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

What's new?

What's new?
New beer and music events added for Brighton - click here to book.
The possible rebirth of the British hop industry? My latest Publican's Morning Advertiser column
The 2014 Cask Report is out now. Click here to download.
>

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Will 'craft' change beer for good?

Guys from Five Points took this at the previous, shorter Masterclass.

There's something deeply wrong when you have to set the alarm on a Sunday morning and be out of the door by half past eight. 

But you wouldn't do it if it wasn't also the sign of something being very right.

At a time when I would normally be contemplating a long bath and a fry-up, last Sunday I was giving the introductory presentation at a 'Masterclass' on 'How to launch an independent brewery' being held by the Guardian in their north London offices. The event was a sell-out: a hundred people had paid £99 each and given up their Sunday to hear me followed by a succession of brewers and publicans, including people from Beavertown, Five Points, Burning Sky, Harbour Brewing and Pressure Drop talk about the perils and pitfalls of jacking in the day job to make beer.

I had been concerned that my own presentation erred on the negative side, and through the day the brewers' presentations seemed to focus on lists of things you had to think about and be careful of, and constant reminders that opening a brewery was not a route to riches. And yet on Twitter (#indiebrewery) and at drinks afterwards (which continued at the excellent and new-to-me Queen's Head pub in Kings Cross, who's guv'nor was another of the speakers) people said they had found it inspiring and motivating. Clearly an audience consisting mainly of home brewers who want to spend more time on that and less time in their current jobs were not going to be put off by the idea that this was hard work. They'd all given up their Sundays too. Most had come from outside London. I even spoke to people who are about to open breweries in Spain, Italy and Germany who had come along for tips.

The momentum around beer and brewing, the sense that we are in the middle of the best time in living memory to enjoy a decent beer, was palpable. I kicked off my presentation with this tweet, from someone reading my first book, which is now eleven years in print:


Things have changed beyond recognition, beyond hope, since I wrote that chapter. 

Against this, the questions that were asked most often were: "How long can this go on?" and "Will the bubble burst?" 

Entirely understandable if you are considering jumping off a career ladder and spending your savings on a brewery.

The bubble question is being asked with increasing frequency inside the craft beer movement. One of my slides on Sunday pointed out that in the last ten years, the number of breweries in the UK has more than doubled, while the total volume size of the beer market has collapsed by 23%. Craft beer is focused more towards the on-trade in Britain, and yet each week, on average two new breweries open for business while 28 pubs close for good.

And yet in the UK, real ale and other formats of craft beer together account for only 18% of the total beer market. The mass volume is still in mainstream, mass-produced commercial brands, and probably always will be. But it's those brands that are suffering the most, those corporations that see craft beer as a threat - or maybe an opportunity.

I don't know what's going to happen. No one does. But a follow-up question that helps determine the future prognosis is this: is the taste for craft beer (and if the definition of craft is still bothering you, forget that word and just use 'interesting, flavourful beer' instead) a fad, or more than that?

In my presentation, I had a slide saying 'Craft beer is a movement', which this picture on it:


This is from when a bunch of brewers went to BrewDog to make a whole host of collaborative beers that then formed 'Collabfest', where jointly made, jointly branded products were sold across BrewDog bars. 

When I looked at the slide while I was rehearsing my presentation, it made me wonder what I was going to say over it. I always use the words 'movement' and 'revolution' to describe what's happening in beer now. They are big, juicy, dramatic words. Am I right to use them? 

Other people talk about the craft beer 'fad'. Interestingly, the only people I have heard use this term are working for large brewing companies. (They are inevitably framing craft beer as an east London hipster thing, which is a whole other argument. Brewers such as BrewDog near Aberdeen, Thornbridge in Derbyshire, Dark Star just outside Brighton, Marble in Manchester and Moor Beer in Somerset, and bars like the North Bar in Leeds, the Bridge Bier Huis in Burnley, the Devonshire Cat in Sheffield, the Snowdrop Inn in Lewes and countless others up and down the country, who have been making and selling craft beer since Daltson's hipsters were drinking shandy, may feel justifiably aggrieved at that.)

So what's the difference between a fad and a revolution? Both, eventually, run out of steam. The momentum, the velocity of great beer certainly can't carry on at its current rate indefinitely.

I think the difference is that a fad comes and goes, and when it's gone, it's forgotten by everyone apart from Peter Kay, Stuart Maconie and Barry Shitpeas. It hasn't changed anything, or left any meaningful legacy.

When a revolution happens, it changes things for ever. The repercussions of a movement are felt long after it has disbanded. And whether or not the bubble bursts, whether or not there's a shakeout, consolidation or contraction in the number of people making beer in Britain, I simply can't imagine that the beer scene will go back to how it was when I wrote the megabrands chapter in Man Walks into a Pub

I can't imagine that people like Beavertown's Logan Plant or Lovibond's Jeff Rosenmeier will fail as brewers, or get bored of it and walk away. BrewDog, Thornbridge, Meantime, Camden, Magic Rock, Marble, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams and Stone are not going to go bust, or suddenly start making pissy lager to stay in business. Yes, some will sell out to bigger companies at some point. But they've helped a lot of people discover a taste for beer they never knew they had. 

Tastes change. You might wake up suddenly one day and say "I'm bored of bold hoppy flavours." But you don't wake up and say, "I'm bored of bold hoppy flavours. I think I'm just going to drink Foster's from now on."

However it evolves, and whoever ends up brewing it, craft beer is here to stay.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

great post Pete and thanks for your great presentation on Sunday.. it certainly was an inspiring day!

Paul Airey said...

Revolution: CAMRA
Fad: Coriander beer

Does that help?

Enjoyed your talk on Sunday morning, thanks!

Curmudgeon said...

I suppose one question is to what extent certain elements of the current "craft beer scene" will end up being assimilated into the mainstream - in the same way that golden ales and world lagers have been - or whether constantly searching for something new will become the mainstream.

Clamberskull said...

Bold flavorsome beers are definitely here to stay. I used to look to Belgium for these but with the arrival of Brewdog et al we have them on our shores too. I don't know what the definition of 'craft' is and to a certain extent I don't really care. The bubble is nowhere near bursting at the moment with bigger breweries seemingly jumping on the bandwagon. I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing as long as it ultimately results in beers with greater depth and flavour more widely available in the mainstream. It does however make me think twice about jacking in the day job and taking the whole homebrewing thing to another level as the competition is becoming so much stiffer. The bigger breweries will never be able to compete with the imagination, passion or flexibility of the smaller artisan brewer but they still have their part to play. Beer writers/blogger such as yourself also have a huge part to play in the revolution and so many things have been achieved so far. There is still a long way to go however and I for one will be enjoying the journey. Long live the revolution!

John Monk said...

I was another person who made the effort and got out of bed early that Sunday morning and ended up listening to a curiously couched yet positive view of where craft brewing is today and where the journey might go. Pete's comments were perceptive and very helpful in setting the tone for what happened during the rest of the day - and the evening over a good selection of beers in the Angel.
Thanks Pete and enjoy your next trip into the Spanish micro brewing scene.

kaiserhog said...

In the States the fad is ongoing for 35 years now. Curmudgeon is right there will be some consolidation, that is capitalism. The bigger trend is likely to remain, however.

DavidS said...

Good post. And I think Mudgie's right - there are a whole bunch of different things currently associated with the "craft beer movement" - eg:
certain styles of beer
bars devoted entirely to certain styles of beer
constant experimentation with new styles of beer
respect for keg, cans etc
smart modern branding
interest from hipsters
strong, pricey "sipping beers"
breweries bringing out a new beer every couple of weeks
small independent breweries
etc
and it'll be interesting over the next few years to see what crosses over into mainstream beer culture (ie corner shops and suburban locals) and what sort of hardcore craft scene keeps going with the rest.

For instance it wouldn't be at all surprising if we got to a point where most pubs have a US style IPA in some form or another ("not my kind of thing, but the young crowd seem to like it..."), but it'd be equally unsurprising if it was often a fairly tame take on the style from a big regional or a multinational beverage giant rather than a mega hop-monster from Weird Beard or someone...

Similarly I'd be surprised if experimentalism and interest in weird and wonderful beer styles dies out entirely (even if the hipsters all start drinking sherry or something), but not surprised if it downsized a bit as more people realize that although they like double IPAs and imperial stouts, they're actually quite happy to stick to a few reliably excellent ones rather than constantly paying a premium for the latest and maybe-or-maybe-not greatest new-this-week from someone like Kernel or Partizan.

Rob Plant said...

The points Curmudgeon and kaiserhog make about entry into the mainstream are key here. The number of new breweries and beers have opened up the drinker's eye to the breadth and depth of choice available in the market.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it's going to be increasingly difficult for the bigger brewers to put him back in. A bit of a daft comparison to illustrate this, but look at the app stores on mobile phones - can you imagine people willingly going back to a time where only Apple/ Microsoft programs/ apps were available for their phones/ pcs?

If we make the assumption that people will continue to want greater choice in the beers they chooser to drink - the question then becomes about the market and how it adapts to greater choice but falling beer volumes. To some extent we've already seen the beginnings of this - with the likes of Black Sheep already having to adapt to increased competition in cask from smaller brewers by beginning to deliver in keg. No doubt there will be other similar movements (perhaps less publicised) from others.

The elephant in the room is PDR. If this is scrapped or amended in any way, then we may suddenly see a large number of small brewers find that their breweries are no longer viable or that prices will need to rise sharply.

There are definitely a few more twists and turns in this tail - but we are most certainly in a golden age for beer.

Anonymous said...

The difference between a fad and a revolution is that a fad is an evolutionary dead end, leaving no discernible trace in the DNA, whereas a revolution provides a launch pad for the survival of the species- like our ancient ancestors leaving the swamp as newt-like creatures to inhabit solid ground. I have a principle that I will always drink new beers wherever I see them. At the Baring Hall Hotel campaigners' celebration (defeated developers plans to raze and replace with flats at planning appeal) in Lewisham last night, there were 7 to choose from- none of which I had sen before. Tasted three, and they were all beautifully brewed, kept and memorable. Hop Daemon Golden Braid, Hastings Brewery Blonde, and Drink Moor Beer So Hop. Only became a fan of real ales four years ago, and feel blessed to have arrived when I did. Vive la Revolution! Dale Ingram.