Wednesday 21 October 2009

Do you want to be in my (beer) gang?

Queues form round the corner for a chance to take home cases of Mad Elf Ale from Tröegs in Pennsylvania every year the beer is released; Meantime bottle special brews that seem to be available solely for CAMRA beer club members (unless you go to the brewery); I along with others received a bottle of an Imperial Fraoch (minty, peppery, spearmint, whiskery, spirited and spicy if you must know) that Joe Public can’t buy; on e-bay a bottle of Zephyr is up for $399 — and now you can pay £230 for the chance to belong to a club, or as has been written here, wear the t-shirt. I am talking about the sly sense of exclusiveness that is seeping through the world of craft beer. Do you want to be in my gang? Is it a good thing, has beer lost its democratic edge? Was its democratic edge just another manifestation of mindless rabble-rousing, the guy in the corner, drunk on god knows what, taking potshots at easy targets — drink Bud, Blue Ribbon, Stella, whatever? Is this what the craft brewing revolution has come to, a freemasonry of various lodges looking uneasily at each other, or will love of good beer overcome any drift towards tribalism? The love of elitism. And what of the wider world? Will commentators in the media (whatever branch) be overwhelmed by this sense of singularity in a world which is usually represented in their pages or on the screen by closing pubs, ‘oh look women drink beer’ featurettes, the very odd shrug on the rising star of cask beer and predictable points scored on the horrendous fashion sense of CAMRA members. As beer becomes more exclusive, but more knowing, more distanced from its ur-source of a refreshing but uncomplicated drink, then it becomes more valuable, changes its character, at least in the minds of many of us — however, as this drive to exclusivity continues, I wonder if it might hinder its growth and its clubbiness put off people who like a beer but don’t consider it their life and deliver them into the arms of whatever drink offers them a alternative and less threatening sense of belonging (maybe beers that are the equivalent of those ads for ‘exclusive’ figurines of Native American warriors looking narky or kittens wearing high heels). A two-tier system of beer appreciation waits perhaps?


  1. So more beer-variety in the market place is somehow causing it to be undemocratic? Also, how is an informed consumer-population less democratic than a passive, dare I say, ignorant consumer base? How does that work?

    The craft beer industry represents exactly that – educated choices, with choice really being paramount. I have no problem with a bud light in my hand, so long as it is the beer that I wanted there and not the only option I have in the market place.

    I’ll never judge a man for making a sandwich with Kraft-singles, so long as I can still make mine with Gouda.

  2. One of my favorite breweries back home in the States is Boulevard. Lately they've been putting out a really exceptional (and expensive) line of 75cl bottles called the Smokestack Series. My favorite among them was the Saison... not tarted up with Brett or fruit or anything, just plain old highly drinkable Saison. I'd hoped it would do well enough to make the jump to six-packs and kegs -- shapes more affordable and fitting for a beer better gulped than just sipped. Instead I learned that they're discontinuing it for another very special Brett beer that will no doubt command a very special price.

    Simple solution if we're annoyed by the precious bottles: stop drinking them.

  3. Beantown — am not criticising so much as commenting on the trend and musing whether craft beer will reach out to Joe Sixpack (whom I presume we all want to see put down the Bud Light and pick up a, say, Terrapin India Style Brown Ale or over here see Carlsberg heads start raving about Herold Dark) when we have a lot of exclusives.
    Joe — I think I was partly motivated by a remembering a story from last year when some brewery — Russian River perhaps — was putting out specials and they were peeved to find them on e-bay. I remember Mark Dorber saying to me once: ‘beer is for drinking’.

  4. Regardless of any issues around democracy, my reaction to lots of limited edition mail-order-only specials is to give up and not bother -- I don't have time to pick them up from the Post Office (nothing every actually gets *delivered*) or to drink them. And there's a slight fear: what if the limited edition beer is the best beer I ever have and they never make it again!?

  5. As long as BrewDog are willing to send me bottles of their most exclusive stuff, I'm happy to drink it and review it!

  6. Knut — what’s the point of reviewing it if no one else can drink it? I can see the point in reviewing it even if it were limited edition and you had to pay 100 quid for the honour, or writing about it as an event, covering it in the context of what the brewery is doing, but a straightforward review of a beer that no one can get reads like lording it over the rest of us mere mortals…