Friday, 28 September 2012

Who wants a unified theory of beer?

Years ago I used to earn a few quid (a very few quid) by proof-reading book manuscripts from an esoteric publishing house in Dorset. One of the books I seem to remember posited a grand unified theory of everything that not only brought in science but also spirituality and otherworldy happenings. Apparently this was a bit of a Holy Grail in the New Age community — sort of like Stephen Hawkings and ghost stories and levitation all in one. 

When I hear figures high up in the beer marketing industry talk in similarly swivel eyed evangelic tones, I guess I am hearing pleas for a unified theory of beer — it’s all beer and we must support it all to beat off the big bad wolf of tax, neo-prohibitionists, wine drinkers and the nanny state. There is no such thing as bad beer. I beg to differ. Yes there is and it’s not just those beers with sweetcorn on the nose. There are cask beers I regard as poor, while some craft keg can come across as chilled hop juice. However, bad beer or not it’s up to people to make their choice. I won’t be looking in through the windows of their homes and pulling a face at them. 

The upcoming Independent Manchester Beer Convention is one of the most exciting beer events for ages (and sadly I cannot make it). However, looking at the beer list, if it were embracing a unified theory of beer, the convention would also be selling John Smith, Carling, Newcastle Brown Ale, the usual suspects of cask beer and remaindered bottles of Animee, which it isn’t. I hope that the convention will kick off a new model of beer festival (operating in tandem with the more conventional ones), and it also has a pleasing and refreshing bias in the beers it has picked. No unified theory of beer here and rightly so.

And while I’m in beer philosophy mode, my only comment on how to define what craft beer is: it’s like defining love. You know when you’re in love, you don’t need a guide or guides to tell you so. I know that London Pride isn’t craft (which doesn’t mean it’s bad), but the Past Masters series is, while every new brewery that claims to be craft isn’t but some might just be. 


  1. Good point that the 'inclusive' beer festivals are in fact quite rightly exclusive. Saying that that Pride isn't craft but Past Masters is just reinforces for me that craft beer is a pretty meaningless term though.

  2. Judging by the beer list, for Indy Man Beer Con it means "hoppy beer with New World hops made by a brewery that's existed for less than five years".

  3. Ed — I think it does have meaning but I think it’s hopeless to try and pin it down, I like the idea of it meaning whatever you want it to mean
    Barm — and why not, there’s room for all

  4. I think in 20 years time we'll look back at the cask/keg split and see it as ridiculous a reason for an ideological dispute as dark beer vs light beer. Some people will prefer one style, some people will prefer another, most people will enjoy both depending upon their mood. Pubs that wish to be successful will provide good examples of both. CAMRA will either have become the more open-minded institution many of their members would like them to be, or will have faded into obscurity.

  5. I drink in a pub that serves John Smiths, Peroni, Pedigree, assorted microbrewer casks, Summer Wine keg, 'real' cider and bottles of Desperados.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the landlord turns out to be a lizard.