| Beer, Brewing, Craft Beer

Let’s Make Craft Beer Great Again

It may look like the golden years of the craft beer boom are over. But this is not the time to give up. It’s the time to remember why we’re here in the first place.

The bad news just keeps on coming. For as long as we can remember now, every day seems to bring more news of UK breweries that are closing or in trouble. Sometimes it’s someone you’ve never heard of. Other times, it’s someone you thought was too big, too popular to fail.

Among those who are still here, it’s very much survival mode. When I wrote the first Sheffield Beer Report in 2016, the city’s brewers were tiny, but two-thirds said they were planning expansion and investment in the near future. When we asked the same question this year, the response was “Are you fucking kidding?” Whatever cash reserves brewers once had are gone. For many, it’s a question of just hanging on until some unspecified scenario causes things to improve.

The problems facing small brewers are many. But they can be simplified to a sickening Catch-22: costs of production are soaring, so brewers need to either put up their prices or sell a lot more beer to remain profitable. But they can’t sell more beer because their routes to market are increasingly tied up by big corporations. And this means they can’t put their prices up because they have to discount their beer to compete for limited available spaces on the bar. The bar in turn has to buy on price because drinkers are themselves facing a cost of living crisis, which means they’re spending less in pubs and bars.

One by-product of all this is that the sheer energy and joy that once characterised craft beer is no longer the spirit that defines it. It is still there, in tap rooms and at festivals, but it’s slightly jaded. The naïve sense of adventure seems to have gone.

You could say the industry has matured. You could say it needed to. But it’s also in danger of losing what made it exciting in the first place.

As a humble writer, I can’t do much about routes to market and raw material costs. But maybe I can offer some context and commentary that might prove useful.

There’s a new generation in craft brewing now – drinkers, brewery workers, commentators – who don’t remember what it was like before all this happened. I’m conscious that, being older, I can develop a tendency to dismiss new things (I’m just not that keen on hazy, juicy pales, OK? Or brioche buns being used for bacon rolls. And I accept that some of that is my problem.) But at the same time, some younger people can reflexively dismiss anything that came before their time, and that’s at least as problematic. (Last year I was talking with a talented brewer who not only said that all IPAs are hazy, and that a clear beer cannot be an IPA, but that it had always been thus. He simply denied the existence of the clear IPAs we were all drinking until about twelve years ago.)

These people don’t remember what it was like before the craft beer boom – they were too young. So let’s look at the current situation with a bit of longer-term context.

For decades, beer and brewing weren’t interesting to anyone beyond people who worked in the industry (and not always then) and a handful of hobbyists. I began working in the industry as a strategist helping to create ad campaigns for Stella Artois and Heineken. Back then, many of my clients couldn’t tell you what beer was made of, what hops were, what the difference between ale and lager was, or the history of their beers. They said no one wanted beer to have flavour or character. They said people “drank the advertising.” They said beer was “fuel” for 18-34-year-old men on a big night out. And that was it. Oh, there was the Campaign for Real Ale, but they were all really old (i.e. over 40), set in their ways and fuddy-duddy, so there was no point talking to them. They said.

Every few years there’d be a pink beer aimed at women, with pictures of stilettos or jewellery on the label, and it would fail just as spectacularly as the last one.

The situation for good, flavourful, interesting beer back then was a lot worse then than it is now.

I started writing about beer instead of making ads because I thought my Big Beer clients were wrong. People were becoming more interested in flavourful food and drink, more curious about where it came from and who made it. I simply didn’t believe that this could apply across every single aspect of food and drink except beer.

And I was right. The introduction of progressive beer duty in 2002 created an explosion of small brewers. Then a few of us discovered American craft beer. Eventually, brewers such as Thornbridge, Dark Star and Roosters began experimenting with American hops, and reinterpreting American takes on traditional British beer styles, such as IPA, stout and brown ale, in a friendly game of transatlantic craft-brewing tennis.

This all came with a culture of openness, idealism and joyful optimism. We were a small community, and most people knew each other. People who met online would meet up IRL for “Twiss-ups.” We’d travel miles for the opening of a new craft beer bar. Beer blogging side-stepped the (still current) near-total blackout of beer reporting in mainstream media, to document the scene in real time as it evolved.

This spirit, this energy and optimism, helped make craft beer attractive to a previously non-beery audience. Mainstream beer had become something you bought on price, by the slab, from the supermarket. But within a few years, beer was cool again. It was new and exciting. It captured the public imagination. Its cultural value – which had always been there – was finally recognised.

Maybe I’m just out of touch these days, but it feels like this spirit has been lost. We seem to talk so much about the issues and problems in the industry, the gossip and scandal, the bad practice and culture, who’s gone under and who’s been bought out, that there isn’t much time for talking about the joy of beer and brewing and drinking.

Things are still way better now then they were back in the day. I still believe that craft beer has the potential to grow further if it remains interesting and fun. So if you are feeling jaded and wondering where to go, I’d like to offer some prompts to rediscovering creativity and joy.  

  • Remember why you got into this in the first place. What was the beer that made you go crazy about beer? What made you give up your old job or hobby for this one? Is that beer still around? Have you had it recently? How did it make you feel? What ideas did it inspire? Who did you share it with? If you had forgotten about this until now, write it down now and capture it. Because if you see someone drinking Madri and they seem to be having more fun than you, maybe you’ve lost your way.
  • Look to home brewers for inspiration. Ever since the first days of the North American craft-brewing revolution, home brewers have brewed the styles they yearn for but can’t get hold of commercially. This is how modern craft beer started. Today, it’s fascinating to judge home brews in competition, because if the beer isn’t everything the brewer wants it to be, they don’t send it in, so the standard of beers that do make it to the competition is very high. I’ve judged a couple of home brew competitions in Continental Europe recently, and they’re increasingly interested in traditional British ale styles. Partly they’re looking for session-strength beers, but with some interesting flavours. But is there something else behind it too? What will they look to next?
  • Remember you’re allowed to like more than one thing. Increasingly, social discourse is binary. Short attention spans reward constructs like, “Are you Team A or Team B?” “This random thing: good or bad?” The world isn’t like that. Not all big brewers are awful and not all small brewers are good. Mild doesn’t have to be either the coolest thing going or utterly irrelevant. You can enjoy both cask and keg, craft and macro, Batham’s Bitter and Vault City 24k Maple Caramel Carrot Cake. Drinkers do. Be more pluralistic. Less binary.
  • If you’re a brewer, read a book. It doesn’t have to be one of mine (but it would be nice if it was.) But books take a long, broad view, stepping back and taking things in. They reveal history and explain things. The best compliment I get as a writer from brewers is “You made me want to do this” or “You reminded me why I do it.” Maybe inspiration and joy still lurks on the shelves.
  • If you’re a commentator, do a brew day. I understood brewing on an intellectual level for several years before I actually went to a working brewery. It was only then that I truly got it. It’s the aromas – the stomach-rumbling breakfast cereal smell of mashing in, the heady perfume of the hop addition. Even today, after twenty years, any time I’m in a working brewery on brew day it reminds me why I do this, and I grin like a loon.  
  • Try something that’s not on-trend. But don’t do it because it’s not on-trend. It’s not about trying to make dark milds cool again. It’s about brewing and/or drinking a dark mild (or a tripel – please – or a wheat beer, or a saison – remember them?) on its own terms, and asking yourself, have I missed anything here?
  • Answer this question honestly. Why don’t you think of Timothy Taylor Landlord as a Craft Beer? Or Budweiser Budvar? Or Orval? You do? Great! You’re still in touch with what most people out there think of as craft beer. If you don’t – why not? Is it because you don’t rate that particular beer? Or is it because, secretly, your own personal definition of craft beer isn’t about quality and flavour and ingredients and process and intent, but about whether it’s new and it’s got a label with cartoons on it and it’s using this year’s cool new hop? If so, I’m afraid you’re starting to sound a bit like my old Stella and Heineken clients. Craft beer has always been around, even if it hasn’t always been called that. It always will be, in some form.

For my own part, I’m going to search for the good news stories. And when I find them, I’m going to share them. This is me relaunching my blog, after neglecting it for years. It’s Friday. It’s sunny. Let’s go drink something great.



Dave Morton

“if you see someone drinking Madri and they seem to be having more fun than you, maybe you’ve lost your way” – this is so true. My old mate Blonde Rich would drink Fosters Top & Riverdance down Southampton’s London Road. Beer is a social drink first – you can attach history & provenance – but it’s supposed to bring people together for good times.
“Look to home brewers for inspiration” reminds me of a miserable sod – a brewer! – having a go at a homebrewer on a Friday night on Twitter for cutting boil times. I defended the homebrewer. Homebrewers can experiment in ways that would soon bankrupt commercial brewers. Brewers should talk to them exchange experience & ideas.

Justin R.


I was looking back through some old photos the other day, its been quite a journey. I’m still enthused about the Industry, hyped that I now work for a brewery that is actually based on a hop farm, and looking forward to the creative part again after a few years out of the brewery playing with Wholesale and installation tech.

When I started selling craft beer, there were a few brands that stood out, Moor Beer from Somerset at the time was one, Lovibonds from Henley another, I still don’t quite understand why his 69 IPA isn’t regarded better, and Diablo from the much missed Summer Wine were the beers that genuinely matched the beers I drank in Oregon back then when visiting family friends. Beautifully balanced beers with modern hops and well chosen yeast and malt.

Of course, it couldn’t last forever, very quickly bigger Shoutier boys came into the game, Logan Plant being a prime example of that, went very quickly from brewing things like Neck Oil as a tribute ‘Black Country Ale’ to his Grandad in the cellar of Brew and Que to having Heineken brewing Neck Oil as a pale imitation of Nor’Hop in vast quantities. I don’t blame anyone for taking the Multinationals money, and in many ways the dominance of Brewdog in Tesco, the omnipresence of Beavertown on Macro T-Bars across the Country, and the same with Camden Town being slowly blanded to death by AB-Inbev might have created some space for the rest of us to be very briefly seen outside the craft beer ghettos.

I had a conversation the other week that I now look back on as being profoundly depressing, where a chap told me that anything that wasn’t a NEIPA or variant thereof wasn’t relevant to him. What a sad place to be, where only slightly vegetal hop burned murk was due consideration, based solely on nomenclature and appearance. Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliant NEIPA’s about, but a lot of them are deeply ‘meh’.

I went to bed feeling sorry for the guy that he wouldn’t have the introduction to beer that I had, with all of the people whom I’m lucky enough to have shared a beer with as the industry grew and it was easy to meet brewers and founders just by being a moderately good sales monkey from the West Country.

Maybe that doesn’t matter, maybe as you say the guy with a Madri having a good time is luckier than me, but I feel blessed that I have had the exposure to beer that I had before it became obsessed with the Jooooice, now a single style dominates. Lets be honest, Saison never really sold anything like volume, but I was happy that it was there. I like a Saison.

Professor Pie-Tin

Craft breweries mostly fail because their product is the same over-priced, over-hopped shite IPAs.
Imagine pouring all your money into a project where you just shovel in huge amounts of hops to replicate what every other Mumford is doing in their industrial estate micro.
It’s the same with longer-established breweries going down the pan except their product is poorly kept, warm bitters that are just too dull for the modern palate. They haven’t changed since miners would swill anything to get rid of the coal dust after a shift down t’pit.
Between them they also share the same fault of unpredictability. It’s why Guinness has come on leaps and bounds since they got their refrigeration and pour sorted.
And it’s why every single person under the age of 40 in my local tonight will be drinking that, Moretti or keg cider because they know exactly what they’ll be getting.
As an old git I try to stick with the revolving ales but when they get bad as even Landlord often is these days it’s hard going.


Great piece Pete. Would you ever look at the impact of crowdfunding on the craft beer sector as part of your blog? I feel it has allowed many breweries to subsidise their products at the detriment of self-funded brewers and it has a distorting effect on the market. It not something that is ever discussed.

Andrew Bowden

Abbot Ale. 1997. Student union bar. The beer that really made a difference. The beer that immediately clicked and changed what I ordered at the bar forever.

I will happily drink all sorts of beers. And I am a homebrewer and I try to brew all sorts of beers. And whilst I have supped many, many beers since then, few have ever given me quite as much joy as that pint of Abbot Ale.

I think of it quite regularly, sometimes when ending up in a bar where every line is some hazy IPA or juicy sour, or whatever the latest fad is. And where there will be some token thing like Budvar that will end up being my order. For in some bars it can be hard to now find the beer I like because they are always going after the latest trendy fad.

But almost as good as that pint of Abbot Ale is walking in somewhere, looking at the bar and seeing a great variety, smacking your lips in delight and asking for a pint of Dark Mild.


Brooklyn Brown Ale.

I simply didn’t know that beer could – or was even *allowed* – to taste that way.

I never looked back.

Michael Clarke

Anything marketed as “cool” is inevitably cyclical – like ABBA were the definition of uncool in the 80s but are the opposite now. Maybe the same will happen for old-fashioned clear beers with hops added primarily for bitterness?

Maybe more emphasis should be placed on beer education than following the latest fad? Courses and qualifications like Cicerone and the WSET’s newly launched beer qualifications emphasise the rich diversity of international beer styles (with English, Scottish and Irish styles contributing a significant proportion). That may be a way to spark some rejuvenated curiosity?

Tim Dotterweich

OK, so maybe it’s cooled off a bit, and inflation’s had an impact throughout the food & beverage industry, but it still feels like we’re living in the Golden Age of Great Beers. Why complain? There’s always something to enjoy. Cheers.

Jared Ortega

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and hope that more craft beer drinkers read it and are reminded why they made the switch to craft beer. I started seeking out what I considered my classic beers when the haze craze got a litttle out of control for me. My friends thought I was crazy, don’t get me wrong I still seek out and drink new beers. My journey in craft beer began in early 2000 and boy has it been a wonderful experience. Thanks for all you do for the industry .

Danny Wales

An interesting and thought provoking article as always from you Pete, makes me want to go home and read another one of your books I bought en-masse during lockdown!

I’ve had an interesting year where I’ve eschewed ‘craft’ beers moving away from always looking for the next new beer and enjoying some of my favourites more often instead. These have mostly been from medium size brewers and it’s been delight to spend an evening with some bottles of Timothy Taylor or Glamorgan beers. Good quality, tasty beers that can be quaffed with satisfaction.

Going out is harder though as real ale isn’t strong in my area, almost an anomaly compared to neighbouring counties, and Punk IPA, Neck Oil and Camden Pale seem to be the ‘ale’ choice offered if any is present at all.

You’ve once again given us some thoughts to mull over, maybe with a beer after work tonight…

Julia Herz

Pete, MORE of this and so well said. Both homebrewing and craft beer are poised for a long and healthy future as long as the basic core values, tenants of fun, innovation/exploration, good business and quality are kept alive.

Anthony Glassberg

It’s really good to see that you are your restarting your blog, Pete. We’ve really missed your comments, insights, humour and warmth of feeling. Very best wishes, Anthony.


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