It started off odd, like a beer that tastes OK at first, then has something nagging that attracts your attention, and on the second and third sips, starts to reveal something badly wrong. Suddenly it all got legal. Then, it got nasty.
When I write stuff for the consumer press about beer, I stick to the line – which I believe on good days, when the medication is working – that there’s never been a better time to be a beer drinker. More brewers, more styles, more experimentation and inventiveness…
And whatever your views on big brewers trying to muscle in on craft, their intense interest proves that the old paradigm – that drinkers just want cold, fizzy suds and are scared of flavour – has been shattered.
When I write for the consumer press, the narrative is that ‘we’ – the people who read and write about beer, the sad minority who were often ridiculed until a few brief years ago – have won. We’ve done it. We – the brewers, the drinkers, the advocates, the aficionados, the fans, the proselytisers, the people who care – have managed to reposition good beer as something that is worth the average, non-beery person having a look at.
I’ve always said that the discourse around beer is happening in a bubble. Bloggers say shit about brewers and brewers worry about it; brewers say shit about beer and bloggers debate it; people wirrit away about big questions of style and definition; and it all takes place in a bubble outside which most people – most beer drinkers – are completely unaware of the discourse, and wouldn’t be interested in it if they were.
Then, in the last two years, the bubble has expanded. Non-beery mates started talking about what hop varieties they prefer. Old, traditional brewers started experimenting with new techniques and ingredients. My wife’s friends, increasingly, started to order beer by default in the pub rather than wine.
Everything was awesome.
But of course, it wasn’t really. Just like in the film.
Success makes people uneasy. Remove the easily identifiable enemy, and people become unsure what they’re fighting for, or against.
And so as soon as 2014’s Christmas hangover wore off, we turned on each other like a pack of starved, neurotic, Stella-drunk piranhas.
The sexism in beer thing needed to come to a head, but it seems to have had the effect of bringing sexist dickheads out from under their rocks for one final hurrah. Craft beer delegates organise events in strip clubs, while America’s biggest beer brand goes out with labels that fall into an uncomfortably rapey narrative. People insisting that “it’s all a bit of fun” show a distinct lack of humour and launch menacing attacks on those who call out their neanderthal attitudes. (Sorry, that’s an insult to neanderthals.)
Everyone got litigious, suing each other over degrees of similarity and pinhead dances about the difference between a style or description and a trademarked name.
New breweries are criticised for having widespread support when they launch, or for being good at promoting themselves, or just for being new. Older breweries are criticised for being older or bigger, or for being so good at what they do that they become commercially successful and grow.
And the fucking definition of craft beer debate lumbers on like a zombie, eating the brains of talented people who could otherwise be writing something inspirational, or at least interesting.
I count myself highly among the sinners. We’re all guilty.
The tipping point for this rant was the 43rd article I’ve read this week about the lawsuit against Molson Coors for their crime of calling Blue Moon a craft beer. Or maybe it was the 65th thing I’ve read about the dickhead American brewer who thinks it’s cool to peddle sexist shit because it’s all meant to be a laugh. I’m drunk, and I can’t really remember.
But this nasty, unpleasant, navel-gazing, paranoid, defeatist, frightened, hostile discourse is putting me off my beer.
It’s tedious. It’s boring. It’s negative. It’s against all that I love about beer.
Astonishingly, given that I’ve criticised CAMRA so often on this blog, they suddenly sound like a breath of fresh air, having passed motions that start to move the campaign into the twenty-first century. Moaning craft beer twats now sound more like flat-earth CAMRA twats that flat-earth CAMRA twats do.
My new beer book – one of three I’m currently writing – is about hops, barley, yeast and water. It’s returned me to a purer, distilled form of what I love about beer, and why I first started writing about it. It has me visiting hop gardens and maltings, thinking about the miracle of fermentation and attempting to find new ways of articulating what makes beer so special. I love working on it.
And then I keep making the mistake of checking out my Twitter feed or Facebook, and feel like the hop gardens have been ploughed up by orcs, like Sam’s vision of the shire when he peers into Galadriel’s pool.
I often comment on industry stuff, and I apologise for my part in perpetuating these negative, reductive debates. Shit needs to get called out. But can we please all try to remember that it’s beer? It’s just beer. Trivial and by-the-by. Beer, the simple liquid that’s capable of transforming meals, social occasions, friendships, perspectives on reality.
Cold we please have some conversations about beer that reflect what an utterly wonderful place beer is in right now?
Thank you. As you were. I am now going to finish the extra pint of Peroni which I probably didn’t need.