I love beer. It would be right up there with sunshine, cut grass and world peace if i were to write a list of properly brilliant things. So why then, doesn’t the craft beer revolution fill me with bubbles like it ought to? Wasn’t this supposed to be Beer’s big coming of age? The end of warm, one dimensional lager and the reintroduction of delicious hops and malt, a chance to make beer great again?
It seems, however, with all the advent of new brewers and new styles of envelope-pushing beers that getting a decent pint of lager in my trendy little part of east London is getting harder and harder.
The word “craft” when applied to beer, in theory indicates a small scale production by an independent brewery making a product with a bit of love and care although the lack of a formal definition in the UK means that all too often it’s driven by marketing and a desire to be grouped with the “cool crowd”. Craft beer to the average drinker has come to simply mean seriously hoppy with a questionable concept of balance – I’d go so far as to say that at least half of the beers i get to taste these days don’t tick the most essential of beer-drinking-criteria, the promised lands of “i’ll have another one”.
There’s a self-styled craft-beer pub across the road from one of the restaurant’s i work with, where you can have any number of high-strength-small-batch-weird-botanical-locally-made pale ales or milk stouts, but god forbid you fancy a pint of easy-drinking lager after a tough day. At the risk of sounding like a moaning old man, didn’t pubs used to be about the people, conversation and atmosphere rather than the absurd complexity of the beer and the range on offer? My quest for easy drinking, well balanced lager is starting to make me feel like some sort of beer vegan in a world dominated by pints of meaty hops. The worst part of all of this however, is it feels like i’m the only one who’s crying out for something a little, well, easier and less highbrow.
Now, don’t get me wrong, a more educated beer drinker is for the most part a good thing. It’s great that people are starting to appreciate the work and skill that goes into making a decent pint, as well as being increasingly open to trying new styles of beer but when pubs serve 20 different types of increasingly hoppy pale ale and one style of easy-drinking lager, it’s hard not to feel that things have gone a bit too far. If you’ve read some of our other blogs, you’ll know that we are big believers of drinking being fun rather than really hard work and this is the absolute prime-example of that.
Whilst i will alwIys advocate them for the things they do really well, rather than the things they don’t – it shouldn’t take a place like Wetherspoon to get the balance right between the old favourites (looking at you Heineken, you delicious bastard) and introducing a well selected range of craft beers to their menu. I’m aware that the size of the JDW organisation allows for a range and pricing structure which simply isn’t possible or smaller venues, but the beer list has diversity, and that doesn’t cost anything.
I suppose the thing i’m campaigning for in this article is balance. Balance is probably the most important concept in hospitality; whether it’s in your Daiquiri, your pint or the lighting and music in your local pub, it’s balance which makes a good occasion or a good beer list into a great one.
At some point, the craft beer bubble will burst and we’ll be left with the very best of them, the Pale Fires, Kernels and Dead Pony Clubs of this world will take their rightful place on the T-bars next to a delicious pint of Stella and beer will be diverse, delicious and thoroughly great again. When that happens, i also promise to stop calling a beer selection a ‘list’ and go back to “what you got on tap mate?”.
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