Sunday, 6 November 2011

The obvious divides in brewing

This is subject that's been blogged about a fair few times. Dredgy gave a good overview here and In my time I've realised that the brewing industry and the consumers supporting it are an opinionated bunch. I've heard plenty of old blokes go on about how beer was so much better back in the 1950s, and read plenty of hype supporting crazy new world inventions of the brewing revolution. I've seen plenty of new world IPAs cast aside as over hopped, over hyped or too extreme and plenty of old school brown bitters called just boring. Many people have been under the impression that I back one side or the other but really I'm not on the fence, but back both. Here's what I think;

In one corner: The old school brewing traditions.

Things I like about it;

It gave us classic best bitters, pale ales, Belgian strong ales, pilsners and Barley wines. The templates for virtually every beer in existance. Old school brewing doesn't try and re-invent itself, it's about quality, consistency and usually, simplicity. I love brewing simple beers. Daleside Bitter was always easy peasy and Mordue Workie Ticket is a bundle of joy. Crystal malt and English hops are as compatable as ham and pease pudding.

Things I dislike about it;

Ok, even though it sounds wrong I have to say it. Image is a bit of a problem here. Traditional old pump clips and a thousand and one products that all taste more or less the same triggers nothing but old fashioned perceptions of beer and a stagnating beer scene. It's been blogged about many a time but many small breweries have had the tendency to follow the heard.

That's not to say in twenty years' time when everyone's drinking high octane kegged IPAs and Imperial Porters the next big thing could be cask conditioned pint of mild.

I also have a grudge about a lot of supermarket bottled ales. A 3.8% traditional bitter can be delicious, but after it's been forced through a filter, pasturized and force carbonated it loses more than a lot of that subtle character and becomes something else. The word 'bland' comes to mind. These bottled products don't win the craft brewing industry any fans, even if the cask versions might.

In the other corner: The new wave radical brewers.

Things I like about it;

Big hops, oxmoronic beer, crazy ingredients, edgy fonts on labels, lets get some attention. The brewing revolution is more than just evolving existing beer styles. For the outside its about changing the perceptions and stigmas associated with beer. For the insider its about capturing the imagination and expanding product diversity. Basically radical brewing encaptures just about everything that's new and exciting in the beer world.

Things I dislike about it;

Dangerous territory here as a lot of bloggers reading this may disown me. But truthfully, I have pondered over the odd over hyped beer and thought I'd rather just be down the pub drinking bitter 'x' from brewery 'x'. Are extreme beer just too extreme? For me, sometimes, but the majority of double IPAs, imperial porters and oak aged barley wines are great in small doses.

On thing I have realised is that at times I have found the whole craft beer movement/revoultion in the UK to get a tad arrogant. This can be towards anything mainstream or traditional in the industry. Beer geeks who take this stance generally come across as beer snobs whose attitude ends up deterring people from trying new beers.

So there we have it, my take on it all. The question is can a happy medium be found between the two ideologies in the modern brewing industry? I would like to think so, and from what I've seen not many British brewers strictly back one side or the other. Most upstart brewers from the 80s and 90s started out with a range of traditional products but are now branching out to new ideas.


Bailey said...

Interesting point re: supermarket bottled beers. Like a lot of people, they were one of the places where our early experimenting began -- they're cheap, have attractive labels, and are easy to find. It's the odd gem amongst the blandness that tips you off to the possibilities of what's out there. We could tell that bottled Fuller's ESB, Summer Lightning, 1845, Brakspear Triple, Coniston Bluebird had something, say, Badger Fursty Ferret didn't.

We've said before that big beers (extreme, if you like) are good at winning converts because they give a great big Tango slap round the face to those just getting into beer. When we had our first Yeti Imperial Stout, it was like the last 20 minutes of 2OO1: A Space Odyssey. We rarely go to the pub for four hours and drink several in a row, though....

That's where the middle ground comes in. St Austell Proper Job (easy to get down here) is characterful, fairly intense, and a bit stronger than average, but it's still possible to drink several in a session. Tribute too, for that matter. (Orange-amber, US hops, munich-style malt -- that's an interesting beer!)

Erlangernick said...

So where do the fabulous new breed of brewers like Mallinsons fit in this scheme then? Their beers appear to be neither boring brown bitter nor 3XTR33M3 sour-coffee-pinot/bourbon-barrel-aged 13% monstrosities either. Traditionally cask-conditioned but with new approaches to session beers -- trans-Atlantic half-IPAs as we're calling them these days.

Charles said...

Great article. I think there is a place for BOTH of them. I really love a good simple well done mild. I like having a stock of them in the fridge. I don't really get super excited about it, but is a classic.

The big crazy beers, I agree with you 100%. There are lots that are WAY over hyped. I like double IPAs and imp porters but, for the most part anyway, small doses (4oz pour, or 1 pint at most) is the way to go!

Rob said...

Bailey and Eriangernick: Like I say most current UK breweries tend to take influence from both ends of the spectrum. Tho I should have emphasised this a bit more.

Tho a lot of beers still fall heavily in one catagory or the other.

Charles: Glad you agree... Tho I wouldn't personally put mild in the fridge.

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