I've swapped a few emails recently with Stan Hieronymous. He's reviewing a few books for 'All About Beer' magazine, including '500 Beers'. I'd been fairly frank in my discussion of a few things relating to the book, and he's extracted a few bits of the emails for inclusion in the article. One of these is the sentence "Beer's future rests on cultivating those curious amateurs, and, in the UK at least, home drinkers". When I saw it, I thought that it would likely provoke some interesting discussion.
A week rarely passes without being asked "is this an ale or a bitter?" or "is this a lager or a beer?". There's clearly still a lot of work to do at ground level in terms of education, and it's pretty clear where this education will happen. I'd argue that it's the job of specialist retailers to answer those questions, and educate people to the differences. the offering of even a great pub or bar is outstripped by the offering of even an average beer off-licence. The beer-curious could always look up information on the web, of course, but there's no substitute for spending 10 minutes with someone who really knows their stuff.
And what of my assertion that beer's future lies in cultivating home drinkers? Well, I certainly believe it, and although cask ale is best enjoyed in a pub (and let's not forget, it's the only on-trade beer sector in growth at present), and must surely be about to reclaim it's place as one of the UK's great foodie treasures, the offering on a good bar is limited. But as people learn more about beer, their curiosity will grow and their heads will be turned to the pleasures of bottled beer.
Here's the final paragraph of my column for the next issue of Off Licence News. I was hoping it might raise some interesting points for discussion:
"I think (and sincerely hope) that beer is about to undergo the same renaissance (or, given that it wasn't actually a rebirth, we might have to call it a 'naissance') that wine had in the 1980s. This decade was the one that really created wine as the thing to drink, at home and in public. It resulted in the creation of the wine bar in the UK, and shoved beer from the national consciousness. And crucially, this was a pleasure that you could enjoy at home. The last couple of decades has, for various reasons, seen a growth in home drinking and entertaining, and I think that coupled with the rise of interest in provenance and quality of food, the same is going to happen to drink. It's not going to happen to cocktails - they rely on the theatre of the serve - it's going to happen to our forgotten national treasure: Beer"
[Note: This post has had a re-write overnight - I hope the spirit of the original is still in place]