Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be Economised

It's the annual awards dinner of the British Guild of Beer Writers this week, which for me is increasingly becoming an anchor point in the year, perhaps more so in beery terms than Christmas, birthday or New Year. The picture above was taken in the Euston Tap almost a year ago, the day after I won the Molson Coors-sponsored National Journalism category. I was having a beer, staring off into space, and wasn't aware of the photo being taken. That picture has also recently appeared in the online and print editions of The Economist. Leaving aside the tiresome cliché of beer making you fat (the caption to the picture prompted fellow blogger Nick Mitchell to point out that "1.4m influential businessmen, professionals, economists and thought leaders now think you're fat.") and the questionable fact that fancy beer has any snob value at all outside of a very small circle of people, it's a pretty decent summary of the situation.

That things are changing in the beer world isn't in doubt. What is surprising is the potential for growth that the niche end of the market is providing - indeed, it's where ALL the growth is at the moment. In a year that's seen me invest roughly two thirds of the value of my home in a warehouse full of beer, my senses have become acutely tuned to business side of what's happening at the bar (or more commonly, at the off licence), as well as what simply tastes good. I'm happy to report that it's not just a lot of noisome bloggers creating an illusion of a scene, it is actually going on in real life too. Of course, you knew that, because you're part of it, but the view from the other side of the fence, the bit that needs to pay the bills in order to feed the interest, is happy to confirm it: Call it what you want - craft beer, really good beer, beer - it's not just a bubble, or a phenomenon, or the flavour of the month. Sure it's niche, sure it's small, but at a time when the media is focusing on the bad (neatly summed up here), there's a part of the economy that is in growth, and that needs to be celebrated. Perhaps with a beer.

Image from The Euston Tap's website


  1. I was in the Tap while they were snapping, and just before you left to get your train. Luckily for them, I wasn't clearly in shot in any of the pics they used... ;-)

  2. Glad to see you point out that the real world and the world of beer blogging do overlap! As I keep saying (I'll stop soon) bloggers are just normal people who happen to have blogs. Beer bloggers come from all over the country, from across the political spectrum, and do all kinds of different jobs. The only they have in common is being gobby enough to bother signing up for a Blogger or Wordpress account through which to broadcast what they reckon about stuff. I'm baffled by the idea that their views can be discounted as rogue, outlier opinions -- as if they have mutant tastebuds, and/or particularly contrary attitudes to life.

  3. Sid - you should have said hi (in the arrogant assumption that you recognised me!)

    Bailey - I know this is a recurring theme, and I'm not saying that bloggers are anything but normal people (well, most of them). However, if you tried to gain an impression of the beer market from just reading beer blogs, you'd have a very skewed perception. I'm not saying that they have rogue opinions, contrary attitudes, or mutant tastebuds, although I would argue that by the very nature of the bell-curve of the beer market, the majority of what is talked about on beer blogs represents an outlier opinion - from a purely statistical viewpoint at least. Of course, what bloggers write about is largely self-selecting, but nobody (apart from Cooking Lager / Carpe Zytha) got readers by writing about 'ordinary' beer. That's not a criticism at all, it's just an observation, but one that needs to be made every now and again. The beer blogging world isn't a microcosm of the beer drinking world, it's a subset of it.

  4. Agreed, beer blogs don't reflect the *overall* beer market -- bloggers are just the vocal tip of a (niche and slightly geeky) iceberg. I've never doubted that there are lots of people with similar views about beer who just don't blog about it -- we have several regular commenters who seem to be in that camp.

    Having said that, we and quite a few other bloggers regularly (if not mostly) write about mainstream but *good* beer. Taking Leigh Good Stuff as an example, his most recent post suggests a readily available Adnams bitter as a match for the recipe -- a more discerning choice than Stella, but not exactly off-the-wall extremophile territory.

  5. Ive got to say i think this subset of beer or what ever you want to label it as goes largly un noticed by most of the public, ive frequently asked people who enjoy good beer if they have heard about this side of beery things and about 90% of the time that no. I have no idea if this increasing trend in better beer, bars, pub etc will change the scene of beer writing, but i hope so, so the serious bloggers can be noticed a little more in the public. The reason i started blogging is purely down to reading these every once in awhile.

  6. Zak - Boggle moves between the raindrops ;-) I'll buy you a beer next time I see you.

  7. I agree, Zak; although i'm not sure if it's all down to (as bailey says) the 'geeky' element of Blogging. blogging at it's best should showcase the strange to satisfy the informed, and provide avenues of exploration for those who are ready to dip a toe into the world of which you are writing about. Is the rise of the Craft Beer Bar an extension of what happened in the food world ten years ago; when people who cared about quality and buying independently turned the rough-and-rady Farmer's Markets into a distinctly middle-class experience? That's not an insult to the CBB's - but I'd hate there to be no more pubs! Like the beers they serve, CBB's are a welcome addition to your drinking options, but not one that you'd base your entire drinking regime around. In my opinion, of course.

    (ps - to address Bailey's point - I will almost always do beer and food recipes with readily-available beers. The point is that people try it, and there's no point if the average person can't lay their hands on the 11% imperial cranberry stout from Zimbabwe, is there ;)

  8. Is that Fred Dibnah standing by the bar?

  9. Bailey - I agree - you don't have to be blogging about geeky beer to beer a bit geeky - you can geek-out on ordinary beer too!

    student drinker - I totally agree, even the most "famous" bloggers are perhaps better known for their output in other media

    sid - drop the Neil Gaiman schtick and say hi next time!

    Leigh - agreed, see Simon's write up of his trip to Leeds - basically, a hymn to Jever!


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