Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Hi, My Name's Zak, And I'm A Hypocrite

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been 1,716 weeks since my last confession, and in that time I've been guilty of the sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, acedia, lust, envy, vanity and pride"

"You said lust twice, my child"

"I'm sorry father, I like lust"

I like to think that I'm as even handed with "ordinary" beer as I am "craft" beer. A nervous glance back through my recent posts (did I only post once in October? That's sloth and acedia for you) suggests that although I do post about rare and hard-to-find stuff, I also post about easy-to-find stuff too.

Coupled to that, a recent theme in my posts has been to support independent retailers - no particular reason, other than it's what I do for a living, and I think that independent retailers have a very clearly defined role in the beer market. Having said that, I'd be interested to hear what you think that role is.

However, I have to admit to having strayed from the path recently. I live a 3 minute walk from a Morrisons supermarket, and the other evening, having just driven home from a warehouse with around £100k of great beer in it, I discovered that I didn't have any beer that was appropriate to my mood. I didn't want any homebrew, any Fuller's Gales Prize Old Ale, any Stone Old Guardian, any Birra Del Borgo KeTo Reporter, any Hair Of The Dog Adam, any Hardknott Granite (Batch 1), any Williams Bros Fraoch 20, any Thomas Hardy Ale. What I wanted was a couple of bottles of BrewDog Punk IPA. And Mozzers sells it.

I confess, I went to a supermarket and bought some "craft" beer. I don't know how I feel about this. On one hand, I'm delighted that it's available to me (and other shoppers) so readily. On the other hand, I'm saddened that it's available to me (and other shoppers) so readily.

What do you think? Is the chase part of the fun? How hard should you have to look for "craft" beer? Is it any less "craft" for being in a supermarket?


  1. What a brilliant post, so much great beer mentioned it.

    Beer is a broad church, is that not what we should believe? Drink what you are in the mood for, and rejoice that Punk is in the supermarkets, that way you are more likely to buy the next batch of Granite, because rest assured, that won't be available in "Mozzers"

  2. Ah... Punk credentials. Joe Strummer, son of a diplomat, public school boy and Telegraph reader.
    Good music though, and maybe it's the label - or our need to categorise - that's the problem not the beer?
    Or maybe it's Brewdog that have sold out, or is the punk thing being alongside Lydon's butter in the supermarket?
    Hypocrisy can be a harsh word.

  3. Very interesting post indeed - I'd say it makes a beer no less 'craft' for being in the supermarkets, though certainly in glos/south west, the smaller scale producers, eg bristol beer factory, stroud brewery, arbor et al aren't in supermarkets, so I frequent my local independent retailers for those.

    On the other hand, other breweries such as Butcombe are available in the Supermarket, so I buy those in there, as the more the supermarkets sell of these, the more likely (hopefully) they are to stock them, along with bigger producers like Fullers.

    Concluding then, I like to think that the independent retailers role is to provide the range and depth that supermarkets don't/can't offer - such as Mr Bailey's excellent brews, but some overlap should be encouraged to signpost shoppers to the independent sector.

  4. great post nice balance of humour knowledge and expertise

  5. Dave - that's what I'm interested in discussing - the gap between what should believe, and what we actually believe

    Gareth - that's the question that I'm asking - what do you reckon?

    Ian - I broadly agree, and am happy to treat anyone who wants to sell their beers alongside potatoes and toilet roll as a commodity. Although of course, that makes me a hypocrite for championing their cause as artisans.

    Stu - thanks!

  6. There are times when I just want PU rather than Green Flash or when in the pub Proper Job rather than a Brit Pale Ale with loads of Cascade but not enough alcohol to carry the charge; and what’s with this cod catholic rubbish? One of the things I first jettisoned when growing up was guilt. Hate the stuff.

  7. In an ideal world there would be no such thing as "craft" beer, just beer that you buy and consume at your leisure.

    Perhaps that world actually does exist, but we miss it in excessive introspection?

    That you can go into Morrisons and get a decent American style IPA is a good thing, it means there is a market beyond our little world for tasty beer, long may it continue.

  8. Adrian - agree totally, sometimes you just know exactly what you want. And the guilt? Catholic upbringing mate...

  9. I think you could answer how you feel about buying beer from the supermarket by using the flipside; of how you feel when you buy beers from a specialist or local shop. They don't have to be the worlds greatest beers, but do you feel any better giving your money to the little guy? You know how I feel, most of my wages go back into our till, but if I get a gift of beers from the supermarket, I'm not going to turn my nose up at them.. ;)

  10. You shouldn't feel any guilt for buying it from the supermarket. It's all relevant - I recently bought some Sierra Nevada and Duvel from Morrisons and thought nothing of it, simply because, although they are craft beers and always will be, they are household names, and selling to supermarkets is just another way of expanding their business.

    Remember the photo Jeff sent us from America? A whole section of a supermarket dedicated to awesome beer - would you consider any of those beers any less 'craft' as a result? Not every independent brewer is 'punk' enough to achieve mainstream sale - THEY are the ones who rely on people like us :-)

  11. Very good - I suppose there's a certain ritual and purpose buying from indie retailers as well an an element of the unknown. On the rare occasion that I do see good beer in a supermarket however I do tend to get a little giddy.

    Probably as it tends to be dead cheap. Food for thought eh...

  12. I guess it's the role of the smaller retailer to have the "long tail" stuff -- things that might not sell at once, but age well -- and to stay at the cutting edge. Supermarkets tend towards the middle of the road and, when they do stock anything stronger or more characterful, it tends to be only once its achieved a certain reputation (viz. Duvel) and is a safe bet.

  13. There is always a beer to fit the mood and thankfully many places find the beer to fit the mood, no? Love that you mentioned Birra Del Borgo. Birrificio Italiano molto bene! Grazie - Will @italybrews

  14. I'm saddened that it's available to me (and other shoppers) so readily

    Is that (a) because you're sorry that people won't have to go to independent shops (such as e.g. yours) if they want to get a decent beer (although to be honest that ship sailed a long time ago) - or (b) because you're a hopeless elitist? Think carefully.

    Or... is there a third option? Is it [c] because you believe in a world where a different kind of brewer can make a living selling to a different kind of drinker, supplying them through a different kind of beer shop; a world where there's a network of alternative shops and alternative labels - er, brewers - a network where you can always find new good stuff, and where the people who are into the good stuff instantly recognise one another and form a network of their own, communicating through fanzines - I mean blogs...

    I can identify with that, but where Punk (IPA) is concerned I think you've been had. Shifting units in supermarkets is what BrewDog are all about - or rather, shifting units in supermarkets while still proclaiming how different and alternative they are. They're not the Desperate Bicycles, they're not Fast - at best they're the Pistols that released Some Product. The revolution will not be marketed - not even with slogans announcing that the revolution will not be marketed...

  15. Ghostie, Corkhill - I'll always be happy giving my money to smaller businesses, but that's a political thing. Ask Juffage if you can get his stuff through iTunes, and see what he says!

    Matt - like Westvletern going on sale in the supermarket?

  16. Phil - at the risk of protesting too much, if you (and others) perceive me as elitist, I don't really mind. I'm not a beer snob, but if you (and others) have looked at my words and actions and have decided otherwise, that's fine. I just prioritise the things that I enjoy.

    I appreciate the music analogy - seeing John Lydon advertise butter didn't bother me - he sold out years ago, he did I'm A Celebrity, ffs! - for me Leftfield licensing the opening track of their debut album to advertise cheesestrings was a bit like having my dirty feral years made into a glossy Hollywood film. You feel that it's pointless moaning, but it's just wrong. It's a bit like finding a thousand copies of your favourite indie artist's album on sale in Asda for £4.99 - on one hand, you can't help but be pleased, on the other, a bit of the magic dies. I'm not sure that's in any way elitist - it just shows a bit of romance, a bit of soul.

    I haven't been "had", because I don't believe BrewDog's punk angle - I'm not sure anyone really believes BrewDog's angle - it's just situationist advertising, all very late-20th century IMHO. I enjoy their beers, but then I enjoy Old Hooky and Tetley's from time to time too. They're all part of a repertoire of things I enjoy.

    I'm protesting too much, aren't I?

  17. Yes. You sometimes buy beer from a supermarket and sometimes write about beers nobody will ever likely come across.

    Doesn't make you a bad person as far as I can see and people always stick their labels on the outside. It is what's inside that counts.

    Can do nothing about the Catholic guilt though. E suffers from that. Me being a Wee Free - I don't.

  18. If I lived in a world where my nation allowed me a local independent store or beer in grocery stores I would have a strong position. I have to drive 2 hours to Quebec to find and independent and 1 into the USA to find good grocery store beer. It is a sign of living in an advanced culture that you have the choice. I am jealous.

  19. What do I reckon?

    Like most things I suppose it's a matter of balance. In a capital-based economy our money is arguably more important than our votes. So long as independents are supported where you can I wouldn't have a problem with it - there's a reason they're called convenience stores after all. Still, the question is an important one, fair play for starting the conversation!

  20. Zak - I don't think you're an elitist; I actually think the indie label / indie brewer analogy works really well. There were bands in the early 80s that dropped off my radar overnight when they got signed - I wasn't religiously avoiding major label bands, but I was religiously following the indie chart in the NME, and if the single wasn't in there I was that much less likely to hear about it. The equivalent would be an offie refusing to stock anything with a corporate connection - so you could have Sloeber but not Duvel, and Rochefort but not Chimay. I think that would be totally valid; I'd go there. (In fact I did go there - that was the policy Jason Barker used to operate at the Belgian Belly.)

    What's actually lost when a small label... er, brewery... gets into the supermarkets is harder to pin down, but I think something is; they're no longer part of that indie scene. So what, someone might say, the beer hasn't changed - but I think this is missing the point. If we think the indie scene is a good thing, then it's a bad thing for it to include one less beer.

    My bugbear is BD - I just think they're on such a different trajectory from most other indie brewers (even though it's a trajectory that involves yelling a lot about how incredibly indie they are) that nothing they do reflects on anyone but them.

  21. Phil - as ever, your analysis has
    made more sense of what I'm saying than I did! You're quite right that something is lost when your favourite band/brewery crosses over, and that's sort of what I meant when I said "I'm saddened that it's available to me (and other shoppers) so readily" - what saddens me is that it signifies that something has changed, someone has 'sold out', not that it is widely available, Hell, if I could put a tap into everyone's home that dispensed a limitless supply of Russian River Pliny The Elder, I would - it wouldn't make it any less great a beer

  22. I think brewdog's marketing is recuperation not détournement.

  23. I see independent retailers like Beer Ritz as a place I can discover great beer, and grab beers that i've tried before but which supermarkets would never sell.

    I'm going to be honest, I wouldnt dream of buying a bottle of Punk from Beer Ritz, Utobeer etc because I know they are a pound or so in the supermarkets. Does this make me less likely to spend money in the indies? No. Because shops like the aforementioned offer a variety, quality, and importantly a service you wouldnt get elsewhere.

    I like that I can walk in and say, "I fancy a belgian sour, something fruity though, not too lemony bitter, more sweet and rich" and be met with a recommendation for Rodenbach Grand Cru (cheers will) and not a blank stare.


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