|Scoop front left, scallopcheeks dead centre|
John Clarke and Tandleman (Peter to his friends) both gave a viewpoint that was perhaps informed by many years as CAMRA stalwarts, with John perhaps having a slightly broader view of the global scene, and Peter taking more of a pubs-man approach. Both broadly agreed that anything that was good for beer had also to be good for the culture of beer, with Peter striking a surprisingly conciliatory approach born of a desire to keep pub culture alive - "there's a beer for everyone" was a quote I was surprised (but not disappointed) to hear coming from him.
What of people involved in the industry? BrewDog kingpin James Watt put on a virtuoso performance showboating against the calumnious claims of big brewers making faux craft beer, with a tirade against Blue Moon that produce applause and rolled eyes in equal measure. Big brewers don't make craft beer, small brewers make craft beer - that was the message, and indeed that sort of resonates with most accepted definitions of craft beer, although of course there is no guarantee of quality in that. Ever one for a spot of devilish advocacy, I asked James at what point in their growth BrewDog would cease to be a craft brewery, to an "ooooh, handbags!"-style response from the crowd.
There was an impassioned interjection from the floor about how craft brewing was about the willingness to experiment, and the willingness to get things wrong occasionally. My response - "By all means experiment, but if it goes wrong please don't dry hop it and call it a special" - might have been seen as an attack on the person raising that point (I think it was Jan from Marble), or on any other brewer that I waved an impassioned finger at as I said that (god knows there were plenty in the hall that I've had "polite words" with over the years). It wasn't an attack on anyone in particular, but more of general appeal not to sacrifice quality and consistency for restless, needless, or pointless experimentation.
You would imagine Toby McKenzie of Red Willow brewery to have a viewpoint, and indeed he did. He brews the beer he likes, and if people like it, that's a bonus. His most impassioned plea, though, was for everyone to stop taking everything so seriously, which I completely failed to do with my analysis.
I think craft beer is about identity politics. I think that whether you're a brewer or a drinker, it's about defining yourself as much by what you are not as by what you are. I think it's about a willingness to experiment, both as a brewer and as a drinker. It's the forerunner of something that's going to get bigger, in the same way that styles of music go from being underground cool to mass-produced products. And that's not to belittle mass-production - Sierra Nevada are an example of a brewery that has grown without ever compromising its core ideas, but who are now really turning it out in volume.
Is craft beer more a state of mind, for the brewer and the drinker, than anything else?