Meditations

Tyranny of Craft Beer


 Slide1London, UK –  How did craft beer come to rule our taps?  Who allowed the pleasure of a simple pint to drown under barrels of manhandled complexity?   This insincere and insidious “movement” of macho bravado and brutish branding has surreptitiously colonized our taps and fridges.  Mission statements, credos and tasting notes drafted with “passion” have turned a night out with friends over a couple of beers akin to joining a cult.  Who is to blame?

To the craft beer tyrant liberation comes in the form of Yakima hops fermented with home cultivated champagne yeast in water foraged from the last remaining nearby stream yet dug up by developers and then infused with by products of the local coffee roaster, co-operative urban garden or pop-up apothecary.

These Franken-beers are made with the mutant strength OCD attention to detail only possessed by cashed out investment bankers or optioned-up software executives.  The abandoned warehouses and factories where our forefathers once toiled have been “restored” in the globally ubiquitous Williamsburg NY patina that has infested every boutique and corporate boardroom from Coquitlam to Copenhagen. Once every city wanted an honest industrial base and maybe a metro line, today a craft brewery in the old toothbrush factory.

Craft beer breeds the sort generic mass-market individuality mastered by your local Urban Outfitters. Beer has become a liquid form of conceptual art – an overt form of sophomoric logic drunk on its own perceived genius touting well paid words of rebellion fuelling premium prices.

Now when people go to the bar for a beer to drink they are confounded.  Looking down the row of unfamiliar and indecipherable taps the paralysis of choice and fear of mis-pairing some salted snacks with the right limited edition rotating beer breaks out the sweats

Beers are for drinking, not pontificating – that’s wine’s job. Same for food pairing and ornate chalices – wine and its direct conveyance of terroir and a proven greater finesse and complexity gives provenance to pontification and dissection.

Beer on the other hand is meant to taste of relief and relaxation. Acceptable food pairings being burgers, nuts and chips. That, is, IT!  Oh, and onion rings.

Maybe tacos too.

And meat pies.

But seriously, that’s it. Give me a beer please barkeep and make it a simple continental style lager brewed with consistency and predictability to reward our mentally or physically exhausting days with moments of mind numbing thoughtlessness.  A crisp forcefully carbonated beverage priced reasonably to cover the union worker wages, a few boring TV ads of young “Millennials” dancing about and a bit left over for the overseas owner in whatever tax haven they call “home.”  That’s right, a good honest beer as it is supposed to be…

Only, we’ve had it wrong all along.  It turns out that craft beer as we know and taste it today, was in the 1920’s the common everyday beer.  Yep, craft beers and their taste bud pummeling flavours aren’t actually anything new.

A fact brought to the sobering light of day by a new “craft brewery” near me (located under a railway arch obviously) who came to possess records from a long gone neighbouring brewery.

One century ago, as today, some of the most reliable and tasty hops came from Oregon giving the same EBU measured bitterness levels and presumably flavour profile as today’s IPA, ESB and porter. This was when refrigeration was rare and beer needed to travel far without spoiling so its strength was high, as why not carry one keg that had the potency of two.

These beers catered to city dwellers uninterested in the volumous requirements of lower alcohol rural ales that evolved into the modern continental lagers and pilsners, brewed to rehydrate after 10 hours of hard labour down steamy a mine shaft or up in the exposed fields.

So it would seem, ironically, that the craft beers as we know them today historically were the macro beers. This novel introduction of modern industrial lagers compared to centuries of craft brewing is actually on the whole relatively new and arguably a niche blip…

Craft beer is not a revolution but a revival.  Oh my, well, guess I’ll be off to savour a Red Racer IPA, pair it with some tasty hand cured artisanal meat snacks and work out who to blame for the recent decades of flavourless macro-mediocrity.

Any ideas?  If so meet me tomorrow at the wind powered single origin coffee roaster and craft beer-tasting lounge in the old lollipop factory.

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