The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts The Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing of all the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry (see link, posted to comments in due course). This month’s Session is by Rebecca Patrick at The Bake and Brew (http://thebakeandbrew.com) on the topic of how much our taste or opinion of a craft beer is affected by what friends and the craft beer community at large thinks. Do we (a) go with the flow or (b) go against the grain?
Those familiar with Sir Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ books, will no doubt be aware of Ankh-Morpork, the twin city sitting either site of the gently bubbling, foaming and glooping River Ankh which is centre of the Turtle-shouldered universe he has created. Ankh-Morpork is the city where it’s at: multi-cultural, industrious, artistic, political, inventive, hosts of the greatest seats of learning and commerce – a melting pot of global influence. The parallels with a city like London are deliberate. Both cities are a good place to start in thinking about the trickle-down effect – one theory for how influence is created and spread.
The basic premise of trickle-down is either economic – a wealthy or ‘elite’ group in society adopt a product, service or behaviour which they abandon as ‘the masses’ adopt it – or social – for example the way cycling behaviour is spreading in London, and accelerated by the policies of Boris Johnson which initially at least, flew in the face of the supporting evidence. But if you build it they will come, and what with Boris Bikes, cycling superhighways, Cycle To Work schemes and inventive manufacturers like Brompton, ultimately cycling triumphs. And there can be reverse trickle down (trickle up, I suppose) too – in Ankh-Morpork, the adoption by the leisured classes of the sport of Foot-The-Ball is a case in point.
There are many ways we can influence and be influenced, some of which we may even admit to, but it seems that with craft beer, and with beer blogging, understanding trickle down is key because there are so many potential influencers – new start up brewers; official beer writers; unofficial beer bloggers; trade publications; CAMRA, the list goes on. That’s not to say it’s a theory that necessarily holds water – I once ran a project for a brewery investigating how influence spreads out from London into the provinces only to find out that there were as many examples of new trends springing up in smaller urban centres – the difference being that they didn’t tend to gain the same level of scale, and certainly not as rapidly. But surely amongst beer writers we must be influenced by one another, by the different perspectives we bring – and surely over time this must impact drinkers?
Well, there’s certainly been a decade long creeping barrage of influence now: and in the UK cask beer remains the only segment of beer not experiencing scary decline – a trend repeated in its own way in many other countries. Here, no self respecting pub fails to offer a decent range of regular and guest cask ales – indeed, in my local there’s even a small selection of U.S. bottled craft beers – and most critically, in some respects the most important influencers in this – the trade buyers are getting the message. Sure, the likes of the big supermarkets have been stocking a decent range of interesting beers for a few years now, but B&M Bargains, really? Oh yes. And when we see the circle coming round again and more and more specialist beer and cider retailers opening and being successful, then we know the worm is truly turning.
Personally though, I like to think I have my own agenda, viz: One: for every one craft beer I drink which is stunning there are 2 or 3 which don’t pass muster – this can’t be ignored. Two: proper lagered beer will soon have its day again, rightly so. Three: yes, the big brewers can brew decent tasting (craft) beers, but enjoy them quickly before the accountants insist on replacing the malt with liquefied pulped insect adjunct. Four: I absolutely believe that you have to (re) acclimatise yourself to hoppy bitterness after years of seeing brands being turned into blands. Where did my agenda start? Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. Some from experience. Some from emerging beliefs, anger or enjoyable experiences. And yes, no doubt some from the opinions or recommendations from beer writers and experts. At the end of the day though, the only thing that really counts for me is the overall experience of the beer itself: is it beautiful? Does it pour delightfully with a head you want to drink in and drink through? Does the taste make you pine for more? No, the real influencer for me is not trickle down, trickle up or hit-me-square-between-the-eyes-with-a-brick. It’s the vision, and the ability to execute the vision, of the brewers themselves in the finished beer. And the true reality is that most beer drunk today – here or in other markets – remains characterless, passionless, cheap-brewed, artificially carbonated factory beer. Whatever the influences on us, however much influence we think we have had as a community, the hard truth is, we are still at the beginning. It’s a brutal fact to help keep us focused.
© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014