If America is Jackson Pollock then the UK is Rolf Harris.
This feature on Dwink argues that the US is currently winning the rounds. The most compelling aspect of this article is the section on availability of craft beer in the two countries– the UK dismally losing this round. “Penetration within the pub companies, mostly owned by banks not brewers, is constrained by the beer tie while many insist on centralised distribution through one of the big three logistic companies.” This is my frustration– even though the brewer-to-drinker ratio is greater in the UK, the selection of craft beer readily available in the just isn’t as healthy as in the US. For this to change, we have to get more Brits drinking craft beer.
The other night Mr. Malting was at a metal show and the craft beer on tap was Sierra Nevada. This is something I’m seeing with more regularity in trendier pubs and venues– American beer is becoming increasingly available. Everyone I talk to in my peer group, and most are almost inconvertable mega-lager drinkers, believe that the image of craft beer in the UK is the one insurmountable obstacle, but I’m sure distribution plays a bigger part.
I realize I long ago turned my lager phone off. I don’t know how to reach all my lager and wine drinking friends, try as I might suggesting different beers. The lager drinker who will opt for anything that’s around 4% or the wine drinker who’s not fussed as long as it’s red suddenly become very picky when presented with ale. I can only conclude the reluctance is not about taste; it’s about image.
It is curious to note that among my friends and peers in the US there is absolutely no stigma to drinking craft beer. On the contrary, it is cutting edge, hip, authentic. I wonder if the way forward in converting a younger generation of beer drinkers will be through more American craft beer available here in the UK?
Isn’t that the way lager almost swept out real ale in Britain initially? The imports were sold to Brits as the shinier, younger option? In profoundly image-conscious Britain we need to think of a narrative that will resonate with younger Brits the same way the populist, American”Craft Brewer” video spot resonates with Americans’ identity as revolutionaries and independents, Davids to the industry’s Goliath.
To do this we really have to redefine our terms. “Microbrew” and “real ale” have become problematic and exclusive. Perhaps a more encompassing approach is to embrace “craft beer”? We know that cask ale isn’t the only good beer around, despite its vitally defining role in British brewing, but this is a topic for another post.
My friends who went to All Tomorrow’s Parties tell me that Exmoor ales were served at the Butlins venues and the staff were encouraging punters and really offering the beers as locally made and an exciting “new” option. Perhaps this approach–emphasizing food miles and green thinking, the authenticity of locality and context is the way forward? I remain skeptical. Part of me believes that many Brits would opt for a stylish import or a mass brand “no brainer” over something as seemingly unfashionable as real ale. I would like to be wrong.