Craft Work(s)

“What I did in the summer holidays, by Lee, aged 32 and 1/4”

“You won’t catch me drinking that Craft beer. Wanky, overpriced rubbish. Give me a pint of proper beer any d… oh… it tastes  quite nice actually. *takes another sip* that‘s really, really good… I might have another oneOMFGITSAMAZINGGIVEMEALLTHEPRECIOUSCRAFTBEERS – me about 18 months ago.

Yes, I admit it. I’m a huge craft beer fan. At its best it tastes amazing, it’s hellish strong, and really, it doesn’t cost that much more than the mass-produced stuff – at least not if you live in a city (half the time it’s cheaper than Peroni).

There’s eleventy-billion different kinds, so many that I’ll never be able to try every one if I live to be a hundred. Yet paradoxically, I can’t help trying, Pokemon style, to catch ‘em all. How could you not like it?!

But craft beer has an image problem. It’s gone from being the next big thing to the current big thing, and soon it’ll be the last big thing. And everyone knows that’s when the knives come out. There are already lots and lots of articles being written about how ‘craft’ is ruining beer. And then, there’s this Budweiser advert:


Now I’m admittedly biased, but I can’t help thinking it would have been more cost effective to get a giant billboard saying THIS BEER IS FOR YOU, YOU FUCKING PLEB. YOU DON’T DESERVE NICE THINGS. NOW SUCK IT DOWN AND STOP ASKING QUESTIONS, I’VE GOT A NEW POOL TO PAY FOR.

Part of the problem of course, is the name. It stinks of marketing doublespeak, something shat from the cocaine addled mind of a slithering, Audi-driving ad executive before knocking off early for the day to go seal clubbing.

But what if you just… stop calling it that?

Recently I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time in Oregon, the heartland of all things hoppy, and the spiritual home of craft beer (or one of them, anyway). Only, they didn’t call it ‘craft beer’ or ‘craft ale’ there. They just called it ‘beer’.

Every bar had at least a couple of different kinds on tap next to the Bud, the Coors light, and America’s answer to Skol, Pabst Blue Ribbon (A local confided that, ‘basically, after I’ve had three or four really good beers I’m too drunk to taste anything, so I just switch to PBR for the rest of the night”). And this was in small town blue collar dive bars, not swanky uptown brewpubs. Ditch the label and the idea that it’s a high-falutin’ fancy pants drink and it just becomes another flavour to choose from.

Taste the rainbow

Speaking of which, I’m going to completely dismiss argument number one from the anti-craft beer lobby – i.e. that it doesn’t taste good. That’s like saying you don’t like music because you heard a Justin Bieber song once. Until you’ve tried a few, how can you know? You’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince, so to speak. There are more ‘flavours’ of craft beer than Japanese KitKats, so there’s got to be at least one that hits the spot for you.

And how about the idea that pretentious arseholes drink craft beer? Well, yes, there is a bit of truth to that one. There are people who’ll rant on for hours about hop varieties and the merits of whiskey barrel vs rum barrel aged brews. But really, are they doing any harm? I say let nerds be nerds – some people will always get sucked into the minutiae of stuff that others find massively tedious (see –vinyl, comic books, baking), but do they ever really sneer at non-anoraks for not knowing as much?

They do have some stupid names though, can’t argue with that…

Do vinyl aficionados run around blowing up CD factories* like an audiophile’s version of Sarah Connor trying to take out Skynet? Do comic book geeks ever assault innocent people for not knowing whether Dick Grayson or Jason Todd is the definitive Robin?** Has Mary Berry ever dropped the c-bomb and headbutted anyone after one too many sherries because they put too much bicarb in their brownies? Never happened (except maybe that last one).

For the most part beer nerds are just excited about what they love and want to share it. They’re no different to that guy who kept going on and on about how great Breaking Bad was. Over and over, he’d tell you how it was so great, and clever and funny, and in the end it got on your nerves, but one day, you decided to give it a try. And then you watched all 5 seasons back to back one weekend and your girlfriend dumped you.

I can’t help thinking if the craft beer haters gave it just a little try, they might start to see things a little differently.

Cats and dogs, living together…

But, friends, like Owain Glyndwr uniting the people of Wales against the English or Mance Rayder bringing together the wildings, I’m here to say can’t we all just… get along?

There’s absolutely a place for mass produced cheap-as-chips beer. Planning on being sat on the beach with a barbecue and a cooler bag for 6 hours? Get some Saint Omer stubbies in from Tesco. Off out for the Autumn internationals? If you start off on the Goose Island IPA you’ll be in bed before that middle-aged valleys harridan stuffed into a skin-tight Wales jersey in the corner starts drooling over Halfpenny’s thighs – it’s Brains you want. On a stag/hen do with one of your more questionable mates that’s likely to end in broken relationships, ruined friendships or grievous bodily harm? Stick with a sub-Stella lager to mitigate the fallout.

My favourite view on a Saturday afternoon…

Likewise there’s a place for craft beer – when you’re at home on a Friday night in front of Gogglebox after a bitch of a week, or when you’re settled in to a sun-drenched beer garden on a Saturday afternoon with your favourite people, or indulging in some cheeky daytime drinking on an unplanned weekday off. Basically any occasion when you can a) take a bit of time to taste what you’re drinking, and b) you’re not too far North or South of payday.

Cardiff has some great places for craft beer – The Lansdowne in Canton perfectly mixes a great selection with a proper pub feel, and Brewdog, with it’s insanely helpful staff and mind-bending variety, is great for craft beer virgins and confirmed hop-heads alike. Go on, give it a bash…

* I’d like to thank 1998 for that reference to a dead media format.

** Dick Grayson, obvs.

Where do you stand on all things crafty? Know your Weizen from your Saison or do prefer a good old fashioned pint of mild? Let me know in the comments below…

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