The thing about craft beer is…

As a publican and a craft beer advocate, I often find myself defending good beer to the masses. Surrounded by pubs offering £2 drinks, cheap pints of fizzy Euro lager and stupid deals on vodka mixers, it’s often hard to convert the student masses (in Fallowfield anyway) into drinking something decent! Add that to articles chastising pubs for charging ‘ridiculous amounts’ for a pint of a decent IPA and the general price tag that comes with great imported beer and it’s a bloody hard slog doing our job sometimes!

The thing about craft beer is yes, it usually costs a little bit of a premium. But there are a whole plethora of reasons why and I wanted to use this blog post to go into a little detail about why. Now as I write this, I must urge you to remember that I and other fellow managers and landlords are in no way against the likes of Carlsberg, Fosters and other similar products. We realise that these pints have their place in the market and rightly so. Some people just want a refreshing cheap pint and that’s absolutely fine. What we do take issue with however, is when people ask for these products in our pubs, we don’t have them and we recommend something even better and then they say it’s too expensive and opt for literally the cheapest possible thing we do. We don’t do Carlsberg for example, but we do Amstel and it’s a cracking lager for the price we sell it at! But oh no, that pound extra is bank breaking and they’d much rather have a cheap bottle or a spirit for example. On a very simplistic level where price often dictates purchase, it’s hard to persuade people to part with that little bit extra for quality, when they can simply go for something like a Fosters or a Carlsberg for a bit cheaper. Granted there are people out there who are open to change and for that we thank them. We welcome them with open arms and we help them find that one new beer that they love and will end up drinking whenever they’re around. But for a lot of people, the unknown and untested is often too scary a feat to venture into.

Craft beer in whatever form, be it lager, ale, belgian, wheat beer, fruit beer or stout, is often made with love and care by smaller brewers (than say the likes of Inbev who in most of the well known lagers you see in ‘normal’ pubs and make a ridiculous amount of money each year for doing so), using high quality ingredients in the best possible way. That’s generally the gist of it. You can stop reading here if you want, because that’s the moral of this story. You want a high quality product, you have to pay a bit of a premium for it. It’s the same with anything really. You want a diamond engagement ring, you pay for it. You want a cheap silver ring, you’ll get it cheaper but your missus (for example) isn’t going to be blown away by it when you get down on one knee and propose, is she? Craft beer is named thusly, because it’s a craft. An art-form. Your drinking the product of experts and passionate individuals who brew because they love doing it. They create great products and they do it for the people who care about them, which I might add are growing at an astonishing rate. Last year there were 1,700 microbreweries in the UK and i’m pretty certain it’s almost doubled since. That doesn’t even take into account some of the larger breweries that I’d still consider to be craft, such as your Magic Rocks, your Beavertowns and your BrewDogs.

You can happily go and get a pint of mass produced, barely alcohol lager at a sports bar and get lairy with the lads (again, a crude example), or you can come to a bar with a whole load of choice, some interesting new things you won’t have seen before and you can find something you absolutely adore. Craft brewers are often experimental in nature too. They brew things like Grapefruit IPAs (yeh I know, frut in beer, madness), Peanut Butter Stouts, Raspberry Sour beers and Coffee Porters. They brew the weird and the wonderful. They also brew the strong! Craft brewers love chucking out a special 8% double IPA or a cheeky little collaboration with someone else that packs a punch. With craft beer, you’re always going to find the weird and the wonderful and for me, that’s really exciting! Even on a basic level, the lagers and ales they produce are often better! They user better quality ingredients and they brew things by eye and with attention to detail. I’m not saying big brewers don’t care about their beer but for me, it’s all automated and it’s just a process and (if you wanna go this far), a big money making machine. With craft, you’re supporting growing businesses and an exciting sector of the beer economy. There are so many good little breweries doing exciting things in Manchester for example and it’d be a real shame if they weren’t able to survive and indeed grow. I’ve met some of the owners of them, from the likes of Seven Brothers and Manchester Brew Co and they are literally the nicest, down to earth people. They’re trying to make a living just like us and they really care about getting their brilliant beers into the hands of the people.

So far I’ve eluded to price, quality and choice for being the main reasons to at least try a craft brew and for me that is the thrust of it. I’m not saying I never go for a pint of Coors Light or a cheeky San Miguel in the sun with my friends, I’m just a hell of a lot more likely to try a new ale the pub’s got on cask or a new bottle of IPA they’ve got in the fridge. I just find it way more exciting and if more people gave it a go, they probably would too. Before you write me off as a complete beer snob or indeed a salesmen for The Beer Studio trying to boost sales, I will say that I blooming love a pint of Guinness. Craft beer fan or not, if I want a pint of Guinness, i’ll have one… or 8. I’m just trying to open a few eyes and minds to the unexplored and to the new.

Another thing to note when looking at price by the way, is the size of the business pushing the beer. Your cool litle Chorlton and Didsbury bars and your hipster filled Northern Quarter hangouts will not be able to sell you a delicious IPA for the same price of your large scale, nationwide boozer. I’m thinking of that one with the Curry Club on Thursday’s and the supposedly different carpets in every venue specifically. You know the one! We would LOVE to be able to offer you amazing craft brews for £2.50 – £3.50 like they can, but we simply can’t. We’d lose money and very quickly we wouldn’t have a business. Tetherforks as I shall call it for namesake now, have hundreds of pubs up and down the country and they’re able to negotiate amazing deals with suppliers as a result. We, although backed by the brilliant Hydes Brewery are a much smaller operation in comparison. We buy it for X, we add on all the costs that go into getting into your hands and of course a little profit to pay everyone and keep the business growing and then we sell it for Y. Sadly that often means you’re looking at £4 a pint, at least in our pub anyway. But again, your getting amazing beers, your getting well trained passionate staff with the product knowledge to help you venture into the unknown and your getting a pub with decent ambience, clientele and events. Would you rather put £2.50, absolutely nothing to them, in their pockets, or would you rather give your local pub doing it’s thing in Fallowfield, that little bit more for a great pub and a great pint? Sometimes the answer is the former and I get that, but hopefully the latter makes sense and if it does, I applaud you. Tetherforks as I have so wittily named it for this blog, does actually help our cause a little though, so let’s not compare ourselves so favourably against them too much. They allow people to get into craft beer without the price tag. People can go to their pubs, try something and then go ‘oh wow, I actually like this craft beer stuff’ and then hopefully next time their round our place, or another one of our crafty friends, they might go for a nice Pale Ale or even a strong Belgian because it’s worked for them previously. As I said before, Fosters and Carlsberg have their place in the market and so to do companies like Tetherforks, Mates’s (see what I did there) and the like.

Now before I summarise and leave you to explore the rest of the internet, free from my craft beer rambling and adoration, I must give you one final example of the fight against the man so to speak, when it comes to good beer. The most popular selling ‘craft’ beer on cask in the UK at the minute rhymes with Mean Bing IPA. You’ll have probably seen it in a pub near you. You might have even had a pint of it. It’s 3.6% abv and there in lies the crime. A true IPA aims for upwards of 5.5-6%. 3.6% is NOT AN IPA under any circumstance. I’ve spoken to pub owners, brewers, beer sommeliers and craft experts and we are all agreement. How they get away with it is a mystery. Perhaps because no-one has patented the term or the recipe for an IPA like they have done with Pilsner (see Pilsner Urquell and their court battle many years ago). But it doesn’t have any of the characteristics of an IPA. It’s a Session Ale at best and an OK Pale Ale by extension. Mean Bing IPA is owned by another one of these large companies that pump out average beer for profit. In fact, if you do a quick Google, you’ll see that the company in question is the ‘UK’s largest pub retailer and brewer’ and they’re lieing to us, the hardworking consumer. That’s what I hate about it.  ‘Hey guys, this IPA is dead cheap and in all our pubs and it’s amazing, buy it…’. But it’s not an IPA, it’s not amazing and it gives people an unrealistic and just plain wrong view of what an IPA should taste like and indeed how much they should be paying for it. If you want to try a good entry level IPA have a look at Goose Island IPA or Thornbridge’s Jaipur. You’ll certainly taste the difference.

I fear at this point I must state that these are my own personal views and not necessarily those of my employer, for fear of getting a talking to from ‘the guys upstairs’. I in no way mean to offend anyone, or say anything I shouldn’t, but as I said in my first post (The Brooklyn Tap Takeover, link at the bottom), you will always get brutal honesty from me in these things and I think it’s important that as a retailer and a beer fan, I do all I can to promote the right side of the industry and the products that people should at least be trying.

So there you have it. My biggest peeves about the world of craft beer and the reasons why you should be prepared to pay that little bit of a premium, for something really exciting. I’m not saying boycott your favourite pint of lager and drink uber cool, hipster brews all the time and Instagram every bottle you drink. I’m just saying give craft a try and understand why it’s a whole different kettle of fish to what you might be used to. You never know, you might be pleasantly surprised…

Until next time,

James! x

Hydes Brewery Beer Champion for Beer Studio Bar & Kitchen.


P.S – Comments are always welcome in the space below! 

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