Thursday 10 May 2012

There's no place like home

It’s now been several weeks since I landed back at Heathrow after another whirlwind visit to the United States. You may consider my views on the North American brewing scene to be over enthusiastic to say the least but what I’ve come to realise since I got back to dear old Blighty is that our own beer scene is actually pretty hot on their tail as opposed to falling woefully behind as I previously thought. From the moment I finally got back to my North London flat and cracked open my last bottle of Magic Rock Bearded Lady I realised that some of the very best craft breweries are in fact in Britain. Over the bank holiday weekend I went to the Summer Wine Brewery meet the brewer event at Cask Pub & Kitchen and tasted some absolutely mind blowing beers (Kahuna Pale Ale a massive highlight) and I visited The Bull in Highgate which had a truly awe inspiring collection of bottles and it’s own microbrewery. Not only do Cask and the Bull have a great selection of beer but they offer a really great and friendly environment to drink them in and are easily on a par with some of the craft beer bars I love in Fort Collins.

Rare beers. Easy to find.
I’ve moaned on here before about the poor availability of top USA craft beers in the UK but I was wrong about this too. No sooner than I had arrived back from the States with a suitcase full of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale I had placed an order through Ales by Mail and got hold of some Bear Republic Racer 5 and Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, rare beers but not rare enough to avoid the gravitational pull of my fridge. However my order didn’t just contain transatlantic delights, it also featured some stunning home grown brews such as Marble Dobber and the awesome Kernel Black IPA. If American beer geeks got hold of these brews they’d probably write blogs about how they wish they could get hold of them over there.

One topic that seems to constantly come up in conversation at the moment is the price of a pint (or a half, or two thirds, or whatever you’re drinking) and the general consensus seems to be that craft beer is too expensive to which I disagree. I work in the musical instrument industry, an industry that works from painfully low margins and one that sees shop closures on an almost weekly basis (sound familiar?) When I decide to put my prices up it’s because my suppliers have put their prices up and because of the rapidly increasing cost of shipping, manufacture and raw materials. If you want a hand crafted, heritage laden Gibson Les Paul then you pay a premium but you can buy a pretty reasonable made in China Epiphone copy for about a fifth of the price. You might see a pattern emerging here but at least publicans don’t have to deal with people haggling for a discount, right?

So imagine you’re in a craft beer bar and like me, you’re a craft beer snob, driven by an uncontrollable lust for hops. Tap one has Magic Rock Cannonball IPA, a citrus and tropical fruit tidal wave of flavour at 7.4% ABV and tap two is Sharps Doom Bar, a pleasant, subtle hit of digestive biscuits and blackberries at a ‘sessionable’ 4% ABV. The Doom Bar is an attractive £3.00 a pint and you could probably sink a few and not feel too bad in the morning but it doesn’t really set your world alight. The Cannonball is the same price but for a half, some of you might shout WHAT A RIP OFF and to those people I politely say don’t drink it, save it for me as I will happily ‘session’ this beer all night because it tastes amazing. The Cannonball probably has around five times the ingredients of Doom Bar, the American hops probably come at a higher premium and it probably takes twice as long to make. Do you still think it’s too expensive? Yes? Good, more for me then.

The reason I bring this up in a blog about how Britain’s craft beer scene is just as good as Americas? They moan about the price of craft beer too (despite it being much cheaper over there), it’s simply human nature, we want lots of things and it costs money to obtain them, we don’t like it so we have a moan about it. Craft beer is a luxury and one that’s bucking the trend in a global recession and instead of supporting these fantastic, small independent businesses many of use choose to berate them based purely on the fact they intend to earn a decent living which is a basic right that all of us have.

Don't fight, have a tasting flight.
My Dad is lucky enough to spend a lot of time travelling around the USA when he's not at home in Fort Collins and most weekends he emails me to tell me which new microbrewery he just visited or how good the latest Odell pilot brew is and I used to get very jealous. This weekend he sent me some photos from a visit to the Lafayette Brewery based in Indiana and for the first time I didn’t feel a shred of jealously. Why should I have been jealous, I just had the most amazing time at Cask that weekend and I have RACER 5 IN MY FRIDGE. In addition to this Camden Town Brewery just announced that they might just start selling growlers in the near future, something I had dearly hoped would happen when I first visited their brewery bar a few weeks ago. I expect to see lots more breweries opening their own bars and brewery taps over the next few years and selling take away draught beer will be an integral part of the experience they offer.

No longer is the UK craft beer scene in the shadow of Uncle Sam, it’s proudly running alongside it, arm in arm. British breweries are winning medals in the World Beer Cup, craft beer bars and new breweries are springing up all over the place and an industry comprised of mostly independent businesses is staring a recession in the face, raising a middle finger and shouting FUCK YOU! This isn’t because of one single brewery, beer or bar, this renaissance is down to us, the drinker, the end user. We’ve been buying these beers and shouting our love for them all over town, we are responsible for this and we should be proud of ourselves. The UK beer scene is only going to get bigger, ale of all kinds is going to continue to take market share away from other beverages and more breweries, bars, bottle shops and brewpubs are going to continue springing up all over the place. Hell, if I had the cash and I knew what I was doing I’d open my own.

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