Oh dear, The Editor’s glass really is half empty. What a pessimistic diatribe is his “stand against powerfully hopped beer,” when he really should be celebrating the fact that we now have more beers, more beer styles, more innovation, more passion, more women and more youth in the British brewing industry than ever before, and more breweries than in most of our lifetimes.
As the owner of a brewery which brews, and cannot keep up with the demand for, a raft of highly hopped beers – six at last count, and with a Kiwi head brewer experimenting manfully with New Zealand hops (the biggest flavoured of all,) I take a keen professional interest in what others are brewing. I must say I have never experienced the “mouth puckering, eye watering sensation” of which Rob, The Editor, complains. Perhaps that’s because, like most ardent beer lovers, I have a pretty good idea where the good beer is. I select what I drink. It’s a habit born of a lifetime of beer hunting, growing up in the dark days when crazed keg marketeers were trying to kill British cask beer. Then, you really had to hunt for a decent pint. Today you don’t. It’s all around you. What on earth has the editor been drinking? Maybe he has been unlucky, or maybe his self admittedly underperforming taste buds just don’t get big hop flavours. That’s fine. Lots of people don’t like hop forward beers. There’s plenty else to drink. The new wave craft brewers are as keen on malt as they are on hops.
I do agree with him that big flavours can hide bad ones. But there have always been under-skilled brewers, always will be. In the days of mild and bitter and that’s your lot, there was bad bland beer – it was one of the causes of the dash to keg in the sixties. Now you can get bad hoppy beer. So what? Now, you can also get wonderful, flavoursome beers, which increase the sum of human happiness for beer lovers, like me, who have been let down by most of the traditional brewing industry most of their drinking lives. The ambition and enthusiasm of the new wave craft brewers, should be applauded, not denigrated.
The real story here is the renaissance of British brewing. If you doubt a re-birth, consider some figures: 1915 – 3,000 brewing companies. 1971 – 100 breweries left. Today - only 40 of that 100 remain. But there are 1,200 breweries in the land. Thus 1,160 breweries are new, born in the last 40 years.
25 years ago, the Hop Merchants, Charles Faram, sold just 3 varieties of hop. Today they sell 107 varieties. Why? To meet the demand for new flavours. Why? Because the beer drinking public like craft beer, because a perfect storm of localism has met a revolt against blandness and multi-national fizz.
The big brewers know it. That’s why they are falling over themselves to install their own micro brewing plants. That’s why their pale ales are being superseded by pale imitations. That’s why the unseemly rush to rebrand themselves as “craft” breweries.
Recently, in a newly free-of-tie craft beer bar, I enjoyed a hugely hopped American IPA, a sour wheat beer, a British take on a geuze, a “Black IPA,” a deep, dark Imperial Stout as well as a gently hopped low gravity session beer: Choice, flavour, quality. Don’t knock it, support it.
Wake up, Rob, and smell the hops.
Alex Brodie, founder and owner of Hawkshead Brewery.
You can read the original article by Rob Willock (PMA Editor) here.