It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, I just returned from a working trip to the UK and all I can say is I love many of their
beers. And, yes, I did visit many pubs You can through in an extra "many" there if you like.
Interestingly whenever the locals found out I was an American beer writer they were mainly
interested in discussing one thing: is our craft beer the equivalent of their real/cask ale?
When craft beer emerged in the US, it struggled against a market dominated by three identical-
tasting commercial lagers. US craft beer clearly stood for quality and flavor. In the UK, there
was already a product - real ale - that tasted very different from American craft beer, but was
similarly traditional, small scale and independent.
First some background. When the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) was founded in 1971,
it identified the difference between good and bad beer- good beer was fresh, live,
unpasteurised and served from a traditional cask, while bad beer was filtered, pasteurised,
artificially fizzy (thanks to the addition of carbon dioxide) and served from pressurised kegs.
Many in Camra still believe that cask is good and keg is bad. American craft beer shares some
characteristics with cask ale, but in general it’s often filtered and served from kegs, bottles and
cans. In 2011, Camra chairman Colin Valentine launched a scathing attack on craft beer and
the “bloggerati” who championed it, warning that craft “is served using CO2 and/or nitrogen. It
is keg beer. It may have hops in it, but it is keg.”
I have to admit getting more than a bit bothered (only a few times) by the implication that keg
beer is somehow inferior to cask. Tome it seemed an affront to American craft brewers. We
may not get cask ale, but we have a total appreciation of quality, in any format.
I did meet several Brits who assured me that Camra is out of touch with the quality of truly fine
craft beers. Several complained that British real ale are nothing more than boring brown beer.
That I disagreed with. Bill, you know my feeling for good cask ale - can't get enough of it.
Anyway, as I see it, American craft brewers were inspired by British tradition and flavor. We've
just put our own spin on it. It’s great that American-style beers are doing so well both here in
the US and in the UK,but for me real ale is obviously craft beer too!
We wouldn’t agree with that at all. American craft brewers were inspired by British tradition and
flavour. We just put our own spin on it. It’s great that American-style beers are doing so well
here, but real ale is obviously craft beer. It’s a circular effect.
Good beer is good beer be it dispensed by gravity or gas. It's that simple.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina, welcome back. Glad to see you found time to fit some beer drinking into your trip - or
is it the other way around? Actually you've come up with a most interesting topic, so here's my
take on it.
Craft beer is a nebulous concept, it means what you want it to mean, Camra,many believe, is the
zenith of the brewer’s art. I can't really disagree with that by the way. However if craft beer gets
people interested in better beer generally, it’s good for all of us. Look Gina, there’s no need for
craft to be defined any further. Drinkers define their own terms, and people choosing craft have
already decided what it is.
The difference between craft brewers and the big guys is, I think, that they’re not truly, deep
down, crazy about beer, people. I might even venture a guess that more than a few of them
rarely drink beer. Don't get me wrong, many of the macro beers are excellent for that style but a
purist might say they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. They’re just trying to protect their market
share; it doesn’t come from within. They’re always responding to the market, and while there's
nothing wrong with that it explains why they’re always late. If they really cared about beer, they’d
have moved towards improving quality and crating craft branches long before now.
The British brewer that is their version of our mainstream producers is Greene King. Hugely
popular, with an estate of 2,000 tied pubs and some of the country’s biggest ale brands, it’s often
attacked for being big and bland. The launch of a Greene King “craft” range in 2013 brought
angry howls of derision. From what I understand the criticism hasn't fazed them at all.
Greene King’s marketing director, Dom South said this in a recent article I read: “Greene King
brings reliability and stability to a market that can be a bit unreliable. “We’ve found drinkers aren’t
too bothered about the size of the brewery. They judge a beer on what’s in front of them. And
anyway." Now doesn't that remind you of the controversial Budweiser commercial during the
Super Bowl? Now for the recrod Greene King is one of the smallest big brewers, but while they
not brothers to the likes of Anheuser-Busch or Molson Coors their at least relatives.
Craft beer, like here, is growing in the UK though not as quickly or without some burps.
Contemporary craft beer bars in the UK tend to feature loud music, beer cocktails and
unnecessary events instead of focusing on the quality of beer they have. That's not good for the
movement since it strays from the beer drinking roots of the nation.
However one trend that I endorse and feel will fuel the craft movement actually isn't about craft
beer. It's the slow growth,and it's acceptance of "micropubs" – generally tiny, enthusiast-run
pubs that tend to favor cask beers. Most don't have music or even TVs The Micropub
Association co-founder Stfuel theu Hirst describes the movement as: "bringing back a sense of
community fuelled by quality cask ale, lively banter and the occasional pickled snack".
As I see it if people appreciate quality cask ale they will eventually appreciate the best of craft
beer. As you said so well, "good beer is good beer".
Editor's Note- check out our article on CAMRA