This blog is prompted by a post on Twitter from Daniel Vane, where he questions whether some breweries have been elevated to a position of immunity from criticism.
I would agree in broad terms with Daniel’s post and I think this stems from the level of personal investment ‘craft’ beer drinkers, myself included, have with a movement that they feel represents a part of who they are. ‘craft’ (in parentheses because it still makes me cringe a bit) is adopted by many as a badge of honour and the term is in many ways more emotive than practical as a point of reference in relation to UK beer – just like indie. And just like indie, or punk, or grime, craft is a significant minority movement that bemuses and inspires in equal measure.
Reflexivity is probably the most valid term I can think of when analysing lack of critical discussion in beer. We get excited about a beer, which attracts new drinkers, new drinkers share that enthusiasm and espouse similar thoughts, brewers naturally welcome positive feedback and this may then inform their future plans, what beers to produce, flavours to incorporate etc. The downside is that a loop of positive feedback can result in homogenous output and a hive mind mentality.
Perhaps it might sound like a load of waffle to apply this thinking to beer, but given the explosion in UK brewing over the last 5-10-15 years, self analysis amongst drinkers is still developing, and outside of the blogging world, there’s nothing especially wrong with that.
I think most drinkers have learnt to take the rough with the smooth without blind acceptance that everything is great, and while justified criticism should be welcomed by all, it’s ok to take a more pragmatic stance sometimes. For the majority of drinkers, public criticism of something beloved by many, no matter how even handed or justified is still a big step. I’ve got no qualms taking up issues with people face to face, but not everyone does, and putting your opinions out there on social media can be just as daunting. Especially when some breweries ignore, deny or dismissively justify issues anyway.
I think that there isn’t quite an untouchable cabal of breweries as such, but certainly there are those who are given a bit more leeway. Ultimately, how many craft breweries are there who have produced a small range of core beer, with no consistency issues over the last 5 years? Not many. How many breweries are there who have consistently produced brilliant, exciting, yet batch by batch, patchy, beers over that same period? Lots.
As the industry comes of age, there is more of a distance between some of its larger players and online commentators, and it will take effort from consumer and producer to bridge that gap, what needs to continue to happen is for both sides to find a way to keep maturing.