I use to spout a quote from Omnipollo head brewer and co-founder Henok Fentie often, it went ‘Beer is a universe’ – basically saying beer is whatever you want it to be. When people would complain about boundaries being pushed, styles becoming blurred and beer looking like murky piss from a ill patient (rank, I know) I would sigh and kinda feel sorry for them. Why couldn’t they see the fun in breaking the rules? In seeing how far it could go. The reinheitsgebot beers of the world will still be there, why not put as much pizza and marshmallows in to some beers, you don’t have to drink it!
It was about growth too. Breweries seemed to be going as far as they could. What was doable? What was drinkable? With the constant need from drinkers for new things they could put out one batch of cans using a new technique or adjunct, if it didn’t work, oh well, next beer please. Beers were young, dumb and full of trub, it felt exciting to go try them and see where they could go.
My tastes changed eventually, and I found too many of those beers to be a miss rather than a hit. It seemed to become more about the novelty rather than trying to break new ground. I mean novelty songs can be great, but you don’t want to fill your Spotify Unwrapped with them.
Other people loved that shit though and good on ‘um. I read something recently that said ‘Don’t yuck someones yum’, which is a good motto to live by, I reckon. It’s not for me, but is for them. Plus there’s always fun behind these beers. They are meant to be stupid, they are meant to, in a way, be laughed at. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and christ, craft beer needs more and more of that as it evolves. (Note: There are a lot of things to be taken seriously in craft beer, as has been made very evident in the last year. I’m talking here though about the actual beer.)
The rise of this push for evolving beer kind of coincided with the boom in beer collaborations. When I first started going to bars *cough* and Brewdog *cough* there’d be one collab on the bar maybe. Two breweries come together to share knowledge and experience, to create something refined that defined them both. They felt special and truly one-offs. Breweries would push them to the moon, often to the detriment of their own beer, but nonetheless it was a chance to cross-brand, to possibly open up your brewery to a new drinkership, get your beer in places it hadn’t been before. But like a lager being topped up with lemonade, the format got diluted. Bars became more collab than not (excuse the slight exaggeration). Endless shots of brewers inside other breweries pouring hops into tanks. Three, four, five, breweries would collab on one beer. Boxsets were brewed of collabing breweries from all over the world. You started to think, oh well of course these brewers weren’t in the same place when they brewed but of course they discussed the beer at depth. They critiqued and curated each beer lovingly through phone calls and emails. The sheer volume of them soon became unfollowable though. You couldn’t keep up. And if the drinker couldn’t keep up, how could the breweries.
I have no doubt breweries have learned new things through collaborating. No doubt that they are beneficial to many. They can be a great source of good in beer, just look at the recent Cloudwater collab four-pack they did with Rock Leopard Brewing Co., Queer Brewing, Eko Brewery and Good Karma Beer Co.
Yet so many others feel like boxes ticked, and favours returned.
With the above two points: experimentation with beer and collaborations, for the drinker ultimately it should be about the beer. Is the beer benefitting from these two factors? For me there has been dwindling returns on both the past few years. Exceptions apply, of course, and my personal tastes have changed a lot since I first started checking-in beers on an app, but I just don’t seek out excessive, style-bending beers anymore or get excited by many collabs out there.
I’m not going to yuck breweries yum though. Breweries are only giving drinkers what they have been buying. If another adjunct in the name or another brewery on the can sells the beer then I’m all for it. Breweries, and by that extension bars and bottleshops, have it hard enough as it is, if anything can make the selling process easier def fucking do it.
What I can’t get behind though is breweries using the above in a cynical marketing ploy to garner attention for shareholders’ stats.
It started as a bad joke a few years ago. Breweries would post ridiculous collab beers on April Fools Day, a few people would laugh, most would cringe. Then surprise, surprise it would actually be a beer ready for release. That one-note joke they had put on twitter was actually real and ready to buy, link in description.
I think it started with Northern Monk collabing on a beer with the film Sharknado, a blood orange and sea salt IPA, get it?! (this may not be the case, and I can’t speak for American breweries doing this.)
The tiresome joke than got dragged out for a few more years. Other like-minded breweries latched on to the idea; Goose Island x Creme Egg and Camden Town x Marmite, Brewdog x Aldi amongst others. Northern Monk really liked this format though and have to this date ‘collaborated’ on beers with Henderson’s Relish, Ronseal, Seabrook’s, and Aunt Bessie’s.
What was once about pushing beer to see where it could go, and sharing ideas with others to gain more knowledge has now become a cash grab to get added to lists on Buzzfeed and posted on LadBible. It’s using the base of independent beer to garner clickbait and sell a few extra shares by showing how much interaction their social media has. It’s your favourite musician turning up in a car advert, and driving off with a bag of a cash and a little less dignity.
It could be argued that this is getting the word out about craft beer. By seeing these beers in clickbait articles and ‘Beers You Won’t Believe Got Brewed’ lists it opens indie beer up to new people. There is one problem with that, the beer is shite.
Granted the absurdity of the idea can open the barrier to new people trying craft beer, but then they try it and if the product is rubbish, its demoted back down again to a cheap laugh. It’s telling a Christmas cracker joke, and then all you’re left with after is a pair of mini nail clippers.
Soon it’ll be collabs with whoever the highest bidder is. Food company has a new mouthwash to release, get some shameless brewery to fill up some of their tanks with a collab beer, call it Cool Breeze Mint IPA and boom, people will tweet about it, mock it, love it. Social media interactions go up, job done.
In a business sense it’s clever though. Brewdog have for years not cared about getting good or bad publicity, as long as it got publicity. We all fell for their back and forth with Aldi. ‘They ripped off us, so we’ll rip off them’ stunt. I made bad memes about it, people tweeted threads about it etc. The word got out. People who might not usually stray from the one beer they drink may have picked up a can on their weekly shop, ‘Look, its that beer I saw in the facebook group…’ It’s a win for Watty.
I know beer is a business, but they’re trying to sell these beers under the ‘craft’ banner. Co-opting a term that has already been well-established by a hard working indie beer industry for years now, then skimming the top and selling it on.
And, aye it is just a little bit of fun but the reasons behind it are cynical, big-beer thinking that ultimately aims to push one’s self to the top of the pile, regardless of what you leave in your wake.
Maybe I’m being a mard arse though. I did say earlier in this that craft beer takes beer too seriously. Maybe I’m guilty of that now.
Have I gone full circle? Have I become the boring fart complaining about beer?
Written by Ross