I appear to be at odds with the beer world. As craft brewing grows from strength to strength I find I can't embrace it. Appreciating a beer, I can do, and I have identified that my tastes lean towards darker, porter style beers, but I just can't get into the craft beer spirit, and am actively prejudice against it. And I think I may have figured out why - it is because I am 33 going on sixty.
A decade ago I joined Oddbins and the shop was full of colour. There were little cartoon Oddbins men all over the place, and Ralph Steadman drawings dangling from the ceiling. This was part of the Oddbins brand, with the chain being known for their cartoony shops. I even became quite good at drawing these on shop windows with paint pens that had a habit of leaking all over your shoes. All was well until someone in the buying department thought "hang on a minute, lets put cartoons over every one of our own brand wines", and a range of garishly coloured labels appeared on the shelves. The net result was that I have associated the cartoony image on a bottle of wine with cheap filth within. I was in Sainsbury's today and noticed that the cheapest bottles of wine on their shelves were the ones with the bright 'look-at-me' labels, showing that the plan of 'make the bottles look fun on the worst wine' still holds true to this day.
Another thing I shy away from is the 'lifestyle' rubbish about wine. When I buy a bottle of wine, I'm not buying a brand - I'm buying a consumable product that I want to taste nice. It is not going to change my life, it is not going to make me attractive, nor is it going to be something that is going win me any friends - all of which I have, from time to time, seen emblazoned on the back of wine bottles. The phrase 'best drunk with friends' is the most patronising, annoying thing possible to write on any bottle of wine and makes me want to go on a smashing spree up and down the wine aisle.
Reinventing an alcohol category is something I also see as a bit pointless. When The Easy Drinking Whisky Company was founded, claiming to bring the category up to date by shouting about how fantastic their whiskies were and promoting the hell out of them as something cool twenty-somethings would drink mixed in cocktails, they forgot to mention one thing. The whiskies were crap! They had created blends that were not only expensive but something nobody wanted to make cocktails out of, and bar managers certainly wouldn't entertain their cartoony labels on the gantry of a posh hotel. Compass Box got on with making good looking quality whiskies and are still around today, something not to be said for the whisky revolutionaries. I like subtlety, elegance, grown-up-ness from my alcoholic beverages, both inside the bottle and on the outside, and Compass Box provide that. I don't see the point in shouting about your product if it is excellent - just get on with producing good booze and word will spread.
So when beer companies decided to stop trying to attract crusty old men in pubs and started going for the younger market, I backed right off, knowing that the image and the product was not for me. There seems to be a childish element to the whole thing that just grates with everything I want from an alcohol company. Maybe it is because I'm the wrong side of thirty, maybe because I don't like getting drunk and the beer world has something called a 'session beer' that indicates over consumption, and maybe it is because I can't be doing with beer-pong generation and their arrogant marketing. The Brew Dog punk-itude is juvenile and immediately puts me off their beers even though I know some of them are good. Similarly, seeing garish labels with vulgar names similarly makes me stop paying attention - Stone Brewery, I'm looking at you - as there is no need to call a beer 'Arrogant Bastard' - again, nothing but an infantile attention grabber. It doesn't stop there, as there are other things that annoy me.
I went for dinner once and the chef had decided to put vanilla in the mashed potato - it was a horrific error of judgement, but he did it because he could and he thought it would be whacky and different, and this attitude is rife throughout the beer industry. I find it pointless. There are two countries that are most associated with beer - England and Germany - and the Germans, being the organised race they are, decreed half a Millenia ago that beer was to be made of water, malt, hops and yeast. Nothing else. Now we are seeing brews with oysters, chillies, pineapple, rock (the boiled sugar kind, not dug out of the earth kind), Cannabis and Pizza thrown in the mix. And why? Because they can. Companies can make their name as a producer doing something different and exploit the morons who will try anything new simply because it is a new beer. Again, it makes me despair.
Also, and this is where I'm going to get the biggest criticism, I really don't give a damn about hops and I think neither should you. The producers should, in the same way that wine producers should care about grape clones, but in most cases knowing what the hop variety is is just a way to make a drinker sound more intelligent than they actually are. The fact is a majority of beer drinkers bluff their way through knowing the different hop strains but because they do it with confidence/arrogance - and because their peers are similarly bluffing, they never get questioned. After ten years trying wine on a daily basis, I'm only beginning to be able to distinguish between terroirs, as my recent German post proves. If I made a stupid comment about land in Burgundy, I would get a number of critics telling me the error of my ways very quickly, so I continue to learn and, only when I'm certain, do I speak. Beer drinkers don't wait, they just open their mouths and let sound come out. Do you honestly mean to tell me that a beer drinker can pick up a library knowledge of hop strains in less than a year, because the majority of people passing themselves off as experts have been doing it for less than that. Having said all this, for people who are genuinely experts in the beer world, there are companies like Kernel that do it right - they produce beers with different hops and they state what the hop variety is. So if you really care, you do have producers who cater for your geeky whim. For the rest of you, if a producer is putting Pizza in the beer, the hops matter not one bit regardless of what any hop-nut may think.
To sum everything up - I find the modern beer world childish and arrogant. Am I saying this from a position of ignorance? You bet I am, but that is just another thing that we oldies do - have unfair opinions based on our own made up conclusions!
So why do I tell you of my hatred of the beer world? Well circumstances at work mean I'm going to have to put all my prejudices aside and start paying attention to beer and learning more about it, when I really don't want to and my reviews will be based on the foundations of this dislike of the beer industry! I'm going to be spending hours reading up on breweries, trying a multitude of candy floss and roast chicken infused concoctions and trying to avoid throttling the annoying pre-pubescent beer geeks that come out of their dark, strangely smelling tissue strewn bedrooms to talk to me. Hey, I have the arrogant element of the beer trade sussed - I'm one step closer to ale-enlightenment!
Consider yourself forewarned - there is going to be lots of beer coming your way soon.