There's been a lot of debate lately (notably on Beer Birra Bier and Tandleman's blogs respectively) around how best to go about reporting bad beer experiences. This is a topic close to my heart, as I've been accused on more than one occasion of being one of the 'cheery beery' crowd - reporting how great everything is, and never passing comment on anything bad.
Like many commentators, I think it's a tough call. I prefer to focus on the good experiences, but that's not to say that I never give bad feedback. The majority of my reporting back is direct to the brewers. Plenty of times over the last few years, I've had need to tell people that their work isn't up to snuff, and I'm not talking about taking a pint back - most often, it's been multiple cases, or a whole run of one beer, and once, nearly a full pallet of bottles.
Most of the time, there's no need to 'go public' with these things. Sometimes beer does make it into the supply chain before a fault is spotted, but in relatively small quantities. I've seen beers pass into circulation, and people pass comment on them. Most of the time, these beers are withdrawn or sent back. It's irritating when this happens, but is mostly handled correctly by brewers.
But that's not the main thrust of this post. The main idea here is to pick up on some things I said about The Crafterati a little while ago. I'm happy to hold up my hands and say that I was wrong about a few things in that post, or at least gave the wrong impression about what I thought. And here's why.
When I see people criticising 'boring brown beer', it irritates me. It irritates me because these 'boring brown beers' are part of our brewing heritage, and these are the beers that inspired a generation of American craft brewers. They were inspired by imports to the US in the 80s, or by visiting the UK, and then they brewed beer with local ingredients. And when Ken Grossman chose local Cascade hops with which to make Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, he defined a beer style, and to a lesser degree, the entire American craft brewing movement. And we all know how influential that movement is in the UK today.
I love some boring brown bitters. Hook Norton Old Hooky, Batemans XXXB, Wadworths 6X - classics all. They taste great, and are living icons of a classic ale brewing tradition. I like boring brown bitter so much that when Denzil at Great Heck Brewing invited me for a brew day (that's him mashing in - yes, that's quite a full mash tun), I wanted to do an ordinary brown bitter with knobs on. Sure, it's a single-hop beer, dry-hopped with a shedload of Apollo, but at it's heart, there's crystal and amber malt. Yummy, nutty, and ordinary with knobs on. It's like a great meat and potato pie - done well, it's indisputably fabulous. Denzil and I will be launching it at North Bar in the next couple of weeks - do come along and let us know what you think.
But hold on. Those beers that I love are have been around forever - that's part of their appeal to me. What is inexcusable - and here's where I'm making kissy-kissy to the crafterati - is that there is still a lot of crappy brown beer being made. If you're going to make a beer that takes a classic as its model - say Bateman's XXXB for the sake of argument - you'd better damn well improve on it. Every week, I receive samples of beer that are both dull and badly made. And that isn't good enough. And so this is the bit where I set out my stall and say sorry to The Crafterati - you're right, there's no excuse for that sort of rubbish.
Of course, that knife cuts both ways. To use a recent example, on International IPA Day, at Mr Foleys, I bought a couple of beers that I left after a few sips - there's no excuse for making unbalanced, clumsy hop-and-malt bombs either. So along with a new tranche of traditional brewers making inexcusably boring and faulty beer, we have a new wave of radical brewers occasionally trying too hard.
Change is good, but change for the sake of it - substituting the new crappy for the old crappy - strikes me as a bit pointless.