"The new wave drinker can sip a half of a six per cent beer in a 'two pint window' in a glass that many of our fathers would say was appropriate only for displaying flowers."
'Nah, I don't like that one. Or that one. That one is disgusting. I don't like any of them.'
This is the gist of what a pub customer was saying as he worked his way through about six samples at a craft beer bar I was visiting earlier this week.
'I'll just have another pint of the mild please.'
In fairness to the chap, he may have tried about a third of a pint worth of beer but he was genuinely searching for something he liked rather than sneaking a few free sips before he returned to the drink he had previously ordered. He just didn't like what was on offer.
This could be a fairly typical scene in the new wave of craft beer pubs up and down the country. Behind the bar is an educated member of staff, a streetwise beer boffin complete with the popular uniform of unkempt appearance, a beard (but a cool one, not like the ones that CAMRA lot grow) and two arms full of tattoos. He was the epitome of the contemporary craft beer aficionado.
On the other side of the bar was a man from a different generation. Older, gnarled, worldly and keen to get his own opinions about beer across. This, in general terms, came down to liking beers that you can drink in volume, in pints and that not are going to hopilly blow your head off after the first sip.
It is something of a culture clash.
The new wave drinker can sip a half of a six per cent beer in a 'two pint window' in a glass that many of our fathers would say was appropriate only for displaying flowers. Interesting beers are attracting a new batch of fans, but we must not forget those whose habits have been honed over decades and are unlikely to change.
It reminded me of a scene in the new 'There's a beer for that' advert. A hipster (with impressive beard, naturally) enters a pub to order a beer, while an older bloke in a flat cap looks on with an expression of bemusement as if to say 'Can a man like you, dressed in those clothes, with that beard, really want the same drink as me. Can we really be connected in some way by the life-enhancing beverage that we both choose to drink. Are we essentially the same?'
Or he might just be thinking 'twat'. It's hard to work out exactly what the marketing mob are getting at sometimes.
Judge for yourselves by watching the new ad here:
Anyway, it emphasises how beer is appealing to a wider demographic in different ways these days.
I headed to another craft beer bar that same evening (I get about me) where there were an impressive 40 odd cask and keg beers available, not to mention what could be found in the fridge.
I like to think I know my way around a bar but this was still an intimidating environment. Just where the hell do you start when there is so much on offer, especially when so much is unfamiliar? Thankfully the staff were well-informed and there were blackboards for guidance, but when there is a queue building at the bar you wouldn't want to be the chap reading through 20 odd descriptions before choosing your half. This is where the safety net of two recognisable brands by family brewers tucked at the far end of the bar could come in handy.
I guess the point of this is that, yes, the craft scene is vibrant, exciting and new. As such journos want to write about it and many of the mainstream brands are trying to get a piece of that pie by brewing new beers or making noise about their own craft credentials. But we must not get so carried away as to forget that it is still a relatively small part of the market and that there is a huge chunk of drinkers who will never be tempted down the craft path.
We must also not get seduced by the coolness of craft so that we end up thinking small is good and big is bad. There were audible groans in some quarters when Timothy Taylor's Boltmaker was named CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain this summer, but to paraphrase the venerable Roger Protz, is there anyone who can really lay greater claim to being a craft brewer?
It comes down to this, the bartender and the older customer, the flat cap and the beard, the new microbrewer and the 200 year old family brewer, can all co-exist just as everyone remains open-minded and appreciates what the other has to offer.