I used to think that taste was the sole determinant of what constituted a good beer. Taste is important, maybe the most important thing, but it isn’t everything.
Beer is about much more than its taste, and its aroma and appearance for that matter. When you buy a beer, you are not only supplying your taste buds with (hopefully) a great tasting beer but shaping the beer industry as we know it.
Every time you buy a beer, you support that beer product and the business behind that product, not to mention the retailer and distributor. Your beer choices matter in ways that go beyond the short-term win of cleansing your palate with a, hopefully, tasty liquid – they also influence the kind of beer you’ll be able to drink again in the future.
Some might rally against the idea that beer is about more than beer. And I understand that there’s a certain purity in drinking a beer without consideration to external factors like whether it’s a 99 on RateBeer, or if it’s this style or that, brewed with Galaxy hops or Nelson. Sometimes ‘not knowing’ can create a more personal and visceral experience for the drinker.
However, imagine if every beer had was bottled in a standard amber glass, you didn’t know where it came from, who it was brewed by, how it was brewed, or what ingredients were in it (actually that sounds like a lot of lagers I know). All these elements help us to locate beer within the context of the broader world, to share and communicate about beer, and to grow as a beer loving community.
I wrote about the role that the multinational corporations played in limiting choice and variety in beer that ultimately led to the rise of craft beer.Now that the beer corporations have wrung all that they could out of commercial lagers, craft beer has become attractive to them and they are expanding into the craft beer market, but we need to be wary of these wolves in craft beer clothing.
We know from past experience that they do not care about providing choice to beer drinkers. We know that if they can get away with it, they may just shortchange beer drinkers with cheaper ingredients. So before we, the beer drinker, casually hand the power back to the corporations because they have started producing craft beer after sniffing a buck, think what would happen if they regained their market share and profit margins? Would they again start to limit choice? Would they substitute their ingredients out for inferior chemically enahnced ingredients from who knows where?
That’s not to say the likes of James Squire and Little Creatures don’t have their place, and one can make the argument, as I did, that they may even be valuable gateway beers that turn more drinkers towards the light and help the craft beer community, but we must also stay vigilant to ensure that we don’t suffer inferior products again and that we don’t ‘stop’ and rest satisfied now with the craft-lite beers produced by corporations who are ready and willing to take us for all we’ve got given half a chance.
So yes keep drinking beers that taste good but also remember to go out of your way sometimes to support local beers and microbreweries because these are the guys keeping the bastards honest, these are the guys who have built this craft beer movement from the ground up, and we have a responsibility as drinkers to help them keep fighting the good fight. Ra ra.
And if you need help working out which breweries are independent and which are owned a multi-national, here’s a handy little map.