Many of us, CAMRA members especially, are extremely worried about the large number of pub closures in the UK at the moment. I have to admit that in my local area, Hammersmith and Fulham, it isn’t as noticeable as say where my parents live in Cheshire. You’d be quite hard pushed to drive for very long in the suburbs of any UK city without seeing at least 1 boarded up or shut down pub. The closures can be devastating to the life and soul of small country villages where the pub is sometimes the sole communal meeting point. The reasons for these pub closures are varied and many and could probably constitute a post on their own (and in fact probably will at some point). What I’ll look at here is the solutions.
Most of the UK drinking population drink lager. That’s just a fact. However a large proportion of those lager drinkers drink “lowest common denominator” beer that’s industrially manufactured in factories rather than breweries. The companies who make these beers, while hugely successful businesses which should be applauded, care little about the quality of the final product. Their main concern is that they can sell more of it than their competitors. This is done by utilising huge advertising budgets and pricing competitors out through economies of scale. Many of these beers were initially advertised as exotic and European when initially introduced into the British market; like Stella Artois using the taglines “reassuringly expensive” and “We were brewing in Belgium before Belgium was Belgian”. However, over time they began to be weakened both in ABV and flavour. Very quickly the public’s opinion changed and phrases like “piss water” and “yellow water” became ubiquitous with them. The big 4 brewers quickly realised their strangle hold on the British lager market was slipping and so looked to Europe and the world for small new breweries to acquire. The likes of Tyskie, Hoegarden, Tiger and Asahi were all bought and brewed under license in the UK. Unfortunately they, like their ancestors before them, have now begun to slip into mediocrity and may well join their older cousins on the dump heap of foreign beers now no longer considered foreign. It is shocking the amount of beer advertised using suave Europeans or exotic beaches with the mandatory “brewed in the UK” slipped in at the end in some obscure corner of the screen.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel though; a new breed of lager drinkers has emerged. People are now demanding quality over quantity. This trend has run in comparison with the new educated middle classes demanding higher quality, more wholesome foods. Whether this is driven by a need to appear more sophisticated and cultured than the “plebs who drink Carling” or that there actually has been a taste revolution is irrelevant; the change has been made. When 20 something graduates start seeing the pay checks coming in and head for after work drinks they are now turning more and more to craft lagers. The word “craft” has had some debate about how it is defined. In my book I define craft as any beer which is made by people who care more about how it tastes than about watching the cash flood in. The trend was started by the importation in large scales of American craft beers such as Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sam Adams Lager. It almost seems that no posh London bar worth its salt now doesn’t have at least one of these on draught nowadays. The success of these imports in the more well to do areas of the country led domestic brewers to follow suit and try to brew quality lagers which would challenge people’s perceptions about the British brewing scene. Some of the more well-known versions include Camden’s Hells lager, Harviestoun’s Schiehallion and West’s St Mungo. Many of these are now available country wide in both keg and bottle. The Hell’s lager seems to be very popular with a new USA Hells being released last week. This version is similar but uses American hops in the brew. While I am not a huge fan of most of these lagers, I just don’t really like lager. 2 that have caught my eye are Republika from Windsor and Eton and St Austell Cornish Bock. They are both great brews that I feel could sway even the most ardent ale fan to think that lager may have its merits.