You could say the hop has got its hip back
No longer does the phrase ‘craft ale’ throw up images of elderly men in flat caps cradling pints in wood-panelled, floral-carpeted pubs.
With small, independent beer brewing booming, a new generation of beer drinkers across the world have been lapping up the myriad flavour sensations produced as a result, and helping to transform the beer industry’s reputation from tired to trendy.
Using traditional brewing methods, with specially hand-picked ingredients and an emphasis on flavour and quality, the process of creating craft ales takes time. But the result is a vast range of experimental flavours and tastes that large-scale commercial brewers just can’t and won’t compete with.
During the 70s, traditional British beer varieties began shrinking as big breweries bought out small to medium ‘craft’ brewers and pushed keg bitter and mass produced lager into pubs.
The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) formed in 1971 and had a stab at rescuing the ‘craft’ industry.
Their efforts succeeded in part. But even with a push on the benefits of ‘real ale’, they failed to deliver a stylish, modern image the industry so desperately needed to thrive in the modern age.
Gordon Brown’s introduction of a Progressive Beer Duty in 2002, giving tax breaks to brewers below a certain size, led to the re-emergence of small ‘craft’ brewers – and a renaissance of the industry (this is currently up for review by the Government and threatens to undo all of the good that it has done – although that’s perhaps for another article).
With the creation of brewers such as Brewdog and forward thinking retailers like Beer52 and Beer Hawk, craft beer is now officially cool. There, we said it.
Headlines about British beer over the past decade make grim reading. Overall, we’re drinking less and pubs are closing their doors at a rate of one every 12 hours.
But the buzz around creative brewing, radical new beer styles and outlandish flavours have led the charge for the craft beer revolution.
Innovation is the key to its success. Just as fashion is forever changing, new trends and innovations are constantly being set in the world of craft beer brewing, giving drinkers an unrivalled source of top quality beer offerings of all flavours, whether they be weird and wacky, spicy, citrusy, fragrant or fruity.
What is fresh beer?
Beer has four main nemeses: light, heat, oxygen and time. And, just as the aromas and flavours of spices in your kitchen fade over time, the longer a beer remains undrunk, the more its flavours will dull – then disappear. Worse still is that they will eventually be replaced with the cooking sherry-flavours of oxidisation.
Fresh beer is better beer. It’s as simple as that.
Fresh beer is in its optimum state, immediately at the end of the conditioning cycle of the brewing process and that conditioning can take place in a cask in just over a week or so but does continue for sometimes up to a few months depending on the strength and style of the beer – much like a fine wine improves with age.
It tastes at its best at this point and can only hold this perfect flavour for only a few days after being “tapped”
When you’re at a shop picking up beer, unless it’s specifically “bottle conditioned” remember it’s gone through at least one process to give it shelf life. That beer sitting in a bottle or a can on the shelf didn’t start its life tasting that way and is certainly not fresh anymore. Even bottle conditioned beers (the gold standard of bottled beers) are far removed from the pub pint with them often “over-conditioning”.
Brew it yourself? (BIY)
The explosion of craft beer popularity has been sparked in no small way by home brewers turning pro. The downpour of the innovative and progressive brewing styles that have emerged have captured the imagination of a younger generation of beer drinkers and led to an influx of newcomers on to the brewing scene.
And with growing numbers of brewers looking to move their fledgling operations from sheds, cupboards and kitchens to bigger spaces, there’s been a surge in demand for knowledge.
There’s a constant quartet of ingredients that form the cornerstones of all beer brewing: malt, hops yeast and water.
So, knowing this, is it worth attempting a bit of BIY (Brew It Yourself)?
A pique in curiosity driven by the craft beer revolution, a desire to save money on buying commercial beers and – for the economically-minded – a chance to use up extra fruit from the garden are among the reasons thousands more are taking up the chance to ‘BIY’, while a recent survey of home brewers found that the hobby gave them a sense of happiness, pride and fulfilment.
But some would say that craft brewing is in itself an art form. And the truth is that home brewing really won’t save you a fortune – unless, of course, you don’t mind drinking substandard beer.
Gadgets and gizmos aplenty have sprung up on the market to meet the increasing demand of wannabe beer brewers, ranging in price from just pounds to the thousands.
But of course, even a good gadget will not make a brewmaster – just like buying a Gordon Ramsay-endorsed saucepan won’t turn you into a Michelin-star chef.
You can, however, save money in the long run if you’re willing to put in substantial commitment and not quit after a few batches, there is a romantic idea to home brewing, carefully crafting your own brew, the reality can be disappointing though when it’s discovered that brewing is probably 80% cleaning rather than creating a tasty new brew.
Beer brewing and Covid
Like so many industries, the Covid pandemic has had a devastating impact on the craft beer brewing industry – with an 82% drop in sales reported among independent breweries.
Despite beer production being part of the food supply chain, and brewers classed as designated key workers, the closure of hospitality venues shut off the main route to market for many independent breweries – leading to 65% of them stopping production altogether.
Unlike global beer brands who can supply supermarkets in great volume, the focus on fresh and quality beers adopted by small breweries who sell the majority of their stock through pubs, bars and restaurants means they have been the hardest hit.
This lack of pubs, incidentally, has also helped to drive the surge in people wanting to brew from home.
More than half of independent breweries (54%) have been unable to access any Government support during this time, with almost a third (29%) considering redundancies to stay afloat.
Bringing beer to your door
There’s only one way to cope when faced with adversity – and that’s to adapt and carry on. Just as the industry reinvented itself over recent years to be relevant to the modern age, it’s doing the same to survive the Covid age.
Figures show that 70% of breweries are rising to the challenge by launching takeaway services and deliveries to their local communities – with a 55% rise in online beer sales reported across the UK.
Having already established that fresh beer is the best beer, the key has been finding a way to provide customers with their favourite, fresh craft ales to pass the Covid pandemic – not just within the community, but across the whole UK.
And – with the introduction of Drive-thru Beer – that’s we’ve done. Who said it wouldn’t be a hoppy ending?