That brewing is a business sometimes gets forgotten. A brewer who can't sell his beer won't be around for very long.
Brewers do not live in a vacuum. They're part of a common space in which we all live. Much of our lives are determined by the culture around us and the laws to which we must adhere. And an economic system.
Where am I going with this? Well, some seem to think that brewing works the other way around. That brewers are free to experiment and brew whatever they please. According to this theory, the current beer scene in the USA is the result of daring brewers pushing the enevelope. European countries, so the argument goes, lag behind because their brewers are lazy or complacent or lack balls. Basically, it's an idealist line of reasoning.
Though many of his ideas are out of fashion, Marx did get to the nub of how socirty works. It's not driven by ideas, but by economics. Ideas follow money. Me, I'm a materialist, just like Marx.
How does this relate to brewing? Simple. Brewing is moulded by economics, just like every other business. Here's an example: why don't British micros brew hop-monster IPA's? Because they are expensive to brew, would cost more than punters are prepared to pay and aren't what they want to drink anyway. You could brew the best beer in the world, but if no-one wants to drink it or the price is wrong you won't be in business long.
In most of Europe, there just isn't a big enough market for "extreme beers" for it to be worth a brewer's while making them. Unless it's for export to the USA. Which is why many experimental breweries - De Dolle, Fantome, Struise - sell most of their beer not in Belgium, but in the USA.
There have been a couple of failed attempts to get American micro beers into British supermarkets. If British drinkers cold-shouldered such beers why would a British brewer try to copy them? Seems like a guaranteed way to fail. Where there is a market for wacky beers, Denmark is a good example, local brewers quickly started brewing them themselves.
Ultimately, brewers are only going to brew what they can sell. I'd love to walk into a pub and find a strong Mild, weak IPA, Burton and Stout on draught. But as almost no-one else does, that just isn't going to happen. For me to whinge about it to brewers would be merely twattish.
It's American drinkers, not American brewers who are adventurous. Without a market to support it, envelope-pushing would end in a few weeks. Oh, and the flat rate tax on beer helps, too. I don't know any European brewing nation that taxes beer that way.
Christmas in the Pub, 1983 - In the picture above you can see the aftermath of Christmas present unwrapping in the bar of the Artillery Inn, Exeter, probably at around 6am, on 25 Dec...
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