With all great loves and passions sews a degree of despise, resentment and pessimism. At some point, very few regular tweeters or bloggers have avoided the trap of just being a big ol’ grump. We’ve moaned. We’ve put down everything with a tiresome inevitability. “This beer is OK, but everything about the industry right now is rubbish.”
I hate to return to that most famous of divisive breweries, which I have both defended and abused in equal measure. But my epiphany of pointless acrimony happened in BrewDog Manchester via that little appreciated piece of beer beauty – the beer mat.
It was a joyous day a couple of weeks ago when I, along with two friends, last visited BrewDog Manchester. I wanted to drop in to try a couple of the guests, and also two of their new brews, Electric India and #mashtag. Whilst sampling a couple of these brews, conversation turned to BrewDog as a company. I was filling my friend in on the recent Equity for Punks launch and the blog post from AllGates Brewery that just about everyone in the beer world had read. I criticised BrewDog’s business sense and customer treatment myself using various quotes from that article. I spoke about how I would run the business to make it more profitable. I performed all this criticism whilst enjoying one of their beers in one of their bars that I love.
I repeat: I performed all this criticism whilst enjoying one of their beers in one of their bars that I love.
It was what my friend did next that really cut a chord with me. He opened up the beer menu, perused over it for a few minutes and then decided to order an Oskar Blues Ten Fidy.
I should explain that this friend of mine, Andrew, is not a beer enthusiast. He does like to try different beers from bottle menus but usually forgets about them once drunk. He’s also infamous for being tight with his money. I have often been conned out of rounds and taxis by this chap. It’s his querk. But here he was ordering a rather expensive Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, a beer from a brewery I’ve not even tried anything by as of yet. His reasoning? “I like that it’s called Ten Fidy, is 10.5% and costs £10.50 – it amuses me.” I thought the fact that it was from a 355ml can would put him off, but this novelty just increased his enjoyment.
So Andrew sat for over half an hour, supping his imperial stout and enjoying every mouthful with a pleasant grin. His comments were mainly about how much he liked the can design. Was there much to say about the taste? “It’s bloody lovely.” And that was it. The End. Period. Fin. Andrew wasn’t reaching for his phone to open an application and log the experience. There was no logging into twitter to inform the brewery of this moment. There was no picture of the beer taken or mental tasting notes that might form part of a blog later on. Once the beer was finished, it was done with. He’d enjoyed it but there was no afterthought. Without reading this blog, he might not even have a strong memory of his taste of Ten Fidy. For a moment, I was envious. I’d forgotten what it was like to enjoy beer in this way.
It was at this moment I noticed properly for the first time the beermat on the bar. Obviously with two sides to it, it was presently flipped to the side that read “Pessimist,” with the glass half empty. The irony of this moment was not lost on me. Hadn’t I been sat here with friends who are not bloggers, tweeters or critics and weren’t we all having a really good time in this BrewDog bar? Isn’t it great that somebody like Andrew can try all these wonderful beers so readily in his home city? Isn’t this a sign that we’re winning the fight? And here I was, like so many others, focusing on the negatives, being pessimistic again. Do I have to consider a company’s business plan or strategy when in their bar? I don’t have to join Equity for Punks if it bothers me. As a non-businessman, should I really be discussing how I think a brewery should run its business? I’m probably not the man to know. And as for those of you who’ve ever muttered anything along the lines of “Well Batch 91 of Punk IPA wasn’t as good as Batch 86 but still a big improvement on Batch 88…” Lord help you!
Though criticism is not a sin, and useful when placed necessarily, it has felt like a constant at times. Anyone who has ever known love will know that it’s sometimes easier to pick up on the faults when you care about something so much. But it’s best to revel in the positives, look at that glass as half full, be an optimist. We could all do with being like my friend Andrew every now and then and remembering the times when beer was just a very enjoyable experience. It turns out there’s a lot of good drink to be had that way.