Prologue: Another Brick in the Wall
In August 2014 I’d hit a wall. Most of it was illness and life in general and I reference that at the end of this post. But I was also growing tired of elements of the beer scene. It prompted me to just throw my toys out of the pram, colour out of the lines of that colouring book and express my frustration in a certain form. It led to the rant that was Everything Wrong With Beer at This Moment. It wasn't a cry for attention but people were attentive. It did change matters for me in more ways than you can imagine.
It has been just over two years and I've found I've hit the wall again. I began the year, not only really enjoying my writing but gaining much more praise than in previous years. I was happy with what I was saying but equally pleased to see people reading.
Then a wall started to form that reminded me of two years ago.
In complete contradiction, a decent chunk of the current wall is formed from happiness; happiness brings out a different passion that doesn't equate to fiery blog posts. Part of the wall is built with lack of time that I could devote to the words; part of which coincides with the happiness.
But the wall is cemented and reinforced with disillusionment and exasperation that reminded me of that period around the post of August 2014. When it appeared on my TimeHop recently, re-reading the post formed a mini battering ram within me. It was interesting to consider the relevancy and irrelevancy of some of those points 24 months on. It also made me consider what was bothering me now. Possibly foolishly, I have decided to revisit that post, give my opinion on each point and add additional grievances in an attempt to break through that wall once more. To understand where this is going, I strongly suggest you read the original.
So here we have: Everything Wrong With Beer at This Moment: Revisited and Revised for 2016.
Cask Vs Keg. Bottle Vs Can.
The eternal argument. The one that may rage on before the final apocalyptic showdown between the two where they eventually destroy each other and what is birthed from it is some self proclaimed innovative hybrid of both known as "Live Beer" that is two parts poor-representation and one part marketing.
It won't die. It won't leave. And added to it has come the Can marketing masturbation that is worse than what preceded it. There is zero progress here.
Seeing your favourite beers
There is still a slight problem in the continued rat race to have the rarest beers on the bar for devoted and respected beer bars to actually bring in favourite stalwarts regularly.
But it is with the Advent of the less specialised bars trying to keep up with current trends by having good beers on that it is getting easier to see more familiar faces, (I'm thinking the likes of High Wire, Gamma Ray, Runaway Pale etc here,) as they are the larger safer options that they are willing to take a punt on. We're still inundated in lacklustre "specials" that detract from consistent quality in other bars.
Okay Newbies - I admitted to being one of you last time but you really need to let go. I know bashing CAMRA feels like a rite of passage, but it isn't.
Here is a point that still occurs and has only worsened. Basically, if you're unsure, you need to consider CAMRA to be like the police; they mostly seem to do more harm than good, cost me money and it's members are made up of a 50/50 split between wonderful people and complete twunts. But, in the end they probably have a really important purpose that you never quite appreciate. They're just not always on the same level as you.
Wetherspoon's bashing. BrewDog bashing. Just generally bashing everything.
I still like Wetherspoons and Brewdog. Now they like each other and I suppose I'm supposed to dislike that in some way? I don't.
This is perhaps the most progressive part of the list in the past 24 months, though much of that stems from some of our homegrown's improved quality. The cutting edge of beer retail in the country for a long time seemed to come from James Clay imported American breweries. If we'd not heard of them and they made it here, we had to try them. If we had heard of them but they'd never been seen before, it was all Twitter would talk about.
Recall now a time just as Firestone Walker entered this country for the first time. Their presence here was put on a pedestal once occupied by the Holy Grail. But the love of the imported American stuff seems to have finally subsided in order to allow excitement about our own breweries. Finally. These are much better times.
This is a gap that was being bridged ever so slightly but is now falling into the river. I'm always pleased to see people discussing on the - ahem - wonderful Facebook forums about their discoveries of classic Belgium and German beers and I've certainly kept my promise to return to them myself.
However, at times on Twitter I do feel like there's only interest in the European newest "craft" beers rather than some ignored classics. Unless it's Cantillon of course...
Everything was boring before and Everything is so different and varied now
Did I actually call the sour beer thing a fad? I think I did. And I wish it was the case... I definitely wasn't wrong on this one on the whole though was I?
"A new railway arch brewery has opened."
"Great. What beer do they have?"
"A new experimaental brewery has opened."
"Great. What experimental, never-heard-of-before, definitely-not-following-on-trend beer do they have?"
Make mine a Landlord or Jaipur please.
Free stuff still tastes brilliant
I think - THINK - I might have written about this fairly recently.
What pleases me was the reaction to that post. Some started putting out very descriptive disclaimers, some distanced themselves from it with reference to my post and others tweeted about it for hours to make sure they couldn't be considered assholes by me. I wrote something that called the freebie lovers out and it got a reaction. Yes I'm smug.
"Ain't nobody fucking with my clique, clique, clique, clique..."
After my annual trip to London last year I promised to stop arguing everything is London-centric. However, it doesn't stop most in the capital seemingly only bothering to travel north for Indy Man - because that's what the cool kids do. Still, since then I've met many more Manchester based beer people so this is no longer an issue for me.
In a completely unrelated note, having booked tickets for London next month, I can confirm that trains actually do leave the capital for other British cities. Just saying London people. You know, in case you weren't sure.
Being a total prick is now socially acceptable and cool
A much larger increase in beer focused hostelries has led to a change in the type of bar staff personnel. A few years back there seemed to be more full time bar staff passionate about their products. It's interesting and pleasing to see how, at least in Manchester, many of these full timers have gone on to different beer based work. I've seen many go into writing, brewing, shops or headhunted to manage other bars.
This has led to the rise of student part time workers whom probably like the odd IPA but don't seem to share similar passion about all beer. On the whole these staff members tend to be perfectly polite as opposed to arrogantly indifferent, so there's the difference.
I still will never step foot in that Draft House on Goodge Street though.
Can Craft Beer be Fun? I asked. No, replied the world.
An interesting part of Euro 2016 for me was the shift in opinion of football by Beer bars for me; not least by Manchester's Craft Beer Hub Port Street Beer House. During Euro 2012 I wrote about my disgust that Port Street had prided themselves on not showing football, as if it was too working class and common for them to enjoy. Four years later, and with increased competition within the city, the bar was showing the football in its upstairs room. They weren't alone. Progress.
Could it be that Beer bars are already realising that for longevity's sake they will have to provide more than just good beer to survive? Could it be that they will actually have to be fun? People have predicted the death of pubs, but pubs survive for a reason. Trendy wine bars do not.
So what else do I need to add to the list, fresh for the beer world of 2016?
Freshness. Over-freshness. I want to lick the hops before they go into the brew.
Is this shit even conditioned yet?
What is with this fucking freshness thing? Seriously? I’ve never known such spectacular bullshit.
I know we can do better than the 18 month old bottles of American IPA we used to just accept in previous years, but let’s not go overboard.
Honestly I’ve seen people questioning others that have hold of a UK IPA for over 3 weeks. I had last year’s Cloudwater Summer IPA about 2 months after it was bottled. And it was absolutely crap. The beer was just not very good at all. But people (not staff from the brewery I should make clear) on Twitter said it was because I’d not drunk it fresh enough. Bollocks. I knew the beer wasn’t good enough. If your bottled beer is “dead” after 2 months then it wasn’t very good in the first place.
This seems to have peaked in certain beers that I have felt coerced in drinking the weekend it was released and they haven’t tasted ready. "This Triple IPA from latest FadCapital Brewery is tasting Fresh as Fuck." They’ve tasted too fresh, too green. Fresh like unripened peaches or green bananas - fresh, but worse for it. Sorry, but in the UK we are suddenly having it drilled into us that beer is only good for two weeks. It isn't. Elements of it naturally develop and alter but the life of hop oils is much longer than you are currently giving them credit for.
Defining Craft – and everything else.
I’m going to offend some people I really like – if I haven’t already – but we do not need to define everything.
"That, what’s that?"
"It’s just a bit of dust."
"What kind of dust? Eh? What kind of dust. Define it. How does it differ from that bit of dust there? What’s that bit of grey on the skirting board? Define it. Meticulously define it. I need to know exact reasoning of everything."
I’ve read numerous posts about the reason we need to define craft beer. They are lovely opinion pieces. They haven’t swayed me of course because they’ve yet to write a word that has convinced me in any way that they are correct. Walking around Brewdog’s galactic set-up in April convinced me that it is undefinable even if for some mad reason you wanted to. Reading about Cloudwater’s and J.W. Lee’s collaboration beer for Manchester Beer Week officially ended the debate. I mean, Brewdog themselves want to define craft beer and how you can come up with any definition that still includes them is beyond me. If we were including them then you’ll find your definition of “Craft Brewery” already exists as the word “brewery.” If you want to include their beer as a definition of "craft beer" you'll find it already exists under... yep, you guessed it.
If it's made by Walkers or hand cooked in your pub's oven, that pub snack is still a Crisp. It will be of slightly different quality and availability and you will pay accordingly, but it is still a crisp. Some Crisps are superior to others but they don't need their own sub-category to define themselves as such. Dust!
I'm not a Blogger - I'm a Beer Media Spokesperson
There’s been a huge shift in our lovely blogosphere for the past two years. It feels like there’s more podcasts than blogs. It feels like blogs are starting to lose their place. Bloggers I used to enjoy have either (seemingly) gone into retirement or have earned jobs in the industry, meaning their blog is laid waste as a conflict of interest. New bloggers are emerging and some of them are really, really great. Truly, I love their stuff.
But some of them play the game. And I don’t like games. They are JD and I’m Dr. Cox. I have too much self-respect and they have too much self-ambition. They want followers, readers, praise and almost want to be professional before they’ve earned an iota of respect from people (me.) They turn up at every beer event already bent down in line with the hole they want to kiss of those with the furthest SEO reach. Their hands are raw with the amount of handjobs they give out on social media. Sorry (not sorry) certain fellow peers, but I don’t like it. I’m writing a lot less because you make me not want to write. You don’t inspire me or make me think that it’s time to pick the metaphorical pen back up. You make me want to retire so as not to come across as one of you. Please let your writing do the talking and keep your hands to yourselves.
They’ve turned Twitter into Network Media, cleverly disguised with a little socialising. The joy of blogging is being soullessly removed to be replaced by fucking #CONTENT. Maybe that would be fine if your #CONTENT was any fucking good. Calm down, Mark... Sorry... I need a beer...
I want to see some fresh words and faces on the scene but don't think we don't see your casting couch behaviour newbies. Those free forums remain free.
Epilogue: The Sadly More serious part.
As a side note, there’s a deeper backstory to that original 2014 post that makes me feel both uneasy and positive when I read it now. Though there was a part of me that needed to rant about those items regardless of my state of mind, I did have a time frame in mind. That post formed a part of my farewell when I was at my lowest; suicidal in fact. That post was my departing gift to the beer world and the finality to this blog. That was the blaze of glory I was leaving you all with believing that Mark Johnson would never contribute another word to this blog. It was everything I had to relieve myself of before departure.
In some ways, the comments and feedback helped my mental state greatly. It was a well received piece; shared globally across the blogosphere - one of my few posts to achieve such a status. The constant feedback and (dare-I-say) praise swayed my mental state. I won’t go as far as to say that one post saved me, but I don’t doubt its importance to me. Thank you to all that took the time to respond in 2014. Unbeknown to you, you may have learnt how to save a life.
I don't set out to upset anybody this time. I will remain honest, however, in the belief of my own words. Thanks for reading as always.