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The Unsung Heroes: Don't hate the poll

On Twitter the Beer O’Clock Show runs a weekly Hopinions poll to tie in with their weekly podcast show. The discussion this time seemed to have quite an understandable premise – “What do you consider to be the best Unsung (or under-hyped) British breweries?”

The plan was to take people’s suggestions and then divide the most popular answers into four separate polls (that I assume was to accumulate in a final winner-takes-all poll.) Whilst asking for suggestions most people seemed to be happy to give opinions and go with the flow. Poll Number One emerged with the first four breweries suggested by the majority being Arbor Ales, Brew By Numbers, Buxton Brewery and Wylam Brewery.

It was here where people’s opinions changed into anger and the poor podcasters were heavily criticised for the whole facade.  After some rather ridiculously nasty comments started emerging (more on that at the end) they decided to axe the entire poll; much to my disappointment as I was interested to see how it played out. It had me thinking about several aspects of how people form their opinions of breweries.

For what it’s worth, I put forward four breweries: Torrside Brewing, Track Brewing, Marble Brewery and North Riding Brewery.

My thought process behind those choices is based on, not what I see so much on Twitter, but social media as a whole, especially posts from a couple of “Craft Beer” Facebook forums I’m part of. Though I engage on these forums rarely, they are a useful tool to see where trends in the newer crowd of drinkers lie. People I know through Twitter, and those that took umbrage with Steve and Martin’s latest poll, are usually more seasoned drinkers and likely know a larger scope of breweries. On Facebook, there is a much more varied group of commentators with varying experience. You’ll often see posts about the same group of beers or breweries and it is easy to collate which breweries are creating a certain buzz and who is deemed to be going through a poor patch.

At the moment, the top three breweries that are certainly sung about (dare I say hyped) are Cloudwater Brew Co, VerdantBrewing and Deya Brewing Co. A few have even hailed them as the best three breweries in the country (I’m not going to go into the lack of sanity in that statement right now. Maybe a future post on that.)

It’s seeing posts like these, amongst other conversations and forms of social media, which led me to nominate the four breweries I did. That and the fact they are four of the best breweries in the country. Let’s not over-complicate things; I didn’t think about this for long or make pie charts and diagrams.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the list for some would be Marble Brewery, but I truly find that they are unsung in the newer beer circles. Besides already making some of the most accomplished cask beer in the country, they’ve added the likes of Damage Plan, Ember City, Portent of Usher and Tuckerlovsky Session to their range; all of those some of the most consummate examples of their styles currently being brewed.

I can’t recall seeing many – if any – Facebook fourm posts about those beers. I have however seen a couple of comments that refer to an “old school” brewery; even a comment that only recommended going to the Marble Arch Inn if “you like some of that traditional cask stuff.” Yes, we are talking opinions here, but Marble Brewery at present are in my top 3 breweries in the country. They’ve earned that over many years too. No offence to the likes of Verdant and Deya but the idea that they can be talked about before this great Green Quarter brewery is... premature.

My other three choices are well received within certain parameters. Whilst Torrside Brewing have been mentioned in a few blogs and Golden Pint awards this seems confined to Manchester bloggers. Everyone is aware of Track Brewing Sonoma – especially from those that name animals after it – but as brewery I don’t think they receive the credit for their other wonderful offerings. In fact I imagine some would be hard pressed to name another of their beers. North Riding Brewing are also heavily praised in conversation, but still have limited sightings on this side of the Pennines; never mind further afield. I never see mention of these three on those Facebook forums.

It refers back to the discussion evoked by a recent Hopinions poll about London being the centre of the Earth the Universe British Beer culture. The sheer weight in number of breweries has made the Beer World a little more regional again. I mostly only see beers on draught from the Greater Manchester and Derbyshire area (in my local haunts.) Some of the breweries put forward by others as unsung I‘ve never tried a beer by. Perhaps they have similar experience with my suggestions.   

The problem for the Hopinions poll is being tied to the majority suggestions. I couldn’t personally believe Buxton Brewery was included. As much as I’m a big fan, they definitely aren’t unsung from my experiences. The fact that one of those Facebook forums has to put a cap and control on the number of posts about the likes of Rain Shadow and Yellow Belly is testament to this. I have similar feelings towards Wylam Brewery as well. Unsung? I’m sure I’ve had their tune rammed down my ears more often than a Bieber song on Capital Radio.

This isn’t the fault of Steve and Martin though; they were just trying to generate some discussion. Further to that they were trying to give a chance for those breweries that slip under the radar occasionally to have their moment and see just how well thought of they are. As with all their discussions and Hopinions there was going to be a division of thought in this one. I wanted to elaborate on the impact of all forms of social media on the discussions of beers.

Why do Cloudwater cans fly off the shelf before I’ve entered the shop yet I can still pick up this year’s version of American Barleywine from Torrside? People keep dismissing hype as a word that relates to the sales of beers. Bull. Absorb all the conversations happening on social media platforms and in bars/pubs and you’ll see the impact of hype. It has propelled the likes of Verdant and Deya to the top; into conversations about the best in show in their first year. Have either brewed a beer yet that comes close to Damage Plan though? Well... I suppose that is the sort of discussion podcasts try to create.

And stupid named beer blogs too.

Whilst we’re here, I’d just like to say that I never imagined I’d be the sort that listens to podcasts and it took me a long time to start. It is often a time thing. Steve, through his two shows, has made me a listener; not just of his but of other beer podcasts too. The very name Hopinions is quite clearly trying to start discussions with differing sides. Resorting to abuse and offence because you don’t like some of the results is ridiculous. Try not to debate like a group of sexist old men denying the existence of sexism. Try to debate like a reasonable adult.


Anonymous said…
I think people confuse 'best brewery' and 'my favourite brewery' far too often. There's nothing wrong with saying my favourite three breweries are Cloudwater, Deya and Verdant. That tells me so much about what kind of beer and breweries you like and that's great.

To say X, Y and Z are the 'best breweries' is starting a different, much less pleasant, conversation. What do you even mean by 'best'? Technically? Morally? Aesthetically? All of the above?
Anonymous said…
Challenge : If I suggest our brewery for consideration as Unsung Hero, am I going to be pilloried for gross self-promotion, or even judged as uncool?
Unknown said…
Very interesting piece, this. IIRC I put Marble forward as the most unsung brewery in this poll before it got taken down. Sadly it looks like Damage Plan will never be rebrewed even though (for my money) it's the best IPA out there.

As it happens I've regularly posted and praised Marble stuff on perhaps the most notorious of the Facebook groups you mention and to be honest I think they are pretty loved, even if they don't attract the dilletante crowd like Verdant/Deya.

Incidentally, I'd still say Cloudwater deserve their reputation and I respect their commitment to less fashionable styles like helles and pilsners (and in fact they sort of made their name originally as 'the craft brewer that takes lager seriously').

Agree that Buxton are hardly unsung; if anything I'd say that beyond the #fuss they are the most respected craft brewery in the country, maybe alongside Kernel. And I totally share the Torrside love. Awesome beers with a tendency towards bonkersness that I love and value immensely.
Mark Johnson said…
Funnily enough, since I wrote this 8 weeks ago, I have seen a lot of mention of Marble on the forum. Mostly these have been under the new batch sort-of-60s-style cans, or because they have collabed with group members promoting the beer. It was the Metal Series that didn’t seem to garner attention.

I do wonder whether branding did play apart of this, as much as I don’t want this to be the case. The new “60s” series is certainly eye-catching. Christ, who could resist buying a LanGOSEtine based on can design alone? It’s beautiful.

I think the praise of Damage Plan and outrage at its discontinuation should hopefully convince them to keep it. But maybe the metal series needs a rebrand, or to come under the current branding. They’ve really hit something with the new can designs and there is no point denying it. The contents of the cans are very good. It’s now how to market them rather than lose them altogether.

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