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We used to make do with a pint of Mild and a packet of Ready Salted

  When I were a lad this was all fields 

In fact, I lived that experience a little as a child. Our estate backed on to a lot of fields. They all had nicknames that may or may not have been devised by our gang - inventive titles such as The Sandhills and The Backfield. Some were for making dens, others were for playing football. We were always, in some capacity, in a field somewhere not far from the house.


Before I'd even entered my teens, they were all gone: replaced with mock-Tudor housing. Our only football field was the local primary school pitch that was, technically, out of bounds and so our final days involved being chased away by caretakers and police as we tried to complete a peaceful game of Knock-Out-Wembley. Our childhood was ending and the lack of free space represented that. 


None of that would matter to the children who took up residency in those mock-Tudor villas, as childhoods were changing and belonged to various screens in the house with the entire world at your fingertips. I wouldn't change my childhood for anything but I can't imagine there are many experiencing it presently who would swap everything available to them for a flyaway football and two permanently grazed knees. 


Yet I still see many of those posts on social media about how certain childhoods were better because there were four TV channels, a video rental shop, milk deliveries and no touch-screen computers. 


Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny


Sometimes I apply that logic to the pub scene and with some conviction. In the mile and a half stretch from my childhood home there were six pubs to enter by the time I turned 18, of which only two remain now. An old favourite pub crawl of ours from our college took in nine pubs - only three of those still function. 


The world was a better place when it was all fields and pubs. A pub on every corner. Pubs full of locals; regulars and irregulars. Millions of pubs. The problem was that a million pubs only sold the same four styles of beer and most of those were badly kept. Pubs were great but were also re-designed for people that only drink Kenco Gold coffee, prefer their TV viewing schedule dictated by the Radio Times and still do their "Big shop" once a week at the busiest time because "that's what we've always done." 


Then came the revolution. An endless stream of choice arrived to us in the form of undefinable cartoon characters, flavours more suited to Bacardi Breezers and strangely ribbed glasses. The truth is that it was more revitalisation than revolution but use of the latter term upset the apple cart. It may have been more popular if it was seen as innovation, with no great divide between the two sides. Revolution made for a better brand and so the war was formed. 


Thus, for years we saw the effects of the fight. Pubs closed but the local corner shop became a bar. The four beer shops nationwide suddenly found that there were four beer shops per town. The supermarkets replaced their 700 spiced rums with 800 Brewdog beers. And villages that hadn't had a local brewery for 120 years suddenly had one on the local industrial estate - with added taproom. 


The Bitters, Milds and occasional Golden Ale of the time were joined by every beer recipe conceivable to thought. This really was the best time to be a beer drinker.


Then the revolutionaries decided that they were wrong all along. 


My Unrecognisable Beer Scene. 


Jarl is a good beer. Have I mentioned Jarl before? I like Jarl. I could see Jarl in every pub up and down the land and never tire of it. Am I repeating myself? I like Jarl. 


But still... I don't actually want to drink Jarl all the time, despite previous suggestions. I like the variation and the choice. I like the current beer climate of irresistible opportunity.


The idea that brewers could start pushing the idea of beer to the limit, in the ingredients used and the method undertaken to get there, was what drove the beer scene forward. Endless openings - the antithesis or even antidote to the rapidly declining pub scene.


Yet the narrative suggests now that we need to stop messing about with beer. The narrative is that people need to start focusing on traditional styles and repetitive brewing. The narrative is that there are not enough Best Bitters and not enough Milds available. The narrative is that we should deride and ridicule the eccentric and idiosyncratic. Such ridiculous comments remind me of people with newspaper columns and prime time television shows complaining that they are being "silenced." "I can't get a decent pint of mild anywhere" says Leeds man that hasn't been into any of his local pubs that have sold mild for years, as he only frequents brewery taprooms. 


Now when somebody does make something a bit silly and a bit experimental, we scream into the void. Why can't they just make normal beer? Why can't I get lager anywhere apart from every single pub in the entire country? When will the pubs that *I like* start selling Best Bitter?


The pre-revolution drinkers must be laughing into their pints of Unicorn. 




 De-Gentrify Beer


The world was a better place before all this...y'know... stuff. I'm sick of all these different strains of coffee. I don't want to hear about a crisp flavour more exotic than Prawn Cocktail. I don't need my Broccoli sprouting purple or with tender stems. And Wallace was right - what is wrong with Wensleydale? 


Or this narrative can crawl back into the pen of the beer-hating journalist that first conceived it. We are not short on "normal beer." We've never been devoid of good lager, best bitter or mild. We can always have more choice and more interesting beer available. 


I was so intrigued to drink the above- pictured Smoked Bacon Banana Ice Cream Bourbon Peanut Butter IPA.  Once I'd finished - and enjoyed - it I had a rather straight forward, well made, West Coast IPA. No fuss. No extra bells. Just well made beer. Because guess what - the world isn't short of such beers. The scene is currently awash with thousands of similar tasting beers, taking that roster of common beer styles previously seen from four to seven. 


Beer doesn't always need to say what it does on the tin but if you want to do a collaboration with Ronseal then go straight ahead. If you've an idea for pizza pale or haggis Stout then toot that horn because it is full steam ahead. Lying about a lack of abundant styles is a fast lane to the days of yore.


As nostalgic as I am, the world wasn't a better place with four television channels, exclusively 8-bit computer games and catalogue postal shopping. I don't want to return to it. I can still access the best parts of life before whilst enjoying the perks of today. The choice doesn't need to be restricted once more.


When did beer stop being fun? 




The Beer Nut said…
The killjoys were always there. It's just that now they have a platform which reaches further than the other customers at the bar.
Chris Good Hope said…
But even in them four styles there was differences. A mild (dark) from Wales was different to one from the Midlands. Now lots of beers are brewed in the same place they taste the same because of the water that goes into them .
CubanHeels said…
In some minds, I might qualify as a "Killjoy". I simply loathe lactose in Pales, for instance. I also believe the repeated use of adjuncts can mask (and is used to mask) flaws.

That said, you are absolutely right. There never has been a lack of well made traditional styles. They've always been there.

Made by the traditional family brewers.

And for some, therein.....

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