Small is beautiful..isn’t it? There are now over 2,000 breweries in Britain despite pub numbers still in serious decline. Many entries in the Good Beer Guide are pleased to offer large numbers of changing beers from small breweries. Micropubs in particular have specialised in offering a wide range of microbreweries’ wares. However as numbers show most real ale drinkers are happy drinking Doom Bar and its ilk.
I admit that on occasion I’ve been tempted to try a beer from a brewery I’ve never heard of. The results for me are mixed, as might be expected for products from any range of small businesses delivered by other small businesses with variable quality control procedures.
I suspect many active CAMRA members focussed on cask ale and craft keg’s early adopters have a similarly positive outlook when it comes to small breweries. So why do some people favour the small new kids on the block rather than the experience of the big breweries?
In part, some would argue that the BBBs (boring brown beers) are the long established offering from the big breweries. Bland and tasteless, compared to the exciting hoppy beers of the new breed, seem to be common views amongst the beer trendsetters.
But what happens when the big breweries come up with new beers? Are we accepting of their attempts? My suspicion is that we are keen to expose the beer as a mediocre effort at a modern style. And if the big player creates a new sub-brand e.g. Marston’s Shipyard, we’re happy to expose the wickedness of the supposed sham and turn up our cultured noses.
Similarly, when a microbrewery is bought by a Big Beer player, it’s seen as the ruination of the beer. Even worse, the Big Beer beast will look to reduce the costs of production and sale and sell more of it.
Is small so much more beautiful than a beer brewed in a major brewery by an experienced team of brewers, and then sold in a tied pub with a well-trained tenant?
I suspect the reasons are much more nuanced. Many joined CAMRA to fight the evil keg mega-brewers, e.g. Watneys, and support the family brewers who kept the real ale flag flying. It was, and perhaps still is, a battle against the multi-national corporate world. The ‘little man’ essence of the outdated Keg Buster cartoon strip in CAMRA’s What’s Brewing newsletter.
Micropubs and microbreweries are one of the few modern opportunities for consumers to support the ‘little man’. (We can ignore the fact that these little men and women have considerable tax advantages, in terms of small business rate relief and progressive beer duty.)
Perhaps beer quality, in reality, matters little and it’s all about the drinking David’s fighting corporate Goliaths. Those nasty businesses that blight their lives as workers and consumers. Drinking beer from small breweries. That’s telling them, isn’t it?