Another day, another press release with the words “craft beer” in the title – perhaps the second or third this week. This time, a madcap alternative to craft beer fun runs, craft beer mini golf, craft beer rafting, craft beer cycle tours, craft beer billiards, craft beer haircuts and craft beer yoga: a new London “craft beer hotel” from the people at BrewDog. It’s apparently a revolutionary place with “craft beer in every room”. Please excuse me for a moment while I consign said email to subfolder “CRAFT CRAP”.
I confess to being an overly cynical and sceptical misery, but the word “craft” seems to wind me up almost as much as “Instagrammable”. Five years ago, the term had the fleeting freshness of a batch of early October hops, but now anything craft beer-related seems about as current and relevant as exposed brickwork, flat whites and Danish hygge.
The craft beer movement once felt niche and underground – two fingers up at the cantankerous Camra dinosaurs. These days, though, it seems to get lazily shoehorned into every corner of the travel and leisure industry that happens to be lacking direction.
Craft beer pilates, for example, makes about as much sense as lemur yoga. Surely the intention is to simply grab media attention in a busy and saturated market, rather than entice an exclusive crowd of super-supple pissheads?
Throwing in craft beer has become a last-ditch attempt to infuse outdated hipster kudos to otherwise drab ad campaigns. Instead, it feels about as hip as the barmen in your local boozer suddenly starting to sport bow-ties and braces for no reason. Am I allowed to feel thoroughly bored by it all?
This isn’t one of those “the beer tasted better before the riffraff ruined it” rants, but rather an outburst about the infantile nature of modern travel trends, where anything deemed remotely “cool” quickly becomes bastardised to the nth degree by big business.
In the past decade, bicycles, baking, needlecraft and caffeine have all suffered similar fates – stuffed down our throats until they lose every ounce of originality. Craft has become a multibillion-pound industry. In fact, its mainstream success has resulted in an oxymoron of pint-sized proportions.
No longer is it acceptable to have just a passing, capricious interest in something as benign as coffee and beer. Instead, our character-restricted social media bios have turned us into obsessive “coffee snobs” and “craft beer aficionados” – a chance to feel part of a trendy tribe, while simultaneously appearing kooky and esoteric to the masses.
Themed travel trends like the craft beer “thing” are designed to kettle us into boring and predictable corners. Or, I suspect, mould us into malleable consumers. We grasp to belong to a movement that seems anti-establishment but is really just another once slightly leftfield subculture turned high-profit mainstream one.
Formerly a quirky cottage industry, the Noughties craft beer movement began life as an opportunity for small-scale brewers to move away from the monoculture of generic lager – a chance to buck the trend of nondescript piss water flooding our pubs’ taps.
Fast-forward a decade or so and, unsurprisingly, the industry has now gone full circle. There are some delicious beers out there, but most of the initial pioneers have sold out to multinational breweries. Isn’t it amazing how easy artisan ideals can fall by the wayside when the big money comes calling?
The craft beer badge no longer means small and independent. Heck, you could be unknowingly lining the pockets of Heineken, Carlsberg and Budweiser with your imperial porter with “coffee notes”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that – capitalism nearly always wins, and if it tastes good, drink it – but just please save me the spiel about being “bespoke” and “authentic”.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world meeting brewers in brewpubs, from Oregon to Lima and South Africa to Iceland (via Svalbard). And while I can’t criticise their zany ambitions to try something new, I’m often left feigning interest in their needlessly wacky recipes, including pubic hair, sheep faeces and pizza dough when, ultimately, just another hoppy 6.5 per cent IPA pops out at the end.
It’s enough to drive a man to drink.
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