There are some subjects you cannot bluff your way through. As a range of variously clueless pundits have discovered, this includes the finer points of economics, meteorology (which catches out the climate change denial lobby), anything to do with rail travel (tube, tram, freight, high speed, you name it), and all too often, the law. To this can be added, as one foolish soul is about to discover, beer. Yes, beer.
That pundit is Brendan O’Neill, and he has been given a platform by Spectator Life - edited by the loathsome Toby Young - to pontificate on the subject. “To drink a beer called ‘Maple Bacon Coffee Porter’ is to say: ‘I’m better than you’ … How fussy fans of ‘artisan’ brewing brought hipster snobbery to the everyman world of beer-drinking” is the title.
“I can forgive most hipster sins … But so long as I live I will never forgive the hip for what they’ve done to beer” he moans, going on to sell the pass with “They’ve spiked this most democratic drink with snobbery. The craft-beer movement, manned by middle-class pseudo-blokes who would rather go to Raqqa than step foot in a Wetherspoon’s, has brought the fussiness of the wine-sipper into the unfussy world of the beer-drinker”.
Where do we start with that one? Craft beer is not the preserve of the middle classes, it’s not manned by blokes - O’Neill managed not to mug up on terms like “Brewster” - and the Wetherspoon reference is the most basic research fail he could have made. Let us look briefly at the Wetherspoon website to see how wrong he has gone, shall we?
Ah look, a section on Craft Beer. And another on this month’s celebration of local craft beers at JDW pubs, along with tasting notes. Wetherspoons have been responsible for some very well known craft beers - Hawkshead Cumbrian 5 Hop being one such (the same microbrewery’s more recent Vienna Lager is another Wetherspoon commission).
Then O’Neill whines about beer names. “There’s been an explosion in wackily named craft beers”. So sodding what? What makes that “snobbery”, “undemocratic”, or “hip”? It’s a crowded marketplace - why shouldn’t a brewer give their product a distinctive name? And what’s with “They really do sip their beer. It’s the most annoying thing about them”. What does the great Brendan O’Neill believe they should do, neck it straight down and get ratarsed? What is his problem with people who want to enjoy and appreciate something?
O’Neill also has a reality problem: “As with so much hip consumerism, the craft-beer irritant really wants to distinguish himself from Them: ‘ordinary people’ who eat at Maccy D’s, shop at Primark and - brace yourselves - drink Stella Artois. That Stella is referred to as ‘wife beater’ tells you all you need to know about beer snobbery”. Does it buggery. Stella has been known as “wife beater” for many years - pre-dating the craft boom.
On he drones: “I hate this snootiness because beer is the everyman drink”. There isn’t any “snootiness”. This is just like all the cheap punditry claiming that “some politician I don’t like is sneering at ordinary people”. Craft beer is enjoyed by a diverse range of people, and like the real world there is a small hipster and pretentiousness element. Many beer lovers accept it. Many more take the piss out of anything that’s “a bit too Shoreditch”.
All that craft beer is in the UK is the continuation of what was started all those years ago by the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) - people wanting decent beer, as opposed to factory produced, fizzy, tasteless, cost-accountant-driven nothingness. That isn’t snobbery, it’s consumerism. That decent beer survived was not down to a few hipsters, but an increasing movement of people who wouldn’t have cheap mediocrity forced upon them.
In the UK, the movement was powered forward by beer duty concessions for smaller brewers introduced by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer - not that an offshoot of the Spectator will ever admit to that - and the number of microbreweries has rocketed in the years since. And yes, some of those microbreweries experiment with all kinds of flavours and styles. That, Brendan O’Neill, is called product innovation.
What O’Neill appears to have done is to stumble into one of those few hipster bars, and then extrapolated from there, throwing in a few scraps of hearsay as he goes, one of which is to claim that Stella Artois is a worthwhile drink. Er, hello Brendan! It might have been back in the 1970s, before it was transformed from a regional Belgian beer to one of those “Brands” which people drink because of the name, not for the contents of the glass.
On this occasion - not for the first time - Brendan O’Neill is plain flat wrong. But he does one useful thing: to tell anyone else wanting to be a pretentious beer snob that this is one subject those Clever People Who Talk Loudly In Restaurants can’t bluff their way through. And shame on Toby Young for not putting this drivel where it belongs - on the spike.