Night-time. A rain-slicked alley, somewhere in the backstreets of London. A group of young hipsters scurry from one forty-tap bar to another. Their smartphones glow with latent heat, fingertips still raw from the check-ins, instagramming and tweeting. A conversation erupts, over a moment of controversy in the last bar.
“Yeah, I told the guy: Orval comes in an Orval glass – it’s self-evident, really”
“Why, what did you end up with?”
“A Chimay glass!!”
“No, not even. Chimay Red”
“Jesus, that’s awful. How can they not know?”
“I tried to take it back, the guy just said ‘go stroke your whiskers, bristle-face'”
“Wow. Well, I’m definitely editing their Ratebeer place review”
“Yeah, but what can we do? Never mind, let’s hope the next bar is better”
“Hey, did you hear something?”
A cushioned thump from behind the group causes them to whirl around, and glimpse a figure, shadowed due to light spilling from a nearby Chicken Cottage. A man, standing with elbows bent, fist resting on each hip. A cape flutters in the damp London air. He speaks, his voice both resonating, and resinous.
“I will help you”
“Hey, it’s Craftman!”
* * *
Living in an anonymous studio flat in Muswell Hill, Barry Spargearm has a double life. By day – a CAMRA middle-management drone, working out of their Google-campus-style headquarters in St Albans. But at night, Barry dons his green, caped, outfit and becomes Craftman: defender of the hop crown, ready to appear at a moment’s notice wherever good beer is being served badly.
“Ladies, Gentlemen. Let me pay a visit to FlashDraft. You have my word – no glassware mistakes will occur there after tonight”
“Wow, thanks Craftman!”
“I don’t need your thanks. The looks on your faces the next morning will be reward enough”
“Er, Ok. Thanks anyway, though. Oh – hey, can I ask you a question?”
“Does Chinook have a high alpha content? Haha. Sure, shoot”
“Right. Well, I heard you appear only when a one-star Untappd rating is logged, and the iPhone pointed at the clouds. Is that true?”
“Haha, I appear whenever I am needed, little man”
“My name is Sophie”
“Your name isn’t important. What’s important is serving temperature and provenance”
“How do you define craft beer, as a matter of interest? A few of us were talking about it in…”
“Gotta go! Drink Local!”
How does Barry stay undetected? He is careful. He hides in plain sight, drinking mediocre beer in bars with only five choices. He has merely fifty followers on Twitter, and rarely pins things on Pinterest. In his flat, he lives quietly with his dog, Bramling, and homebrews, badly. His few friends remark fairly regularly that his beers are over-primed, for example; something he should have learned to correct by now. He doesn’t even design his own labels, or anything.
* * *
Later that same night, in a cellar on the other side of London, Craftman bursts into the storage area, in a plume of floor sweepings and scotch-egg dust. He crouches, checking each cask has been racked and vented correctly, ensuring the interpretations of the brewers will be passed to the customers as directly intended. But there’s something wrong. Another presence, in the cellar. He can feel it.
“Who’s there? Show yourself!”
“Heh Heh Heh. Hello, Craftman”
“You! I thought I detected your cardboardy stench!”
It is Craftman’s nemesis and sworn enemy – London Murky. A barbed, twisted figure, seemingly absorbing light, rumours abound that he maliciously taints entire batches of pale ale with a single touch of the conditioning tank. His mission is to render all craft beers as bland, over-hyped hop soup, flat and bitter. Hovering over the shoulders of first-time craft drinkers, he is intent on keeping their gateways closed forever.
“What do you want, Murky?”
“Heh Heh Heh. I want for nothing, Craftman. You know that”
“Then why are you here?”
“Oh, no reason. No Reason. Just had a question, that’s all”
“Well, out with it. Or feel the sting of my hop pellets!”
“Pah. That pea-shooter doesn’t scare me!”
“It should, Murky, I can hit a target from at least five feet”
“Do you want my question, or not?”
“Yes yes. Ask me and then take your light-struck hide somewhere else”
“The question is simply this. One brewery is family-owned, and has brewed cask ale for two hundred years. The other is hipster-owned, and brews keg beer in a railway arch. Which is the more ‘craft’?”
“Gah! You know I have no answer to these fiendish riddles! I defend craft beer, even if it can’t be defined!”
“Defending the indefinable? You are a joke, Craftman”
“Oh no, Murky. You are the joke. Or rather…the punchline! Bramling Cross! To me! Attack!!”