Hipsters and craft beer – they go together like…artisan peanut butter and jelly made from a fruit you’ve never heard of. That modern conjoining of the pejorative group du jour and the ultimate in beery buzzwords. All you have to do is Google Image search the first four words of this paragraph and you’ll be greeted with dozens of memes relating to hipsters and beer, as if the two go hand in [retro crochet’d cycling] glove. After all, it’s quite easy to bash hipsters – with their boundless enthusiasm they are easy targets. Perish the thought that young people should develop an interest in new, more interesting things (even if they naturally take it too far at times).
Anyway, this association of hipsters and craft beer suddenly popped into my head a couple of weeks ago, when standing in a rainy hop field in Steenhuffel, midway between Brussels and Antwerp. As guests of the Belgian Family Brewers, a group of us beer writers – containing, statistically speaking, at least a few hipsters you would think – were taking shelter in a large marquee opposite the tree-lined parade leading to Castle Diepensteyn (which sounds like a Megadrive shoot ’em up from the early 90’s). As we sampled a range of amazing beers and talked things over with the brewers themselves, Jan Toye of PALM gave a short speech at which he drew a parallel I’d not previously heard.
Jan, looking something like a cross between Bruce Forsyth and the Fourth Tenor, gave the assembled crowd of writers a fascinating introduction to the brewery that began life in 1686, when the estate manager of the Castle began brewing and distilling jenever for guests at the Inn in the town. The brewery passed through a series of hands from then on, with a strong history of women taking the reigns and doing the brewing, until the First World War when the brewery was destroyed. After rebuilding, and surviving the second war, the brewery continued to expand until the 1960’s, when a completely unexpected social group turned the tide of public opinion in the favour of family brewers like PALM.
Yes, two generations ago, a sector of society at whom people liked to poke fun because of their long hair and failure to comply with the expected norms embraced a new and exciting development in the beer world. As Jan put it;
“In the late sixties, pilsner took over 90% of the market. But in 1968 there was a revival led by the Flower Power movement. This generation did not want to drink the mainstream, and through this generation [beer from Belgian family brewers] increased from 10% to 30% of the market.”
This fact may be common knowledge to brewers in Europe, but it was the first I’d heard about it. I guess I’d always imagined hippies were too busy losing their inhibitions to other substances than artisanal beer, even if they may not have transported perfectly-matching glassware to their freakouts. It probably stands to reason, when you think about it – they were busy rebelling against mainstream music, culture and expected rules of behaviour – so why not turn their back on what 90% of people in the country were drinking at the same time? You can imagine people poking fun at them for it – other than, of course, the brewers of the time, who undoubtedly suffered their wackiness for the increased exposure (pun intended).
Who knows how history will look back on the hipster trend of the early 2010’s – will it have become a fully-fledged subculture? Or will it fizzle out or blend into the next group of youngsters who decide to dress a little differently and explore alternatives in their cities? But where the original Flower Power movement of non-violent demonstration is now primarily remembered for the psychedelia and drug-taking of their later hippie cousins, and the connection to the rise in popularity of small-scale Belgian breweries became distantly lost, I think the hipster movement – in this country and the US at least – will definitely remain associated with interesting beer, coffee, cycling and the rest.
And this can only be a good thing. Sure, many people think it’s an over-reaction, that the kinds of beers purportedly enjoyed by hipsters are just daft – and I poke fun at new brews like Peruvian kelp-infused green tea and mustard cress pale ales as well (or at least I did, until Elixir and Carbon Smith actually brewed one) – but where the Flower Power/Hippie scenes were railing against something substantial – the authorities, war and civil liberty – the hipster movement is essentially rebelling against the expected lifestyle for urban professionals, making them easier to caricature.
And, I guess, in that lies the problem. But it’s not a problem for beer.