Hype. Momentum. Passion. For better or worse, these are all things that craft beer needs to gain to eke further into the mainstream of the UK beer culture. It’s happening; tickets for craft beer festivals are selling out faster than ever, new releases are being hoovered up on beer-toting websites quicker than they can be re-stocked. This is all great – although there is something that could become problematic in the long run. The first of those three descriptors can be a double-edged sword – hype is something that should be believed, but only up to a point. And for a perfect example of when it has gone too far, take a look (as ever) across the Atlantic.
There, amidst the boom-times of craft beer where your average corner store carries two dozen different refrigerated six packs of IPA, the flipside of this new all-encompassing passion has taken hold. In an eye-opening blog post, Don’t Drink Beer reported what happened when LA-based Monkish Brewing Co casually tweeted that people could head to the brewery and buy a four pack (each) of triple IPA.
Within half an hour, over three hundred people were queuing outside. At 3pm on a Wednesday. The staff who work at the brewery have also stated that as a result of this kind of hype, people now regularly turn up to wait outside the brewery when it is closed, just in case a similar announcement is made and they can be at the front of the line.
Firstly, this is hilarious. Secondly, if you love beer that much and you’ve nowhere important to be on a Wednesday afternoons, then go for it – I’m no-one to judge; back in my Uni days when Wednesday afternoons were kept free for sports teams to play their matches, my sport of choice was snooker. Monkish certainly have a reputation – they make sours, they can small-batch beers and they are extremely small so don’t distribute far (if at all) outside the immediate vicinity. They are perfect vessels to perpetuate the craft beer bubble.
Because, let’s face it, that’s what this is about. The people lined up in the car park of that brewery starting into their smartphones aren’t curious about what pale ale might taste like, or wondering whether a stout they saw would be nicer-tasting than Guinness. They are the thin end of the wedge; the tip of the spear. They are also those who leave empty chairs in line so they don’t need to queue (with hilarious passive-aggressive consequences, as Don’t Drink Beer also reported). The entirely predictable upshot of that trend is ‘chair mules’ that will now sit in line for you, for a fee, so you don’t have to.
That last fact may not be true, of course – but the truth is it is entirely believable. And that is where the US seems to be headed. I was trying to think of a parallel for this, and the only one I could think of was about ten years ago when I found myself with an afternoon to kill in Sydney and (whereas now I would obviously hot-foot it to the nearest shuttered brewery just in case) I ended up in the World Stamp Expo. Not having any interest in collecting small sticky squares of paper, it was fascinating wandering around watching those that do. Some people always take their hobbies to the extreme.
This is human nature, I suppose. But would the parking-lot lines of the US ever become car park queues in the UK?
I’m not so sure – and not just because craft beer (and therefore the endgame-level enthusiasm) hasn’t spread as far into the public consciousness here. You could be trite and say we have crappier weather here than those lining up in the LA sunshine; but the #ChairGate scandal happened in the pouring rain in Pennsylvania.
The reasons why I think you’d never see something similar here is that aside from the smaller numbers of people who give a shit about that kind of thing, we have freer and easier distribution and online shopping in the UK; more avenues to get small-batch beer to you, if you want to find it. No three-tier nonsense, no State rules and nationwide couriers who’ll get your double IPA to you with little effort (unless you live in the Highlands & Islands of course).
Also there’s the final rub – maybe we just don’t go in for public displays of geekery over here as much. We sure love to queue patiently, but not for something that involves that level of dedication. Stamp shows, train enthusiasts – solitary pursuits, best performed as quietly and individually as possible. Becoming part of something larger that gains nationwide attention? Not quite just yet, Britain. Although if the hype that has helped push craft beer onwards continues, this could be where we end up. If we do, don’t forget those camping chairs.