30 March 2019

Magic Rock haywire

Beer Twitter on Thursdays and Fridays is always interesting. This week however it was deja vu all over again....again. There was foot-stomping, snark and sense.

First the usual reactionary foot-stomping toddlers emerged. Some were erudite, dressing up their emotional overreactions in fluffy words and sentiments.
Oh. Well that's one less sale a week for MR then!

Then came the snarky backlash against such opinions....
Oof. Savlon at the ready folks.

And then came the eminently measured and sensible opinions that it seemed 99% of people *actually* agreed with....
That's more like it!

As a shamateur beer w*nker, I've tried to be very careful in not trying to impose my opinion on the overall day-to-day beer conversation in general. You no more want to hear my opinions on Twitter or YouTube than you would if I was sat at the bar while you were ordering and was being *that asshole* trying to direct you what to buy based on my own narrow tastes. To that end, my philosophy has always been "You shouldn't care what I think."

Perhaps I should amend that slightly to "You shouldn't care what I feel." Because I think too many beer writers / enthusiasts put more stock in feelings than thoughts.

Lets face it - it certainly goes with the territory. Beer is a subjective thing and it triggers subjective feelings in the imbiber. And its something I fall prey to too often - I totally get being emotionally involved in a product or brand of whatever kind and it's natural to be disappointed if that product or brand develops a *perceived* flaw of any kind. A spurious example I can think of at 7:32am on a Saturday while hungover is when I stopped drinking PepsiMax Ginger - one of my all time favourite soft drinks - for a while when Donald Trump employed the head of PepsiCo on his business advisory committee.

But that lost the company what - one sale? Maybe a few more folk who felt like me did the same? But in the same period of time that my little boycott was occurring, more and more people drank a Pepsi for the first time *because* it had become associated with the Great Orange Buffoon. So it didn't affect the business one bit.

"But Michael...but....craft beer isn't Pepsi - it's something that has a story, a history, a life...." Yeah? Well Magic Rock selling to Lion and getting its products on the shelves of Tesco is simply put: just another chapter. And guess what - like my Pepsi episode, the drinker's part in the story is Schrodinger-like: important in that by being a consumer you are helping keep a business alive; but also minuscule because you are one imbiber amongst thousands, and losing one imbiber to gain millions is a price worth paying for stability. It happened to Doom Bar. It happened to Beavertown. It happened to Fullers'. And now it's happened to Magic Rock. And certain sections of beer Twitter are still "disappointed", "bummed" and "will never buy it again"?

Come on folks. This is the industry now. Hell, it's always been the industry.

And again - I get that people attach a premium value - deserved or otherwise - to a product or brand which has been born out of graft and effort and which invokes, provokes and reinforces positive feelings in the recipient for any number of reasons.

For Magic Rock, and Doom Bar, and Beavertown, and even Fullers, all that well-built concrete foundation of graft, craft and sailing without a liferaft doesn't suddenly evaporate or get paved over when someone else comes along to reinforce the concrete with a little bit of steel rebar.

Making half-assed hipsterish assertations like "this isn't what the consumer wants" is the entire reason farm shops are a niche, elitist thing and not on every high street. Apparently if you believe frequenters of farm shops, everyone wants real organic produce wrapped in hessian. This is the sole reason why there are a bazillion Aldis in the UK selling mass-produced lower-quality stuff wrapped in plastic.

Idealism doesn't keep a brewery's doors open. It doesn't feed employees or buy materials. It doesn't make for good marketing and certainly doesn't appeal to the masses outside the beer bubble. At best its misplaced naiiveity; at worst it's wanky navel-gazing. I think beer writers, commentators, appreciators - including me - need to realise that we should care more about the actual beer in the glass in front of us and less the hows, whys and wheres it went through to get to us. Beer is, at the end of the day, a commercial product, not a sacred grail.

The balance that must be struck is simple: Craft beer must be special but accessible. Bottle shops must not become boutiques frequented by moneyed wankers. Similarly, a beer must not be disparaged by its mere presence in Tesco's.

The big advantage bottle shops have over supermarkets is range and speciality. Supermarkets have shelf space but at the end of the day they must focus on bland core big beer to keep their profit margins up. Craft will always be a small part of their output. Bottle shops must still be the go-to for variety and novelty.
However, when all's said and done, the beer world as a whole must not shy away from regularly pricking the bubble that us beer appreciators live in. Our opinions shouldn't carry as much weight with craft breweries as seeing a black number at the bottom of an end of year financial balance sheet.

Decrying expansion and futureproofing will do more harm than good to craft beer. That is unless you're the kind of beer appreciation masochist who actually *doesn't* care about the brewery and just cares about feeding your habit and feeding your desire for variety. There's always plenty of craft breweries around eh? When one falls another will take its place eh? And a new brewery means a new set of beers. That means a new review, a new article, a new video, a new opinion, a new paycheck every week.

Perhaps beer writing shouldn't be a cynically motivated commercialised production line any more than beer production should (ideally) be.

There is one thing that has gone mildly unnoticed in all this. Any beer that becomes perceived as "mainstream" by being stocked in a major accessible commercial retailer takes on a whole new life as that sacredest of sacred holy grails : the "entry level" beer.

Whole new beer appreciation stories are about to have their first chapter written. Magic Rock, Beavertown and especially Doom Bar - they're sacrificial lambs almost. Left behind in the dust by the high and mighties, they become the first plank on a long ladder for someone new who up until now had been mildly sated with bland pisswater. Now there's some fresh lively wriggly bait on the hook.

And like so many coalface consumer products, it does all the work but gets forgotten easily. I wonder if you can remember the first ever beer that got you involved in all this? For me, it was supermarket bought tins of John Smiths and Caffreys.

CAFFREY'S FFS.

As for Magic Rock and their fans as they adjust to this new reality... well I imagine - and hope - that any craft brewer worth their salt would above all value quality over quantity and not knowingly undersell their product. We won't blindly *trust* Tesco to handle craft beer correctly, we'll *trust* craft beer to handle Tesco correctly.

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