19 July 2021

Craft Beer's Problems Can't Just Be Poured Away

Hello beer lovers everywhere;

It's July 18th 2021.

Over the next few days, as part of my "Summer Christmas" theme, I will be drinking a few beers from breweries which have been named in the recent wave of revelations of inappropriate and offensive behaviour in the industry.

One of these is my home town craft brewer, Tiny Rebel. As a Rogerstone boy born and bred, they are a brewery which, up until recently, I was an openly proud, willing supporter and cheerleader of.

Needless to say, the numerous testimonies of distasteful and dangerous behaviours, allied to a disturbingly and shamelessly overt series of misguided and offensive actions, communications and marketing tactics, mean that my opinions of - and relationship with - TR, have, for the time being, irrevocably changed. 

This has not been an easy decision to make - for one, given the dearth of similar outlets within walking distance, it makes my own ability to enjoy cask and keg craft beer (from a range of brewers, not just TR) in my own neighbourhood a lot harder, especially during the COVID pandemic when wider, further travel is not entirely a norm just yet.

However, while my white entitled male middle-aged beer consumer feelings are entirely irrelevant in comparison to the distress suffered by those at the company, I also feel that it would be a waste of beer and money to simply drain-pour the beers I acquired months ago in blissful male ignorance. 

To simply dispose of 990ml of craft beer would be a quickly forgotten performative, meaningless statement; similar to actions I have openly disapproved of in the past. Moreover it would be an insult to the very members of staff working at the brewery who have bravely and honestly spoken out in these recent weeks and months. The act of drain pouring should be reserved for the spoiled or the undrinkable beer, not merely the unpalatable.

While I appreciate this level of back-breakingly twisted nuance will not sit well with some folk out there, and could even be labelled as convenient hypocrisy, it should be pointed out that I am not alone in this approach. In fact I have noticed a distinct double standard amongst certain members of the beer community when it is their friends, colleagues and collaborators who have been accused, as opposed to brewers they have less of a close relationship with and can therefore safely tweet, blog or publish their cannonballs from afar.

A more meaningful statement would be to state, firmly and concisely, that I absolutely in no way condone the behaviour of those who have perpetrated the toxic culture at TR or any other brewer under the recent spotlights. In fact I condemn it wholeheartedly for two reasons. 

One, such behaviour is, of course, reprehensible, unneeded and unwarranted.

But secondly, speaking purely as a consumer, these brewers are shooting themselves in the foot by adding themselves to more and more people's personal avoidance lists. This has the effect that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a scrupulous, honest and ethical beer drinker. Large macro shits like Heineken, BrewDog and InBev are (almost) easily avoided. Troublesome brands with skeletons in closets like Magic Rock less so.

As such it is becoming increasingly easy for the media to paint "craft beer" as a whole as a white-dominated sexist macho big boys club, when some of the best work in this industry is being done by folks like Stacey Ayeh and Lily Waite. Their stories epitomise so much more of what craft is about than your average bearded middle-class bro in a flat cap spending his bank-manager father's money.

Craft beer is at a crossroads and we all have a part to play in making sure that the correct path is taken, even if it is not the easiest or more direct one. As a consumer I will continue to strive to make the best choices for my own consumption, and therefore for my own soul. 

As an alleged commentator, blogger, twitterer and general nuisance in the beer community, I will continue to stand with - and hopefully show whatever support I can for - the folks who are doing the hard, painful and sometimes dangerous work of shining a light into the darkest, unseen corners of the industry we all love.
 
Moreover as a community I expect us all to look out for one another, to make sure that any choices we make are informed and intentional so that no-one can draw any unwanted conclusions or connotations from our individual beer choices.

As for Tiny Rebel - some serious changes in management and culture would have to take place in order for me to become a regular there again. 

However I am not naiive; it will be nigh-on-impossible for me to avoid frequenting their venues *ever* again; especially as their bars' setup for COVID-safe slot booking and table service was one of the best I encountered during the pandemic. As life returns to relative normality further down the line and flexibility of venue choice increases, this will be less of an issue, especially given the wonderful venues that are in Cardiff and Bristol.
 
But rest assured that I will continue to be guided by - and answer to - my own loud, noisy, nagging conscience. The beers I drink in the next few days may have some wonderful flavours, but they will have a bitter taste.