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14-03-2015, 17:22
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Greene King have recently relaunched their flagship IPA brand (http://www.greenekingipa.co.uk/news/new-look-greene-king-ipa) to give it a more contemporary and, dare I say, “craft” look. This beer is derided by many beer aficionados for being dull and bland, and various comments appeared on Twitter about “polishing a turd”. I wouldn’t go quite so far – while it’s certainly not a beer I’d go out of my way to find, when well kept it does have a bit of character and can be an enjoyable pint.
However, as Martyn Cornell points out in this blogpost (https://zythophile.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/why-greene-king-doesnt-care-that-the-haters-hate-its-ipa/), the critics are missing the point. Greene King IPA is intended as an approachable, easy-drinking beer for mass-market consumption. It’s never going to excite the tastebuds of those who are looking for extreme and challenging flavours. This illustrates a wider point, that from the early days of CAMRA, beer enthusiasts have consistently failed to understand why the general public choose to drink beers other than those they favour. Another example of this is shown by this post (http://boakandbailey.com/2015/03/underestimating-lager-1978/) by Boak and Bailey about how the rise of lager in the UK has consistently been misunderstood and underestimated.
It is somewhat patronising to believe that people are gullible fools who are persuaded by expensive advertising campaigns and glitzy illuminated fonts to choose dull mass-market beers over the good stuff. Most drinkers are not enthusiasts and will apply different criteria, but, as I argued here (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/dont-call-me-stupid.html), that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. They are likely to put a higher value on consistency and the absence of strong, possibly offputting flavours.
In the past, local monopolies were often blamed for brewers being able to foist dull beer on drinkers, but that has been much eroded now. There can be few significant towns where the pubs don’t offer a wide selection of different beers. But it is very noticeable that the cask beers you see everywhere tend to be the classic “brown bitters” such as Bombardier and Doom Bar, or the easy-drinking interpretations of the modern golden ale style such as Wainwright and Dizzy Blonde. There’s nothing stopping pubs stocking other beers, but in general they don’t want to frighten the horses too much.
The same is true of the Premum Bottled Ale shelves, where everything is on a level playing field, but the more accessible beers, whether malty bitter or soft golden ale, still rule the roost. Indeed some of the more strong-flavoured beers, such as Thwaites Indus IPA, have struggled to maintain a listing. But this is due to consumers demonstrating an informed preference, not because they are too thick to know any better.
It’s also an interesting thought that in the early days of CAMRA, there were no extreme or challenging beers, and very few above on OG of 1050. And some of the favourite beers of the pioneering campaigners were ones such as Holts that many ordinary drinkers steered clear of because of their distinctive flavour. You wouldn’t believe it now, but my father used to tell an anecdote of going to a Rugby League match in West Yorkshire in the 1950s, calling in a Tetley’s pub (before they took over Walker’s of Warrington), and finding the beer just “too bitter”.


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