Thursday, 21 February 2013

Tipping point

Tomorrow, I will find out whether I'm one of those people who complains when something they have treasured for a while suddenly crosses over into the mainstream.

It's not something I've done for many years, the last occasion being when The Weather Prophets signed to WEA records way back in 1986, thereby (in my eyes at any rate) selling out to The Man.

That notion hasn't really troubled me ever since, but the prospect of something you cherished as niche and specialist suddenly becoming appreciated by the masses is often an uneasy one. And it's no different this weekend.

Craft Beer goes to Brick Lane. Yes. From being a relatively obscure phenomenon enjoyed by self-congratulatory cognoscenti such as me (and also those with a genuine interest in the art of making excellent beer), the scene has been embraced by folky, bearded hipsters from Hackney - the modern day equivalent of the Trustafarian.

I'm not sure entirely how I feel about this. One the one hand, I think it turns what is truly a revolution in beer making into a mere fad that will disappear once the next bandwaggon is found, leaving a nascent industry dead in the water. On the other, it hasn't half improved the choice of beer in pubs across the capital and beyond.

The Craft Beer Rising festival on Friday and Saturday will be in the heart of what used to be hipster central till it got too mainstream. You couldn't make it up. It will feature music from the likes of Norman Jay MBE as well as bands, comedy and talks from industry experts on topics such as beer and food matching.

Food will be somewhat different from your average beer festival fare too. Out go pork scratchings and poor quality hamburgers and in comes a pop-up foodie heaven courtesy of Brockley Market in which you'll find charcuterie, posh pies and even some interesting vegetarian nibbles.

But let's not forget this is a beer festival. And here's where it will stand or fall, in my opinion. Looking at the beer list, it's an interesting mix. There are some truly excellent beer makers on that list, along with some I have to admit I raised more than the odd eyebrow to when I saw them there. Quite what Greene King or Wells & Young's have done for the craft beer industry in the UK is anyone's guess, but at least they're bringing along the more interesting end of their ranges.

There are some notable absences too: Magic Rock, Kernel, Summer Wine Brewery and Buxton won't be there, which is a shame as they are producing some of the best, most interesting beer in the country right now.

And this is the very criticism I used to level at eighties indie bands who signed to major labels. They'd lose their independence and maverick spirit. They'd have their music watered down. They'd just get rubbish. Is that what's going to happen to craft beer now? Will faceless industry megaliths dilute the message and flood the market with craft beer lite?

Time will tell, I suppose, but one thing is for certain. If you'd have told me five years ago I'd be at a beer festival on Brick Lane that included more than lager and Old Speckled Hen, I'd have laughed. Craft Beer Rising 2013, whatever you may think of it, proves once and for all that craft beer is no longer a laughing matter.