Bucks Star Beer – Milton Keynes


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Artisan Beer yet to Peak

The appetite of western cultures for ever more extravagance in material lifestyles may be on the decline ? This is a viewpoint expressed by a high ranking business executive, seated in a global giant.

Steve Howard is Head of Sustainability at IKEA, the Swedish home furnishing superstore, and in speaking to the Guardian newspaper in January 2016 he stated;

“If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings,”

It’s an interesting view from the top at a time when there are increasing pressures in our society to change course. The post war economic model is becoming a rather boring story of conglomeration and stock markets. Fortunes are made by a few, but what about the quality of life of the vast majority of us. Is this measured in “peak stuff”?

This is nothing new is it; the angst that post war generations have sometimes felt that our lives and consumer choices are made for us by an unseen force. Indeed the power of marketing is not to be under-rated. Whether it’s on radio, television, internet or billboard, we take in a vast number of jingles and branding every day. In our own world of beer, the staggering rise of lager in the UK in the 1980s was engineered by the concepts of a clique of marketing execs in London. This is well documented in Pete Brown’s book “Man Walks into a Pub”, and Pete should know, he was one of those execs. To give him a proper billing here, Pete is now one of the foremost beer writers in the country and has helped the resurgence of ale we have experienced, leading to a huge diversity of beers available in pubs and shops. We now have 1400 brewers in the UK.

There is no reason to believe that the appetite for artisan beer is going to do anything other than grow. Here is one place in our lives where we do have ample diversity, and increasingly the provision locally to make a choice. It allows us to break away from that invisible force, and to obtain not only a satisfaction in the glass, but also we are fortified by the individuality; it is the individuality of the product in partnership with the individuality of our patronage. I know the beers I like, I am proud to espouse their qualities ; equally I will buy and try others – because the range is exciting and should be explored.

Straight way I can tell you without any recourse to internet browsing, that the proposed merger between AB InBev, headquartered in Amsterdam and SAB Miller headquartered in London, will mean that one in every 3 beers consumed globally will be controlled by one conglomerate. Did someone mention an obesity crisis – look no further than this fat boy. Dave Bailey writing in What’s Brewing in December, makes an incisive case against this obsessive drive to world domination by over-weight marketing practices. Dave is owner of the Hardknott Brewery in Cumbria, and struggles to get the profile he requires in retail outlets. Meanwhile the bulging marketing budgets of AB InBev and SAB Miller, combined with distribution networks they can support, lead to what Dave describes as the slabs of industrial lager in one-stop shops. Dave develops on this; there is a process involving the hoovering up of a small number of craft breweries and before our very eyes, Meantime and Camden are part of this homogenous mix. Really, I can’t believe my eyes, we started CAMRA in the 70s to combat the big 6 and their bad habits in the UK, and here we are facing up to an even greater menace on the world stage. It’s going to be a long battle, and despite the strength in numbers of small independents, they struggle with the distribution to get it to us – the people who want choice.

Although sadly we see the continuing closure of mainstream public houses, within the beer sector there IS growth in real ale. One place that is capitalising on this growth is the micro-pub. A micro-pub puts its focus on real ale and combines it with providing the local community with a focal point for sharing their enthusiasm ; in short a small space bursting with life and great beer. Yes, there is a demand for diversity and quality, and Martin Hillier writing in What’s Brewing in November, points out that there are 10 times more breweries than micro pubs at present. This is the wrong way around he says, and I agree with him. Martin started the ball rolling with his presentation to the CAMRA AGM in 2009 and his message today is “open a micro-pub before someone else does”. In this area we have seen the opening of the Bald Buzzard in Leighton Buzzard, the Red Squirrel in Chesham and there have been recent openings in Woburn and Dunstable too.

The great Dave Wickett, so influential in getting the independent resurgence underway in the 70s and 80s, always told us as university students that we should carefully consider the notion of freedom. True, he said, the typical western economy gives us many aspects of freedom, for instance freedom in speech and freedom in lifestyle; but in other ways it mitigates against our freedom, as big business herds us down channels of limited options. This results in a great imbalance between the obscenely rich and the rest of us battling our crisis of debt. However it is also creating a poverty of choice for us all, and we should support anybody who has the courage to face into this oppressive storm. “Still fiercely independent” was Dave’s motto, and we should all be that.

Written by Jon Scudamore.
Jon Scudamore completed a Business Studies degree in 1984 at Sheffield city Polytechnic where his economics tutor was Dave Wickett, owner of the Fat Cat and Kelham Island Brewery, and Economics advisor to CAMRA. Jon is a member of CAMRA and was the Festival Organiser of the Concrete Pint in 2014 and 2015.

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