There’s a semi-regular email that’s sent out across New Zealand. I’m not currently on the distribution list; I get the occasional, more outrageous one forwarded to me, so my view of the emails is a bit skewed towards the ridiculous.
The latest one, though, touched upon something I’ve thought about for a while. It spoke of idea that there are two separate beer markets – Bigbrew (people who like the fizzy yellow stuff straight from the bottle) and craft brew. The Bigbrew people were unlikely to change and the big brewers should stop targeting craft drinkers.
This is an idea I can’t quite agree with – the mass versus craft, them versus us view of the beer market. The beer market is not a dichotomy – it’s a spectrum. Yes, there are people who will only drink New Zealand/Australian Draft. Yes, there are those who will only drink the newest and most innovative micro brews. But the vast majority of people sit somewhere in between – and where they sit changes from day to day. Show me a 42C day in Melbourne and I’ll show you a fan of flavourful beer (me) drinking an ice cold Toohey’s straight from the bottle.
How do I know this? I talk to people who aren’t fully immersed in the ‘beer world’. I have non-beer friends (shock, horror, I know), I talk to my coworkers about what they had to drink at the weekend, hell I even talk to strangers in bottleshops about their selections. People will sometimes try a beer from a smaller brewer, sometimes get a slab of something terrible from Aldi, and sometimes hit the taps at the local beer spot.
Furthermore, beer itself is changing so that there’s no real demarcation line between ‘mass’ and ‘craft’ – mostly because the latter term is largely made up and applied whenever people want to sell beer. It’s going the way of ‘natural’. What do we do when a brewery like Emerson’s or Little Creatures is bought up, expands, but still produces drinkable and interesting beers? What do we call these? And the people who favour their brews?
The email also showed the conversion to craft beer as a singular, one-way trip. Again, this probably happens for some people, but not, I would expect, for the vast majority. Why? Because people often try a beer they don’t like – say a wheat beer – go back to more mass-produced offerings, try a different beer – maybe a pale ale – and decided maybe to try more of them.
The author of the email, of course, isn’t the only person with these views and I mean no disrespect to him personally. I just don’t see the ‘them-us’ mentality as being very useful. Beer is not just black or white – and neither is the market that consumes it.