Did any of you out there see Channel 4’s recent documentary on the Windsors? Making use of ‘footage of historical archived correspondence never before seen on national television’ – a mantra they clearly don’t want you to forget – the program uncovers the workings and dysfunctions of our biggest export, the Royal Family.
One particular episode focused on the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, and his battle to modernise the dynasty. Dragging age-old rituals into the modern age, Philip – in the 1950’s – was a seemingly lone voice. He was viewed as an annoyance whose ideas seemed out of place in the era.
Fast forward to the cultural revelation of the 1960’s, and His Royal Highness was all the rage; he was the very model of a modern major general. Touring automobile factories, space research facilities, and even securing the Royal Family a regular slot on national television in what we’d dub nowadays as ‘reality television’, Philip was a man of the age with contemporary ideas that were no longer out of place, but altogether contemporary.
He was a visionary, even a prophet, of the signs of the times ahead.
The irony in all this is that in the 1990’s, he was vastly opposed to Princess Diana, whom he venomously accused her of ‘trying to modernise the royal family’.
And, what, I hear you ask, has all this got to do with craft beer?
There’s been a lot of debate around the word ‘craft’ in the beer industry. What does it mean? For Americans in the mid-2000’s, it was the way of defining a sector of an industry that was dominated by macro-breweries.
Outfits such as AB sold Budweiser to the masses until Americans discovered there was more to beer than cold, yellow fizz. Breweries established in the previous two decades – such as Goose Island, Sierra Nevada, and Brooklyn Brewery – started to gain a larger market share and influenced a new wave of microbreweries across the States. This meant the average beer drinker from Toledo no longer had to settle for bland boring lagers brewed thousands of miles away, but could now go down to the local brew pub and sample anything from a whiskey soaked bourbon Imperial Stout to Flanders Red, all brewed practically on their doorstep.
The people rose up and started to hand craft and drink styles of beer that were lost in time, or develop new styles of beers, usually driven by an insatiable appetite for citrusy hops. Hence the phrase ‘craft beer’ came into form. It was made by people who cared about their work, their art, their craft; not men in suits out to dominate every bar in the world.
The problem for us Brits is that we already had a word for this movement, which existed long by before our Stateside friends took hold of the concept. It was called Real Ale. And we had already mobilised a group of people to campaign for it: CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale).
So when this word ‘craft’ exported itself from the US to the UK, all of a sudden people didn’t know what to do with it. SIBA (The Society of Independent Brewers Association) tried to define craft, CAMRA initially rejected craft on the basis of how the beer was packaged (i.e.: carbonated keg, not cask conditioned) and this word, which described what we were already doing, caused confusion to industry insiders and marketers – is this a real ale or a craft beer product?
All of a sudden, Real Ale – which essentially was the craft beer of its day – became ‘dated’. It didn’t help that the kind of people who were associated with drinking real ale often wore sandals and with socks
The kinds of beers that younger drinkers now associate as real ale, which – in its time – were progressive, flavoursome, and a much needed local alternative to the mainstream model, are now viewed by this generation as bland, mediocre, not-progressive, and definitely not craft.
Craft beer on the other hand, with its contemporary artwork, experimental beer styles, and kegs, is to millennials what real ale was to Gen X and Baby Boomers: exciting, different, sought after, and a global alternative to the readily available local beers.
Craft Beer no longer belongs solely to a movement that happened in America. It isn’t about whether it is served from a traditional cask by a very British hand-pull or dispensed by a shiny silver tap from a keg. Nor is it about whether a brewer physically weighed out and mashed in the grains or simply pushed a red button that did it all for them.
Craft beer is about a new generation in a modern age. It’s about a generation of people expressing themselves through the tastes they like, how they consume it, what appeals to them visually, where they drink it, the tribe it knits them together with, and how they share their opinions of it over the internet.
Like Prince Philip, he saw the future and wanted to embrace it, throwing the baby out with the bath water, leaving what he saw as archaic ways behind. Obviously, the old guard, even the Prime Minister of the time Winston Churchill didn’t see it that way. Tradition and heritage was and still is underpinning the entire thing; too much to simply discard.
Craft beer wouldn’t exist today without real ale. And, in years to come, ‘craft beer’ will be surpassed by a new generation of consumers who call it something else and drink it through some other receptical, perhaps even a straw. And, like Prince Philip with that meddling Princess Diana or modernist Tony Blair, the millennials will be up in arms.
So what has the Duke of Edinburgh got to do with craft beer? Everything, it would appear.