Hipsters

Embracing tradition - or killing it?
A skull dimpled beer mug in Drink Shop Do near Kings Cross. A stylish, trendy appropriation of a traditional object. Does it offend you, yeah?

This is my belated piece for the #beerylongreads March 1 edition encouraged by @BoakandBailey.

The C word – craft, to be clear – is seen as one of the most divisive in the modern beer scene. The reasons for the arguments, and the arguments themselves, are complex and often tedious. It’s now easier to find things we disagree about, than issues we actually agree on. I’m convinced that much of this has to do with language, and the way that it, like a living thing, evolves without us noticing. Terms that were useful shorthand for a broad idea become labels, even terms of derision. When they do, it can become a source of alienation that prohibits understanding and acceptance.

In that sense, hipster is far more controversial than craftHipster has gone from being applied to a kind of trend-setting, trailblazing, early-adopting, fashion-creating subculture, to a far more mainstream, trend-following herd. It has become useful as a broad label for individuals and groups alike, people on the edge of cultural behaviour that, for better or worse, puts them amongst the craft beer scene.

For a long time, I’ve used the word affectionately, referring to hipsters in the same way I might say ‘Oh Morrissey, you silly Quorn sausage.’ I see people doing things that seem naive or gullible, fashion-following or amusingly trendy, and I think, somewhat patronisingly, oh, hipsters, shaking my head in fatherly amusement/disapproval. In the past year or so though, I have become increasingly aware and sensitive to the use of the word hipster in a decidedly non-affectionate way.

‘Fucking Hipsters driving up the price.’

‘It’s just for hipsters, more money than sense.’

‘Typical bloody hipsters, do whatever they’re told.’

I’m not going to give you a history of hipsters, but let’s all take it as read that they haven’t just appeared out of nowhere, and that trend-setters and early-adopters or whatever have probably existed since an early example of proto-human first added a dashing set of beads to his hairy brow. Yet, we talk about hipsters now like some kind of active, malevolent force. Tortoiseshell-rimmed-bespectacled Hell’s Angels roving through our cities, installing street food vans, vintage markets and Hopinators in their wake. A recent article about the ‘Shoreditchification’ of urban areas bordered on Daily-Mail-like scaremongering about a place near you suddenly getting gentrified (how ghastly). Who are these hipsters? What do they want? Have they come to destroy our way of life?

Nowadays, I rarely hear hipster used in any other way than derogatively. It’s a form of casual discrimination that is being increasingly used by people about those who are either just younger than them or dress differently to them. This use of the word hipster has potential to damage the British beer scene in the long term.

But they’re so phony, and annoying, and pack out places I like, and I liked that thing first, and they drive up the prices of things.

If hipsters pay more for something, at least they’re doing so because they believe (regardless of whether they understand) that the thing they are paying for is good. It’s the people making the product and selling the product who set the price. The taxman has a say, but so far the Treasury hasn’t introduced a tax on being a hipster (stop giving them ideas, Chris).

We all know what hipsters look like though, right? They’re youngish people, making a fuss about a format of something on the verge of obsolescence, claiming they appreciate it more than the mainstream, who don’t understand. They’re such total, obsessive wankers about it, they usually apply a special term, or want a special ‘definition’ for the thing they like, so that everybody will know what it is, and it can’t be mistaken for anything else. I’m of course talking about proper, authentic, dyed-in-the-wool craft wankers. The kind of wankers that, one day, decide that they should form a campaign to revitalise ale.

Classic craft wankers, right? So, by that reasoning, CAMRA was founded by hipsters, yeah?

“No, no, no, I like ‘real ale’. You probably haven’t heard of it, you probably like Watney’s.”

You might think that comparing the newer breed of craft wanker with the old breed of real ale wanker is a tired comparison. I say that it isn’t, because we clearly don’t realise just how relevant it is. As an example, take a look at the recent findings of Boak and Bailey on hipsters driving up prices:

No, no, no. We all know that hipsters were invented in Shoreditch in the noughties. Nobody ever did something just because they thought it was cool before then. No way.

We’ve lazily fallen into the trap of judging and basically discriminating against people whom we know little to nothing about. It’s unfair, misguided and ignorant. Hypocritically, old-fashioned real ale types and CAMRA members bandying about the term ‘hipster’ as an insult are likely to be the first to argue that CAMRA isn’t just an organisation full of beardy old blokes, and how dare people assume that?

But how will this damage the beer scene in the long-term? If we want the current boom in beer and brewing to continue, we’re going to need a whole lot of people being interested in beer, drinking it, and returning to the pub to drink it, all the time. Yet, whilst we want more people to understand and appreciate craft beer in all its forms,  we sneer and look down on these people buying it and pretending to like it. For heavens’ sake, at least they’re trying it. Isn’t that half the battle won?

You won’t see any of them bloody hipsters in my pub trying the real ales, though. They’re all in them bloody BrewDog bars, forking out a fiver a pint for that murky rubbish.

Have you ever wondered why that is? It’s because in a BrewDog bar, these people – perhaps taking their first steps in the sometimes strange and mystifying world of good beer – feel welcome, are welcomed, and invited to try things, talk about what they like, and find the beer that suits them. How dare BrewDog provide such an environment. What are they trying to achieve – get more people drinking good beer? Well, they are. Their rapidly growing business proves this, whether you like them or not.

BrewDog can take a selection this large, and make it accessible and understandable to anyone.
BrewDog can take a selection this large, and make it accessible and understandable to anyone.

Imagine these same people, feeling slightly more confident in their understanding, going to a pub that advertises a wide selection of real ales, and feeling looked down on by the clientele there. Imagine these people thinking, sometimes these good beer places are nice, but sometimes they really aren’t. Wandering into one suddenly seems like a risk – will I wander into a friendly one, or an unwelcoming one?

I appreciate and understand that this goes far beyond the use of the word hipster, but make no mistake: the use of words like this as terms of derision is a sure-fire way of alienating the people whose respect, passion and interest we should be embracing. We worry that trend-followers are going to come into ‘our place’ where we enjoy ‘our thing’ and somehow ruin it. Unless we engage, convert and embrace these people, we will find that we have ruined the scene we love so dearly, by failing to introduce enough people to it to help sustain it.

It’s our duty as drinkers of good beer not just to ‘tolerate’ these people that seem odd and strange and silly to us, but to welcome them. After all, they can’t be any weirder than the rest of us.

Author: Chris Hall

London-based freelance beer writer and blogger. Member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. Co-author of 'Craft Beer: 100 Best Breweries in The World' On Twitter @ChrisHallBeer.

13 thoughts on “Hipsters”

  1. Well, looks like I’m first to comment on a very enjoyable read.

    As you know, I’d been thinking similar myself, and the main reason was that, a few months ago, I actually opted to not attend a meet the brewer event in Leeds, purely because ‘it’ll be full of bloody hipsters’.

    When I found myself saying that – and missing out on what was, by all accounts, a very enjoyable evening, I knew I had opened a door that I really didn’t want to. I can be, and always have been, a bit of a curmudgeon and worrier. I dislike crowds. I enjoy quiet. This aspect of my personality has seemingly gotten worse as I get older – and I’m only 33 now – and I’m becoming more vocal in it. This open use of the term as a derogatory statement is the latest little development.

    So I had a stern mental word with myself.

    When I look back on why I started TGS, it was to try and shine a light on what great beer actually tasted like. I was dipping my toe into beer, styles and flavours, and – more importantly – vocally encouraging things like clearer, info-friendly branding and labels to encourage you to pick up the beer, better service in pubs more tolerable of younger people – and girls – and above all, trying to get a younger crowd to drink real ale. Privately, I felt CAMRA’s Young Member’s Clubs a cynical, insulting ploy (after all, as a member, I should drink with the grown-ups, yes? Do I have to graduate from the YM club? How old can I be until I can drink with the adults? You get my point) and that there should be no segregation in age in beer drinking. It boiled my piss, really it did. Still does, actually, despite the incredibly good work those YM guys do regionally.

    Yet when all these things happen – actually happen! – we, and I, find a way to denigrate it and move on to another cause. These hipsters don’t know beer, they’re buying labels, they don’t know what they are doing.

    I realise, know, that I’m perhaps scared.

    I don’t live in London, where I would imagine there is a much more concentration hipster invasions – but i’m scared that there *may* be an element of fad-buying here and there. Scared that, when daytripping to a rural pub, the hipster will pick a kegged lager or cider over the three ‘trad’ handpumps of beer on offer. Scared that they will grow out of this, and leave the rest of us standing at the bar, with a lot of excellent breweries struggling to make a profit.
    Obviously, this is probably complete tosh, but as I said before, I’m a worrier.
    So – my belated new year’s resolution was simply to not use the term in a derogatory way. That’s all. They’re still there, the hipsters, but you know what….they’re doing well. And so is beer.

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    1. To start at the end as it were, I’d like to correct some misapprehension by Leigh about CAMRA’s Young Members Group. It isn’t a section into which young members are put, nor is it separate other than as a mutual support thing for those that wish to get together over real ale, with those of a similar age and interests. It is to try and get those younger members to encourage others to both become members and become active within CAMRA. They are just the same as any other CAMRA member other than that.

      Back to Chris now,but still on the CAMRA theme. Superficially you might think he has a point in is comparisons, but then and now are not the same. There was no internet, no social media and real ale for most was something they believed in enough to form a support group to protect it. That’s not really the same thing, though there is a grain of truth in the tarring everyone with the same brush.

      To me hipsters are just amusing, as no doubt the old farts are to them. I find it hugely ironic that the beardies have become the young crowd and while their enthusiasm for all things trendy is annoying to some, it isn’t worse than what happened in the sixties, just different in its manifestation.

      As for driving prices up, well maybe there is a tad of truth in that too, in so far as those selling a product will always try and cash in where there is a market ready to pay more. (Not at all sure I agree with B&B that the differential in Scotland where real ale overheads were more proves much at all, but the second quote is fair enough and a point with which I agree). Additionally, nowadays, those exotics, so beloved of hipsters aren’t cheap to buy in the first place and they do have the effect of dragging other prices up too, so as not to appear out of place. There are other issues too, as in applying the GSP to the element of cost that is the keykeg, rather than the beer inside. That certainly drives prices up, but that is hardly the hipster’s fault.

      But you are right in your final paragraphs. Live and let live, but it would be nice if hipsters reached out too. To them, like many young people, older people aren’t worth saying anything to. Inclusiveness works both ways, but the more people are drinking beer, the better. I think we can all agree on that.

      Lastly, when Chris says “Hypocritically, old-fashioned real ale types and CAMRA members bandying about the term ‘hipster’ ”

      I think the general view of hipsters is held by more than beer drinking or CAMRA types. It’s the way of the world to some extent.

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      1. I think you’ve got a point in terms of the ‘two tribes’ kinda thing – one question I didn’t posit is ‘What do they think of *us*’ – and therefore, what am I?????

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  2. Humanity is tribal. Us chavs like to denigrate the hipsters. Get our response in first, so to speak. We don’t want to kick moff with them, it’s just that we know we are going to get a dig in regard to our use of sportswear and football kit as leisure wear, so we get our dig in first. We can all rub along peacefully, so long as the hipsters know us chavs are harder.

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  3. There’s definitely a point to be made about the cultural denigration of ‘hipsters’ and the effect that has. Maybe I am biased though as someone who is often labelled a hipster and can feel unwelcome in many a pub due to a penchent for bright coloured jeans and

    For me however, the issue of money is quite important too. For people like myself with very low incomes beer is becoming more and more of an unaffordable luxury: it is being gentrified because of this whole trendy craft wanker business. There seems to be a huge increase in profiteering bars and pubs (and occasionally brewers), desperate to cash in on trends and people who don’t realise that the stuff is available much cheaper elsewhere. I’m not going to go into too much detail here (I’ll probably write a blog about it in the near future though) but obviously I’m aware there are many factors at play including high rents, compulsory weekend door security etc. Through working in a pub I know what beers cost without pallet discounts that the established small chains of craft bars (North, Common, Craft, Pivni etc.) probably get. And yet even with fairly generous assumptions there seems to be a massive disconnect between those costs and what is actually charged. This is endemic in Leeds where I can barely afford to drink now, I can only assume because of the lucrative business that the finance workers bring in. They can afford to pay those prices and do so. Business then follows capital.

    This leads to completely absurd situations. I will never forget the incident in one highly regarded yorkshire ‘craft’ bar of the £1.50 standard sized bag of monster munch – with a 17p cost price, I’m told. The same bar was charging around twice the price for a half of Oaked Arrogant Bastard as a rival 5 minutes walk away. The rival is in a position which will almost certainly involve much higher rent and higher buying costs. It’s madness.

    This is not necessarily the effect of ‘hipsters’ but a wider trend based on simple but insipid business logic: charge the highest possible price that you can get away with to increase profit margins. The more gentrified an area gets, the more money there is floating around. The more money floating around, the higher the price you can charge for the beer. The higher the price, the more the beer is seen to be elitist or for ‘hipsters’. People who just enjoy a nice drink and don’t think about it too much and/or aren’t willing, like us geeks, to fork out a bit more for it, are being turned off. This is just as much a danger to beer as any of the social/cultural issues surrounding hipsterdom.

    Oh and also anyone being grumpy about beer being popular now are the biggest hypocrites. The creatures outside looked from beer geek to hipster, and from hipster to beer geek, and from beer geek to hipster again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

    Hali

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  4. This was an enjoyable read, and quite interesting. I am in my mid-30’s and live in Nashville, Tennessee (we are kind of a big deal in our bloated country now thanks to country music’s return to mainstream popularity). Anyhow, hipsters have invaded our cities as well, but they are definitely a breed all of their own. They come in and take over the run down areas of the city and turn them into hip art scenes with refurbished craftsman style houses. They don grotesquely overgrown bears and wear little hats. They eat only the finest in organic food (meaning they construct their own chicken coops in their backyards to harvest their eggs and grow their own gardens in their front yards. At the same time, while I’m enjoying Starbucks and life in the suburbs (a place where which the preppy, upscale country clubbers are just a different version of a hipster, yet in a more spa-visiting, Versace-wearing, and shopping-mall-frequenter kind of way). I enjoy floating between the two, enjoying life from the outskirts of completely fitting in one way or another. I guess in those regards, I could be considered either copping out or being naturally uncool enough not to fit in.

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    1. Yeh, caroline, you guys have the advantage of being able to carry guns. That ought keep the hipsters in check. There is no way of stopping them here.

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  5. Really interesting read — ta.

    In general, I can’t be doing with Us vs. Them bile-spewing, especially when it is based on superficialities — who cares how someone dresses or about their facial hair?

    I do think that, in about 90% of the sentences where it’s used, the word ‘hipster’ could be replaced with ‘young person’ and the meaning would be the same.

    (Please excuse stereotypes and generalisation that follow.)

    Young people can, perhaps, be rather over-confident in their opinions, regardless of whether they have the experience to back it up. As they seek to establish their identity, they sometimes show off and shout a bit.

    When that group run into a gang of dogmatic know-alls who’ve ‘paid their dues’, ’30 years, man and boy’, then there will inevitably be fireworks.

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  6. Thanks for the in-depth comments from everyone. I’m glad that the issue provokes comments of that length, as it proves that it’s a discussion we can all meaningfully contribute to.

    With regard to price, whilst I believe hipsters will pay more, they themselves do not necessarily drive up prices on their own. And as for certain bars charging more for x keg beer or y cask ale than another bar, I can only refer to Chris Mair’s piece (http://www.craftcentric.com/why-keg-beer-is-more-expensive-than-cask-beer/) because he knows far more about it than me.

    I think the conflict between hipsters and older/established consumers in the world of beer is inevitable, as Bailey says. And as Tandleman says, it’s a two-way street to a certain extent. But, if the aim is reach out to people new to the scene, it’s the older/established beer people that need to make the first move. And where decidedly younger, trendier bars open, the onus is on them to make it as welcoming to older and different clientele.

    Of course, this is all down to the attitudes and behaviour of individuals, so there’s no fixed protocol that will apply to solve all of this. All we can do is, like Leigh suggests in his ethos of The Good Stuff, keep nudging everyone towards being more open-minded, and let the beer do the talking.

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