A Year in Beer: 2015 Reviewed

(L-R) Troubadour Obscura, Magma Tripel Yeast, Westkust and Gollem's Precious IPA (2)

2015 has been a turbulent year for beer, and for beer blogging. With several bloggers (myself included) making moves into the industry, whether full-time, part-time or freelance, there’s been some big changes. Some blogs have come out of retirement, gone professional, and thrived, and new ones have begun. My own has suffered from me gaining meaningful employment that engages much more of my energy than my previous jobs, but hopefully I’ll be back to posting more frequently quite soon.

Whilst professional writers and journalists hold forth on ever weightier issues and find ever more column inches in mainstream media to write about beer, it is bloggers who are pushing the envelope and setting the agenda. Mainstream media becomes increasingly oriented toward shorter attention spans, churning out ‘listicles’ and content-lite pieces to fill bandwidth. Meanwhile, in a way some might find surprising, it is in blogs that lengthy, considered and thoughtful pieces are being written on a huge variety of subjects and with a massive spectrum of opinions fueling them.

Blogs are beginning to get slicker, winning more professional awards and attention, putting their creators into positions where they can make a real difference. The maturing of the British craft beer scene, and its bloggers/broadcasters/communicators, continues apace.

It’s not all peachy though. There’s a continued trend of antagonism, of tribalism and, ultimately, trolling. The internet is becoming a very strange village, with bad neighbourhoods you don’t want to stick around in, and the world of beer blogging suffers from the same problem. It would be great to see more constructive criticism; worthwhile and good-spirited debate. The alternative is disheartening to say the least. It’s becoming more and more tempting to bloggers to switch off comments on their blogs, retire from social media for several days, or simply disengage from the scene entirely. So many complex issues have been argued back and forth in a gruelling, fruitless fashion. As ever more people want to ‘get involved’ in craft beer one way or another, we should remember that even if we don’t all agree, we ultimately have to live in this world of beer together.

Whilst a number of new blogs have started, several writers find themselves writing on a more professional basis, and less frequently on their blogs. As a result, whilst spectrum of opinions is wide, there has been a slight stagnation of voices in beer blogging, and whilst the variety of subjects is huge, there is a lack of variety of content. Speaking personally, I’m determined to post more frequently this year, and find new forms of blog posts to write. I really enjoyed writing my recent fictional post about an imagined path-not-travelled in the history of British and Belgian brewing, but it was not received entirely as well as I’d hoped. I know this is mostly due to me not communicating my intent clearly enough, but it hasn’t put me off writing more beer fiction in future on my blog.

Something that still concerns me is the relative lack of voices in beer and beer writing which aren’t those of white, straight men. There’s a lot of reasons for that of course, some much easier to tackle than others. But whilst many of us think our beer scene and industry is open, diverse and inclusive, it quite clearly isn’t. It’s just incredibly open and inclusive to us. I think it’s starting to change, gradually, but I’m interested in what people think about it, and if there’s more that could be done.

Of course, no post about 2015 would be complete without pondering mergers and acquisitions. Thinking back to the beginning of the year, few of us could have predicted the voracious appetite of Big Beer in its quest to buy what it can’t do itself. There’s little sign of it slowing down, and we should brace ourselves for just as many if not more sizeable shocks in the industry this year. One issue about which I’m curious, and intend to write a post about soon, is the perceived scale of ‘small brewers’ among the public. We’re now getting to a point where a handful of breweries that started only a few years ago have expanded to the point where they no longer benefit from paying lower rates of duty, yet are still seen ‘small’ or ‘craft’ breweries by the average punter. When Punk IPA and Gamma Ray and sit alongside beers from much smaller concerns, we might start to see some breweries begin to be priced out of the competition. For those breweries committed to staying ‘small’, 2016 might be the year they face difficult choices about their survival.

As predictions go, they’re admittedly pretty vague, but one thing I am certain about is that the overall quality of British craft beer has massively improved in the past twelve months. In the months ahead, critics and consumers used to this quality will forgive substandard beers far less easily than they might have done before.

We’re in a new era now. We’re way, way past the new wave of good beer being a ‘fad’ or trend. There has been a cultural shift, and we’re writing our own rulebook now. The next chapter promises to be just as important as the last. I for one can’t wait to see what 2016 brings.