Yes, this year’s People’s Choice Award for South Africa’s best beer at the South African National Beer Trophy(SANBT)* went overwhelmingly, over 30% of the vote, to a macro lager. That being the much awarded and vaunted champion beer, Black Label.
Now that set the commercial cat amongst the ‘craft’ pigeons at the awards ceremony! With Lucy Corne, the Brewmistress, observing in her blog,
“And the winner was…Black Label.” I’m not going to lie, there were a few boos and an instant energy drop. It was sad that after tasting all these great, award-winning beers, the public still see Black Label as their “go-to”.
Lucy followed that up with a call to arms,
“Maybe it’s time for beer bars dedicated to the cause to pull Black Label from the taps and force people to move to a craft
I am all for the beer revolution but not through coercion and force. That simply will not be sustainable as history has proven repeatedly. Forcing people to move to a ‘craft lager’ is very un-craft* in suggestion and nature and is borderline beer fascism. Removing choice will not gain the revolution any followers as it’s all about liberation of variety and the freedom of choice. Removing the most consumed beer from a bar’s line up would not help convert anyone to micro-brewed beer associated with variety and would be business suicide.
Let me get this straight, beer is not a trend but the whole “craft beer scene” is. In 10 years time we will just be speaking in terms of beer and its great variety and this time-bound curated bearded, tight jean
hipster’s symbol of non-conformity conformity will be something we look back on with humour and nostalgia much the same as we do about most of the trends of the 80’s.
We live in a ‘beermocracy’ in which we can’t just remove the populist ticket candidate, as much as we would like to in this and other countries around the world. We should rather seek to educate the masses. The value of choice can and should never be curtailed to counter the tyranny of the majority.
It took me six months after opening Beerhouse to put the evil death star, also known as Castle Lite, on tap. I would have said, if you told me a year prior to that I would commit such a deed, that you did not know me. What I had not realised was how entrenched these macro beers were in the beer drinking psyche of South Africans. SAB is one of the world’s most successful marketing companies for a reason. What did not make sense to me was people turning away from Beerhouse because their beer of choice was indeed Castle Lite. By not having it, I was not forcing them to drink “craft” beer, but only sending them to another bar and losing the opportunity to educate and recruit them into the wonderful world of beer variety and
choice. That is when my philosophy changed, that is when Castle Lite went on tap, and that is when Beerhouse became inclusive and dedicated to education and curation of variety.
I do agree with Lucy on this, “But it does speak to the fact that when it comes to craft beer, we have a long way to go”. What this People’s Choice award did was hold up a mirror to the ‘craft’ beer
industry. Sometimes you don’t like what you see in the mirror. Yes, it was only a snap poll of a people’s choice but you can’t argue that it reflects the reality. This is what the majority of consumers think and it reflects in sales.
Yes, we can boo, hiss and cuss but that is not going to get consumers to drink craft beer. What will get them to drink your beer is you getting in the trenches. Educate and recruit them by expounding the virtue of variety and through the celebration of choice.
Next time you see a Black Label drinker, don’t hiss, boo and think ‘enemy’. Rather think ‘opportunity’. At least they’re not drinking wine, right? That is an entirely different battle!
*South African National Beer Trophy is open to all beers made in South Africa. Beers are judged by BJCP qualified judges who base their judgment on accuracy to style guidelines. All beers are judged blind and purely on merit without external marketing influence or prejudice. This is the third year of the competition and it is growing in popularity with 199 beers entered in 2017.
* I feel I have to use the word ‘craft’ as it’s what people understand non-macro brewed variety to be. I personally hate the word and share this emotion with a growing number of beer lovers
around the world. It is simply just not a good enough descriptor for what it represents. It is outdated and should be cast out forever!
*Aristotle the “Father of Ethics’ made strong links between virtue and craft, ‘having excellent and well-chosen habits.’