Beer suffers relative to wine in several ways, for example when it comes to the pure number of books written about it, there are probably more books written on an annual basis about the northern wine regions of Italy than there are annual beer publications.  Part of the reason for this is that wine is intellectualised and is a popular topic for weekly newspaper columns.  This regular writing leads to more published books on the topic as a larger body of work is developed over the year by numerous wine journalists writing their 1000 words every week.

Looking at Yorkshire, it appears despite having dozens of local and regional newspapers, there are only 3 weekly beer columns between all of them, these being the Yorkshire Evening Post, York Press and the Harrogate Advertiser.  I’m sure that many more have wine columns within their Lifestyle sections and have done so for the past 3 decades since wine perforated across the classes in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Beer columns are a relatively new phenomenon from the past 10-15 years.

There have been wine tours organised by travel agents visiting wineries all over France, Italy and Spain aboard 52 seater coaches for decades, in fact there is an entire industry wrapped around wine.   Vineyards across the continent organise tours and tasting events, with the ultimate commercial idea being that visitors leave with a boot full of their wine at heavily discounted prices.

Breweries have been slow to catch up, but now are. Saltaire Brewery in its namesake town has a brewery tap and visitor centre, as has Copper Dragon in Skipton, but also adding a bistro and brewery shop.  Black Sheep in Masham has a similar set up, designed to keep the visitor at the site all day, with food, drink, tours and shop all under the same roof.  No doubt there are numerous others outside of gods own county who offer a similar experience.

Traditionally, up to the 1970’s, there was been a class divide between wine and beer, with wine being for the upper and middle classes and beer being the working mans drink.  As mentioned before, wine successfully reached all levels of society, and wine became acceptable whether stored in a council house fridge, stately home wine cellar, or a 5 bedroom detached house in the suburbs.  Supermarket offers facilitated this, but originally it was the marketing by now lampooned brands such as Black Tower and Blue Nun which got wine into the general public conscience.

Beer has found it harder to move up the social ladder than wine has to move down it.  It would still be unacceptable at the majority of upper middle dinner parties to serve a beer.  The craft beer scene has definitely helped the climb as the perception of “quality” and “exclusivity” has been created in mind of people who care about that kind of thing.  For the rest of us, it is simply good beer brewed by a smaller organisation or in smaller batches to a very high standard.   The term “Craft Beer” is a very grey term, with no real definition and a lot of contention attached, but there is a general understanding of the products it covers among those interested in beer.

The mental price barrier has been broken, with people being happy to pay £4-£6 a bottle for some of the higher end beers, and the limited runs and extreme beers by Brewdog and others fetching over £20 for 330ml.  This is parity with wine and spirits with the defined levels of supermarket, premium (or vintage in wine terms) and “how much did you say?” for the rarer alcohol products.  However despite this, the huge marketing by the mainstream beer brands does pierce the general public perception more that these lesser known products and keeps it from generally being accepted by all echelons of society.

The smaller, very high quality brewers just do not have the budget to get that market awareness, and rely more on cheaper social media / internet marketing, word of mouth and beer festivals, something which ultimately will reach a smaller audience.  It is a catch 22 situation where to promote your beer you need more income which equates to selling of barrels / bottles, to sell more beer you need more publicity which costs money.

A lot of brewers are doing a fantastic job on these limited means, but there is definitely a glass ceiling which needs to be broken for most, and to break that barrier critical mass needs to be reached and investment into the business is needed.  Beer is getting there in crossing society, but has a way to go before it fully succeeds.

  1. Curmudgeon says:

    You underestimate the degree to which the solid middle classes drank beer thirty or forty years ago – remember the stereotype of the “rugger bugger” with his dimpled pint pot? He may not have been a “beer enthusiast”, but plenty of such were members of CAMRA in those days. If anything, that stratum of drinking has greatly diminished. Where “upmarket pubs” survive, they are now overwhelmingly given over to dining.

    • santobugtio says:

      good point there about the ‘rugger buggers’, I think I was aiming more at the upper middle with that comment, there’s still plenty of middle class rugby players who’ll think nothing of 10 pints of average ale!