The South West has become a hotbed of brewing talent over recent years. From Bristol through Devon and down into the depths of Cornwall, you can now find world-class, locally brewed, contemporary beer almost anywhere.
This explosion in modern local brewing is the best thing that could have happened to us as a nation of beer lovers. We are no longer limited to boring bitters and bland imported lager. We have collectively broken free from a Beer Groundhog Day where we were stuck in the 1970s for 40 years. People have woken up to the fact that locally made produce is not only better for the environment and the economy, it is also more likely to be interesting, due to the unique approach of each artisan. It tells a real story, rather than one invented by marketing teams.
The influx of young talent and fresh ideas means that our national drink has changed. There has never been a better time to get interested in beer. There really is something for everyone – Light, sour, dark, strong, bitter, fruity … beer has changed for the better and for good.
Some people would call this movement ‘Craft Beer’, but it’s a vague term at best, jealously guarded by some, callously abused by others. Really this much-improved standard of beer is just the foundation of the new norm – one day soon we will be able to just call it ‘Beer’ again. But while it still needs an identity separate from the ubiquitous outpourings of the old guard, perhaps ‘modern English beer’ works better.
The focus there is on ‘English’ not for any reasons of Brexity jingoism, but because it’s easy to be blinded by the glamour of foreign imports. For the ones worth drinking, one might argue a case for their authenticity of style, but as long as they are willing to sell us the hops, for example, there is no reason why a local brewer in the South West of England can’t make a US Pale Ale every bit as good as the US brewers and, quite possibly better than a lot of them.
Similarly we can make lagers as well as the Germans, or indeed any other beer style from anywhere in the world, given due care and attention in the brewing process and an open-mind from the drinkers. Actually, I would argue that the point of modern beer is not to narrowly follow traditions at all, even new ones, but to always progress the idea of what beer can be. We can stand on the shoulders of giants and look outwards, not downwards.
Beer’s recent successes are a result of two co-dependent factors – a talented industry and an enthusiastic audience. But, don’t be fooled into a false sense of security. Bland mediocrity still reigns supreme, and our small but thriving beer community needs more support if it is to ever break the stranglehold of the big businesses that have become so lazy and cynical in their near monopoly.
So this summer, trust me, with well over 200 breweries in South West England (and more opening every week) there’s a damn good chance that you can fulfil all of your beery dreams, whatever they are, with beer brewed within 50 miles of your own home. So think before you drink – seek out local brews and support the businesses that champion them. It has been a long, long road to get to where we are now, so jump on board and raise a glass to the new beer pioneers. The more love you give, the better this will get.