I found this passage below in The General Evening Post of London, England of December 1, 1757. It’s a very useful passage because it reminds us of many things which are quite alive in the brewing trade of today.
Notice how the concern is framed from the position of the public. The natural tension is with the interests of brewers and the solution is the need for regulation. Brewers are “men of large capital” who use “other ingredients” – the fact of which is “notorious from the conviction of some brewers.” Brewers are also avaricious:
… a combination is forming amongst them to raise the price of beer…
This is an “additional tax which the brewers want to saddle on” the public. Sounds like something out of early CAMRA pamphets from the 1970s, doesn’t it?
Boak and Bailey have somewhat restated the question in terms of the craft era in their post today about “Experiences vs. Commodities” – a form of question which has been bounced around for at least as long as the terms “beer blogging” and “craft” gained popular attention in around 2006. Around 2008, we were introduced to the idea of single cask short run beers which promised in themselves to be an experience conveyed via 750 ml corked bottles for the mere price of merely $24.99. One Colorado comment maker* of the time indicated that the trend really started with La Folie by New Belgium.
Unlike Probus in the 1750s, the point of view of writers has not been clear cut. The responses in the comments to this post in from October 2007** are instructive and in some cases a bit startling. But that was when it was still quite fair – or at least somewhat credible – to say that craft was still a lot like little Bambi struggling on its wobbly legs, trying to make sense of the great big bad world. Too soon to speak of value. Now things are different. Craft has shattered into at least three general forms of market presence – local, big craft and international macro – none of which are in any real risk of going away even if players come and go.
Because of this, I would suggest that we need to heed Probus’s words published a quarter millennium ago and leave the views of ten years ago behind. Craft has become commodity and it’s going to be OK. It’s a commodity in the standardization of international styles such as IPA and murk as well as in single brands like Goose Island. You can find pretty much the same beer everywhere. And if you can’t you are still seeing the internationalization of the fib of “craft” pretty much everywhere. We cling on to outdated ideas about craft and the value of any beer at our peril. We miss the actual in favour of the hype. We chase the marketed (whether from the PR consultants or the semi-pro enthusiasts) in favour of the quieter, local and lovely. The experience? Yes, it is still about the experience but that includes learning from our experience.
[By the way, not sure who Probus was. Apparently, Thomas Chatterson used the pen name but he was born in 1752.]