The Gull’s celebrated, decorated, antiquated and inebriated food critic Jay J. Gillray, 62, relieves his constipated bile glands all over the place in his new regular feature. This time he aims his pistol at invasive Gastronomic trends in British pubs…. (any opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the gull. ed.)
Passionate is such a misused word, far has it been forced to wander from its etymological origins and semantic value. Once a word that evoked martyrdom, intensity and suffering has become a favourite amongst the mouthgush of bumbrained football pundits and inarticulate business ‘people’ trying to simulate a sense of drama or depth or sincerity. A friend of mine told me recently of a series of ludicrous questions he was asked in a job application, one of which was “What makes you passionate about administration?” One should not get passionate over administration. It is frankly improper. A part-time temping job ruffling endless paperwork will not make anyone passionate, yet this is what the question in an application form for such a position would incite you to pledge, knowingly prompting not so much a true answer as a demonstration of your willingness to submit to any demand made by employer, even if that includes lying about your passions. Further and numerous examples of cultural supplication at the altar of bureau-bullshit are distressingly easy to find and are particularly pervasive in two settings: the hipster bar and the gastro pub. Both of these places I despise, and more than this I am fucking fed up of hearing idiot celebrity chefs and tit-witted beer-blog-jockeys celebrate them, apparently ignorant of the corporate marketeering behind the fads and the potentially irreparable damage their parasitic relationship with real pubs causes our social psyche.
Firstly Gastropubs. They are not pubs. I don’t mind the tradition of over-priced food in over-priced restaurants, that’s fine, I don’t have to go and eat it but when you mercilessly destroy a pub, particularly one which is the last remaining pub in the local area, and turn it into a subpar refectory for posh people you can bet my ire will rise.
I don’t mind seeing a roast flogged for a fiver, or a real push perhaps a fish and chip night or a crap curry ‘club’ can be tolerated, but on the whole pub food should be unfussy, hearty and crucially cheap: a bowl of stew with bread and butter kept slow cooking for the week at £3 a shot, for example, is a perfect accompaniment to a winter-night’s boozing. The cheapness is as integral as anything else because a pub must always be accessible to the poorer people in society, in fact they are particularly important to the complexion of a functional pub. Gourmets and egoist trendies can found their odious premises elsewhere and stop further entrenching the paucity of available real pubs which is seeing a valuable traditional lynch-pin of social cohesion in Britain vanish at an alarming rate.
This invasive gastro culture in pubs is funded by a rather repugnant class of once-a-week customers: bourgeois, middle aged, sun-faded, baby-boomer gourmands who were most likely at some stage the hipsters of their day. They certainly buy in to the modern hipster credo “I over we = Me” and wouldn’t talk to the regulars at the bar unless attempting to solicit a mates-rate job out of them. Watered-down boring people with an undeserved level of confidence in their own sophistication despite displaying a conspicuous lack of adventure, taste; cultural awareness or social conscience.
These are the people who have fallen into the marketing trap overseeing the conversion of pubs into hybrids of bistros, gin mills and java shops. They are in favour of ale being served in schooners and against dart boards; in favour of faux 60’s tin tobacconist signs and against pub dogs; in favour of sommeliers and against heavy drinkers; in favour of starters costing £10.50 and against glass bowls of piss-fingered peanuts, left untouched whilst a community of people drink, laugh and talk together; in favour of large pub rooms full of polished oak tables seating comfortable couples discussing holidays in Cornwall, each party fully detached from the next; in favour of coffee drinkers and against smokers.
The hipsters are of course the real villains here yet again because it is the obsession with trend setting rather than trend following which means we have moved culturally from tradition to egotism.
The centre of society is of course always a few years behind these brave explorers to the fringes of aesthetic experience and inevitably, like a jukebox in a parochial student union, fashions for the Norms and Centrics are a few years behind hip. This means that via this gastropub culture we are currently suffering a barrage of second generation hipster wankery, and seeing as all their bullshit was regurgitated from a beat novel anyhow, this is cycle number three or four of vomitation; not only lurid, thoughtless and adolescent when originally regested by the hipster elite, but now also stale. So whereas I presume the cutting-edge hipster, feeding off the scarcity of commodity they themselves have caused, will, within a few months, be searching out spit and sawdust local pubs, chatting with the regulars over five pints of £3 European, clad in inconspicuous clothes, shaved and not wearing any type of hat, elsewhere gourmet coffee, boutique gin, movie nights, borsht and knitting clubs are pushing out the real pub culture of the majority of the country. The iconographic and industrial acme of this inimical threat to pubs has to be the “craft beer” for it is here we find the kissing crust of all the subcategories of trendagonks.
The term ‘craft beer’ is an innovation of the Brewer’s Association in the U.S. though even they seem fuzzy as to the definition of the term. Amongst the collection of bumpf on various annoying topics such as ‘mouthfeel’, beer courses and pretzel recipes, the odious and largely meaningless spiel to be found on “craftbeer.com” asserts that there are three principle tenets of membership in their association: craft breweries should be “Traditional”, “Independent” and “Small”. The last of these seems to be the most important and it is laboured in a number of other marketing platitudes on the site. According to Craftbeer.com “Craft brewers are small brewers – very small.”
There is nothing more likely to appeal to the British hipster boutique culture than imported, small-batch, artisanal beer, packaged by hand in heavy glass bottles. The problem is that the would-be interesting hotchpotch aesthetic has once again chosen style over substance. Craft.com even admits:
“Many of today’s craft brewers also stray from brewing to style completely. That is what makes their craft brewed beers so interesting.”
Telling. And this focus on style and presentation has left the content of these defining pillars of the craft movement conspicuously hollow, even prone to collapse. The alleged “Smallness” is the perfect example.
Despite labouring a micro-brewing ethic, the Brewers’ Association offers a gobsmackingly tractile definition of a small brewery as one which has “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less [sic]” So it would seem craft beer is actually really a marketing term for any small, medium or large production beer which aims its product at those susceptible to buying into marketing fantasy. The term plays upon the disingenuousness of those people who feel “passionately” about beer.
Here comes that word again…
“Our biggest mission when we set up BrewDog was to make other people as passionate about great craft beer as we are.”
So states the website of trendy British exspensoplonk mongers, Brewdog. If you type “Craft beer” into Tesco.com’s search field the first three products returned are all from their stable.
“Martin and I (James were bored of the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK beer market”
A rather empty sentiment when Brewdog have become a leading craft beer producer in Britain. Their output in 2015 as listed on their website – irritatingly in hectolitres (!) – was 134,000 hl, which equates to around 23,580,703 pints, 267,963 kegs or around 40 million 330ml bottles – or the same in cans which seems to be their preferred packaging. Hardly small, eh? Well actually the 6 million barrel uppermost production limit that the Brewer’s Association tolerates as ‘craft brewing’, equates to around 1.2 BILLION imperial pints, or 17.2 m casks. So ‘craft’ could apply to a brewery more than 50 TIMES BIGGER even than Brewdog, which is an institution with 44 bars, international distribution and over 500 employees.
Brewdog’s 5 acre ‘craft’ brewery in Ellen, Scotland (above). Small, eh? Very small
In all honesty I have no quarrel with people wishing to enjoy a flavoursome beer but I really do disdain the usurpation of pubs by marketing gimmicks and the conversion of the egalitarian and social tradition of keeping public-house, into exclusive, back-slapping clubs for well-healed gourmos. Find your own patch, you bastards!
Maybe we should think about reinstalling the dart board, and while we are at it what about bringing back the cheap beer along with stools at the bar, lest we find the scallops and schooners replace the locals all together, and once a pub has no locals, where is it, can it be called a pub at all?