Craft Beer and Class

I stumbled across a fascinating post on the nature of class and good beer in the UK. The blogger, Jeff Pickthall, locates his access point on real ale (aka cask ale), which CAMRA has tried to promote as "working class" beer. It is the UK equivalent of American "craft beer." But from his vantage point in the very working class town of Barrow-in-Furness, the working class don't want anything to do with expensive cask ale:
Casual perusal of town centre pubs on a Friday or Saturday night reveals the "working man" drinking smoothflow, megalager, megacider and alcopops. Sometimes, on special occasions, in the same glass with a shot of Blue Bols for added luminosity under the UV.
This is an issue that plagues the US, too. We want to think of beer as the everyman's drink, but the truth is, it's twice as expensive as canned beer and far, far less popular. Portland is a notable--remarkable--exception, but even here you find mainly urban types going for the good stuff. Go to the outer reaches and you find fewer good taps--people drink cheap beer by the pitcher. It's not so much an issue of wealth as class. He captures the sense perfectly:
Poor people – let’s avoid euphemisms – don't like to be choosy. In the culture of places like Barrow, being choosy is frowned upon. Being discriminating is being a snob – and being a snob is a very bad thing. To be choosy necessitates rejecting something on offer. In a culture defined by hard graft and low pay, rejecting something (particularly food, and including drinks) for the subjective reason of taste is very bad form. Children are brought up with the mealtime fillip "you make sure you finish that: your dad's been hard at work all week to pay for that.” Swirling and sniffing your beer is met with “get it down your neck, you ponce.” I know....

Messages such as those about craftsmanship, food miles, sustainability, wholesomeness, tradition and locality are largely lost on this demographic. Cajoling the “working man” into a reverence for heritage and tradition is to force him to look to the past, but the past is a bleak place.
Pickthall is both saddened by the unpopularity of cask ale and CAMRA's "Marxist" sales pitch to popularize it--presumably, if CAMRA positioned real ale in some other way, it would appeal more to the actual working class. I have no opinion on that point, but he hints at something that American craft breweries should recognize. If craft beer gets positioned as a luxury or connoiseur's product, it will hit a wall of market penetration and remain a niche.

So far, I don't think that's happened here in Oregon. Or rather, after it started to happen in the 80s and 90s, breweries retooled and brought street cred back to good beer. I think they partly did that through strength and aggressiveness--it's hard to describe an 80 IBU, 8% double IPA as "poncey." It also helps that we have so many breweries, too--most Portlanders have seen brewers toiling away and see it for what it is, hard, rugged work. And it further helps that the many of the good pubs around town are downscale. There just aren't that many pretentious places to sully the good beverage.

Fascinating post, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.