Upon casting my gaze across the Guardian (shut up, I know) opinion page I stumbled across an article by a one Eleanor Robertson. It bemoans the recent trend of “expensive” craft beer and more to the point, the following of “beer nerds” it brings with it. The issue, Eleanor says, is with the almost fanatical following, devoted to their hops, and their special brewing techniques. Meander your way onto the BrewDog website, a brewery originally based about 40 miles north of Aberdeen, and you will find an entire blog post featuring smiling beardy types discussing their favourite hops. Names like Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin, Simcoe and even one called Vic’s Secret (which apparently wasn’t even on the market at the time of the post’s writing) are thrown about with gay abandon, and we are expected to nod sagely and concur that the hops have a “top-note of succulent tangerines” and that the ideal hope for a mild beer is the wonderfully named “fuggle” hop. Which sounds like a word for an aggressive cuddle or the kind of thing Stephen Fry would bellow in exasperation at a particularly irritating journalist.
We have craft beer here too. The ever popular St Andrews Brew Co. has craft beers on tap at all times and is itself a micro-brewery. A short trip into the Brew Co. on almost any evening is always ever-present, the place resplendent in natural finish wood, with comfy sofas and the fun-filled gaggle of drinkers, loudly discussing how battered they are off the, admittedly excellent, Thistly Cross cider. Aikman’s is permanently filled with moody types, playing scrabble or reading some weighty philosophical tome, discussing just how excellent some of the bottled world beers in there are, and Luvians is a hop-head’s Mecca, glistening bottles of Brixton Porter and Tempest lining the shelves as far as the eye can see.
But do you ever feel out-of-place or unwelcome because you don’t know hops from barley in any of them? No. And you know what? I love all of them. And so do a lot of you. Anything is better than the soulless Central, with its fake ‘ye Olde’ interior or, heaven forbid, the Union, which looks like a hospital. When you think about it, even £2.40 pints are ridiculous in a students’ union, especially one which has about as much character as a beige flannel belonging to Ed Miliband and pours a Tennent’s in such a way that the head has the consistency of marshmallow.
Places like the Central, Whey Pat (though a concession has to be made for the nachos) and Criterion all serve roughly £4 pints and that is the going rate for a lot of the beers in the ‘expensive’ craft beer places. While it has to be admitted that craft beer places such as the Shoreditch, BrewDog or Holborn Whippet do serve really rather expensive pints, they are in London. In St Andrews there is no such excuse; everywhere is expensive, as those of you who have been looking for houses, or even wandered around Tesco with some idea of what ‘reasonable’ pricing is, will well know. And none of these ‘craft beer’ pubs are any more expensive than some of these places and are, at least in my opinion, infinitely nicer places to spend an evening. There is a slightly strange thing behind this kind of thinking though.While, as a student, our aim is mostly to get as drunk as possible on as little money as possible, why do we choose to go out and spend time in expensive pubs and bars? We could just as well go to Aldi or Morrisons and stock up on a crate; but half the fun of going out to a pub is that you’re not sitting at home on your sofa drinking, because no matter how sociable you’re being in the process, you always feel like doing so means you’re about 45 minutes away from a lonely life mine sweeping cans of K cider from the roadside.
It’s nice to go out and sit in a pub and drink beer. Why should we always have the same thing? While most of the pubs in St Andrews do at least rotate various ales it tends to be the same ones. A decent craft beer pub never runs out of microbreweries to buy in from, and a good one, like a BrewDog, will have a range of beers for every taste and, more importantly, every wallet. So, sorry Eleanor but I have to disagree. A craft beer pub visit does not have to be a nerdy, extortionately priced binge. They are often some of the nicest, most interesting and most vibrant places in any town. So can we please cut down on the Tennents, Belhaven and Schiehallion pubs in town and instead indulge in more craft beer? Because unlike lectures, you don’t have to understand it to enjoy it. And more importantly: beards and plaid are not required either.