Don’t Blame The Brewers: Craft Beer and Gentrification

beer drinking

During a shameless binge watch of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I couldn’t help but notice all the references to gentrification (or in simpler terms – places becoming more trendy and modernised, which drives up the costs of living in that area, meaning poorer residents may be forced to relocate). Beneath all the comedic exaggerations in that show, there is a lot of truth. Although in that scenario it applies to New York, the same could easily be said for areas in the UK. Shoreditch, London is a particularly pertinent example, where there was a huge backlash over the opening of Cereal Killer Café – a trendy and expensive place to try various brands of cereal.

Whilst many were angered over the opening of the cereal café as a catalyst for gentrification, unfortunately, it’s such a hilariously simple idea, that it’s almost genius. How many times have we eaten something and thought ‘There needs to be a place that just sells this, only this, all the time’! Except whilst it’s usually just a fantasy, these guys made it real. They found a fairly inexpensive, everyday product and shone a light on it. Their passion and personal motives for opening a place to specialize in selling one particular foodstuff sparks a certain curiosity, the same kind of curiosity that lead to my interest in craft beer. It’s not the same as just eating cereal or having a drink, there’s a story behind it all that draws you in and creates more of an experience.

The first craft beer I tried was BrewDog‘s Punk IPA. It was new year’s eve and being generally indecisive when it comes to drinks, I let a friend make the suggestion. A Facebook post of our drinks stash immediately drew attention from people raving about the product and from that moment, I knew I had to find out what made the company so great. To my satisfaction, there was a story. A story of a small brewery with a big vision. I was never crazy about beer, but they provided a cause I wanted to get behind – this company were providing us with new options, each product catering to distinct tastes, rather than just telling us what we want to drink. That was over two years ago and now, most major UK cities have a BrewDog bar and the craft beer market has boomed.

Although it may have started a seemingly ‘hipster’ movement, it has become less specialist and more of an expectation. Sharp’s Doom Bar is becoming a household name as our top selling cask ale and mainstream lager is being silently frowned upon. It’s unacceptable for our bar tenders to just serve us a beer – just as with wine, if they’re not clued up on the flavours and pairings, what is the point? We’re becoming more conscious of what we’re actually drinking, rather than just throwing it down our necks.

However, the effects of this trend reach much further than our hometowns, to the point where beer tourism is a legitimate hobby. We’re supporting more small breweries as trying out the local ales has become a priority and an essential part of cultural integration. On a visit to Amsterdam earlier this year, I found the bar at local brewery Brouwerij ‘t IJ to be equally as crowded as the Heineken tour and deservedly so, due to the atmosphere of genuine passion towards the products.

It’s no secret that craft beer can be expensive and expensive trends boost our economy in ways that are not always favourable. Many of the more traditional brands are branching out in the hopes of re-capturing our interest and many budding entrepreneurs will seek purely to profit, as a low-rent establishment that promises good food and good beer is almost guaranteed to prosper. This is where gentrification comes into play. Companies such as BrewDog are buying up central locations one-by-one, choosing quality over quantity, but with so many eager to invest, this isn’t always the case. First-time business owners are taking advantage of run down areas to set up shop and driving up the cost of living for local residents.

Understandably, it is gentrification that is largely responsible for provoking a deep hatred of the craft beer trend, but to what extent can we actually blame the brewers? Had it not been about beer, it may have been bubble tea cafés or ‘soul cycle’ studios. The aforementioned Cereal Killer Café has been under attack of petty vandalism as well as keyboard warriors since word spread of its opening – but would they be so successful if we weren’t so willing to buy into what they’re selling? After all, what is business but seeing a need and providing the product or service?

When you hand over your money to a company, however much or little that may be, you are funding their objectives. It’s so easy to get fired up about the consequences of mass-consumerism whilst forgetting that we all have a direct role in determining which industries flourish. It’s about time that we took some personal responsibility for ensuring the success of our beloved local businesses over the ‘giants’ and the greedy.

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