A trend is sweeping the world. Men and women (mainly men) are drinking overpriced beer from odd-shaped glasses, often poured from uniquely colourful cans. This is the growing phenomenon of craft beer.
Created by independent brewers with no ties to conglomerates, it is perhaps the most hipster trend since corduroy slunk back into fashion. To find out what it’s all about, I donned a plaid shirt, ruffled my embarrassingly short beard, and headed to London’s CBR19 - this year’s iteration of Craft Beer Rising.
Located in the disused Truman Brewery, it was rather difficult to work out if this was fitting or ironic. Time for a beer. A 4.4% pilsner from Hertfordshire-based Mad Squirrel certainly did the job. Crisp and refreshing, it ticked the box of being a lager and therefore - to my mind - this was a good start.
Having watched so many of my friends succumb to the murky depths of IPA, I could never understand why they were ordering what old men drink. Hurtling toward 30, however, I am now firmly in the minority.
Luckily, Craft Beer Rising has something for everyone and offers ales, pale ales, IPAs, sours, stouts, imperial stouts and - of course - lagers. However, it also boasts ciders, non-alcoholic beers, wines and cocktails. This is all in addition to live music, games, talks and an array of street food options including seafood experts CLAW and fried chicken aficionados Mother Clucker.
To help me understand what was going on, I was in attendance with something of an expert. A “nano influencer”, he has more pictures of beer on his phone than he does followers on Instagram. However, his knowledge and passion far surpass mine.
London and UK-based breweries were very well represented, as were those from Australia and New Zealand. Some of the best in the world, I’m told, are North American. There were few at Craft Beer Rising but Virginia natives Triple Crossing and Smartmouth Brewing Co both made welcome appearances.
Various quirks truly make the festival what it is. A far cry from the apathetic service of many a London pub, the staff are fun and friendly. They are always happy to educate and offer free samples, stickers and badges. As a session IPA, ordering a wonderfully fruity 4.2% Mango Unchained was a big moment for me - and for the guys at ShinDigger Brewing Co.
Meanwhile, Behemoth Brewing Company had managed to combine three mainstays of craft beer - can art, puns and cultural references. Their “Im-peach-ment” sour ale features a monster of a curious hue, reminiscent of a certain world leader.
A beer “broker” even offered a range of donated beer from various breweries, sold at any price you choose. With all proceeds going to homelessness charity Shelter, this seemed a good spot for a novice to part with their cash.
There were more than 150 breweries overall but a few notable absences. UK craft breweries like Verdant, Deya, Northern Monk, Wylam, North and Cloudwater were nowhere to be seen, possibly because they only attend the more expensive festivals (tickets for CBR19 started from £16.80 or approximately $22). However, there was almost no queuing to get to specific breweries and further options were provided by “macro-owned” craft breweries Fourpure, Meantime, Goose Island and London Fields. For puritans, they simply don’t qualify and therefore - with my new passion - I gave them the cold shoulder.
The most insightful thing I saw could have been easily missed. In one corner, a huge print-out mounted on canvas outed various breweries as being owned or part-owned by multinationals. Created by blogger Mad Fermentationist, it highlights that dozens of recognisable brands are all owned by just a few enormous companies.
Like anything associated with hipsters, it’s easy to dismiss craft beer as pretentious. However, at its core is the idea that one of life’s greatest pleasures can also be an act of kindness - taking money from the hands of multinationals and instead supporting independent businesses. I’ll happily drink to that.
Craft Beer Rising will return to the Old Truman Brewery in late February next year