In her new column, brewer Charlotte Cook discusses what beer means to her, and sets out her vision for a better, healthier industry
Saturday 31 July 2021
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I’m a pretty gobby person; I like to have opinions and I like to debate them with people. I’ve been doing this for years on Twitter, where I’ll make daft jokes and call out those being discordant. I enjoy the healthy, friendly debates that take place around beer. I will never drink a mango milkshake triple IPA, but if that’s your jam, you go and enjoy it. That we are able to have debate and discuss issues in beer is wonderful; the gatekeeping of old is slowing eroding and even seasoned drinkers are willingly welcoming new craft beer fans into the fold. I’m genuinely happy to see people that I went to school with, who would have never entertained the thought of an IPA five years ago, eagerly awaiting their subscription box. I love to talk about beer, so I’m glad that Ferment asked me to write a regular column, looking at the issues in beer from the perspective of someone at the coal face of modern craft.
To introduce myself, I’ve been a craft brewer for a decade and have worked at three of the top 100 breweries in the world. I’ve done everything from scrubbing years of mould build-up from the pipework at the backs of fermenters, to overseeing the installation of elaborate new brewhouses and brewery systems. I’ve brewed with just about everyone at some point, and I still bloody love beer, but I am critical about many aspects of the industry. I am also in the last stages of my MSc. in Brewing Science at the University of Nottingham, so I am soon to be one of the rare people who actually have a degree in beer. It’s fair to say that I know my shit, and I will happily share my knowledge with you, but equally I will challenge those spreading dangerous misinformation.
I think that drinking beer is such a wonderful pleasure. You can drink a can of Foster’s in the park with friends or share an ultra-rare bottle of a 2012 Highland Park cask aged stout with fellow enthusiasts. And you know what, you’ll probably enjoy them equally. I know fine well that a fair few of you will be pulling an incredulous ‘Me? Drink Foster’s? FOSTER’S? (sub in your own macro lager according to preference)’ face right this second, but I enjoy a pint of Bud Light and think that you should too.
Beer is also almost always an acceptable drink choice
Beer is a great leveller. It’s rarely expensive enough to completely exclude whole swathes of society from enjoying it at least once a month (looking at you, Krug), nor is it so uniform that it becomes boring and routine. Beer can be pricy, and I’d question paying £10 for a pint, but generally you can get four exceptional cans for around the £20 mark. A treat, certainly, but nothing like premium wine or spirits where you can be looking at anything from £100 a bottle to £2,300 per measure for some rare liquids.
Beer is also almost always an acceptable drink choice. You can open a can of warm beer at 10am at a music festival and equally you can crack a bottle immediately after you get married. You can drink a bottle of beer to celebrate the birth of your child, and also to toast the life of a loved one. There’s a beer for every occasion, and the beer you drink at pivotal moments will stick with you. I remember drinking a beer on Bornholm with my cousin-in-law’s mother. This beer was the first beer I truly enjoyed, partly because being on a beautiful Danish beach and meeting my baby cousin for the first time made it a special moment. When she died unexpectedly two years ago, I wrote in the condolence card about that memory, and how that set me on my current path; the paths of our lives intertwined at that moment.
While beer is wonderful, it is not without its problems. Craft beer fans have been notorious for looking down upon those who are in the early stages of their interest in beer; those with more Untappd check-ins will recoil at the mainstream choices of newbies, clutching their can of mixed fermentation farmhouse ale close to their chests. This gatekeeping is improving, and the availability of craft beer in supermarkets opens the market for those looking to dabble in something new.
Beer and beer culture is a force for good
The recent public focus on beer has zeroed in on systemic sexism in the industry, and I have written several articles for this publication on that topic. While the eradication of sexism in beer is a hill I’m willing to die upon, I feel that the opportunity to highlight other issues of inequality and unfairness within beer are too pertinent to ignore and I’m deeply honoured to be able to bring these to a wider audience.
I fundamentally want to dispel the concept that to work in craft beer means sacrificing your personal life, health and mental wellbeing to work for a prominent brewery. That so many people continually want to break into an industry means people are willing to settle for less in order to fulfil their dreams. I think this is profoundly wrong. People who make beer should be able to go to work without the fear of tyrannical bosses or dangerous working conditions, and to not have the industry and work consume all their time and thoughts.
For the most part, beer and beer culture is a force for good. There are countless beer styles to enjoy and explore, and the uninhibited hedonism of drinking an unfamiliar beer in a new place is a feeling I cannot wait to embrace as soon as travel is possible. There is so much to enjoy about beer, and I look forward to talking with you all about these in the coming months. Until then I’ll be swigging some ice-cold Bud Light straight from the can.
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