For someone who works in the beer industry, it can sometimes be very difficult to switch off from the noise that surrounds them weekly, daily, even hourly about the politics in the beer world. This is very much the case for me. However, there were two things that happened to me last week that made me able to step back from everything and remember why I'm here in the first place. It's for the love of beer.
What do I mean by "politics in the beer world?" I split this into two categories. First is actual politics; policies, legislation and regulation coming from UK Government that impact the industry and, secondly, the "internal" beer industry politics where things like brewery marketing strategies and consumer opinion can sometimes make for uncomfortable times. Whether I have realised it or not, for many years now, I have been immersed in the first category. More recently though, it's been intense, here are some examples. The impact on small, independent micro-breweries of how the UK Government is changing Small Brewer's Relief (SBR). The meagre support the UK Government have offered UK breweries at a time when so many, effectively, are unable to trade during the pandemic. Working on legislation to temporarily relax trading rules for venues with alcohol licences so they could operate differently from Summer 2020. As for the second category, I've found myself embroiled in heated online debate many times over the last 12 months. Trying to persuade those with differing opinions that hospitality is one of the safest environments during the pandemic and that the sector was not to blame for significant case rises from September onwards. Defending my view, after a meeting with a SBR-supporting cask brewery, that whilst our opinions can remain split on SBR, there are far more common goals that can still be worked on together, and that people should just talk to each other. Although all key issues it can be, frankly, very exhausting. Often, the knock-on effect of this is an over-analysis of drinking beer, with two questions. Should I be drinking beer from this brewery? In the eyes of others, is this an acceptable beer to be seen to be drinking? I'll stop briefly just to mention something else. Here falls also those breweries who are deemed to have been running discriminatory activities, be it sexism, racism, homophobia etc. For the sake of the article, I'm focussing purely on the politics, but assume here that I do not support breweries who I am aware of that have been involved in this. Spiralling into the very lower depths of beer politics, two things happened in the last week that really helped lift me up and to simply enjoy beer again.
First of all, I joined the Brewery History Society. The society records, researches and shares the history of brewing in the UK and beyond, from the medieval to today. Very useful for the Leeds Heritage Beer Tour! What stood out, though, was this paragraph from the welcome letter:
The Society makes a conscious effort to cater for the needs of its members and…seeks to become a respected body within the brewing industry. To this end, the Society does not involve itself in the politics of brewing policy. Whilst the Society obviously regrets the closure of breweries, our role is to record them, not to try and stop them
"The Society does not involve itself in the politics of brewing policy." How liberating! It was a paragraph I couldn't shake from my mind. It was still playing on my mind, when the second thing happened to me.
Led by Leeds beer hero, David Dixon (organiser of Leeds CAMRA Beer Festival and CAMRA Tasting Panellist and Trainer), I took part in an online beer tasting, taking a look at CAMRA's new beer style definitions. It was the beer experience in its purest form me. Being able to taste, explore and discuss the beer that's right in front of you and sharing that experience with others. Afterwards, combining the paragraph and the beer tasting experience was a breath of fresh air and clarified in my mind that, actually, the reason I am where I am, is because I simply love beer. Politics are important, but it doesn't have to be all consuming. Since this moment, I've taken opportunity to step back and just enjoy. Even though it's only been one week, the change in mindset has had an immediate and significant positive impact on my own mental health. As we continue to navigate difficult times, my aim is to try keep my focus on the right things at the right time. There's a time to do politics but there's much more time to just love beer.