The Grist Magazine
The Nov./Dec. 1995 issue of The Grist

From the 1970s, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) dominated the conversation around beer in Britain, and cask-conditioned “real ale” was all but synonymous with good beer.

Then, in the mid-’90s, a band of industry insiders began to question that orthodoxy, suggesting that beer in kegs and bottles, filtered and carbonated before packaging, might be the key to increasing stylistic diversity and overall quality in the UK.

They found their voice through a niche industry magazine called The Grist and especially in the November/December 1995 issue, which amounts to a manifesto for the next 20 years of an emerging UK craft beer scene. Its editor was the young London-born, German-trained brewer Alastair Hook.

 

 

Alastair Hook
Alastair Hook

ALASTAIR HOOK

The Grist was an independent magazine run by Tony Williamson and Elisabeth Baker. When I first set up the Packhorse Brewing Co. in Ashford, Kent, in 1990, they made contact and said they’d like to do a feature. The magazine was their passion.

 

 

 

Peter Haydon
Peter Haydon

PETER HAYDON
(contributor to The Grist, beer historian and brewer)

In 1994, I’d just published my book, The English Pub, and Lizzie was looking for someone to help Tony, so I became a sort of freelance jobbing journalist contributing articles. When Tony became ill, Alastair stepped into the editor’s chair and changed the magazine’s direction. He was evangelical.

 

 

Mark Dorber
Mark Dorber

MARK DORBER
(staff/manager/landlord at the White Horse, Parson’s Green, 1981 to 2007)

In 1994, Roger Protz suggested I should talk to Alastair Hook. I spoke to Alastair on the phone and got on well and then met at a pub in Greenwich and spent Sunday afternoon drinking and talking. We shared the same beer values—we wanted to get people looking internationally rather than being narrowly parochial. We had a very strong feeling that the UK beer scene needed shaking up.

 

ALASTAIR HOOK

When I was 17 or 18, I was very gung-ho about CAMRA—cask ale was the be-all-and-end-all, all that—but by the mid-90s, I’d lost my fascination. The editorial line at The Grist became more and more critical of CAMRA. The more dogmatic they became, the more we reacted against it.

MARK DORBER

We love cask ale–we adore it, and I made a career out of it–but what we were critical of was the idea that, if it wasn’t cask, it couldn’t be worth drinking. That all-or-nothing mentality was a negative drag.

PETER HAYDON

We took the view that the British brewing industry had failed to represent itself. If a journalist wanted a comment on something beer-related, they went toddling off to CAMRA. If you had a story about roads, you wouldn’t go to the Reliant Robin Owners Club, would you?

A particular bone of contention was the “cask breather,” a device that allows traditional casks to work in their usual way except that, instead of permitting air to enter as the cask empties, it fills the void with a light blanket of carbon dioxide, extending the life of the beer.

MARK DORBER

CAMRA’s refusal to support the use of cask breathers made them seem, to us, like inhibitors of change. If your pub was found to be using cask breathers, you were seen as being somehow not a true supporter of cask beer, which is ridiculous.

ALASTAIR HOOK

Oxidation kills flavor, and the idea that oxygen improves beer is just absurd.

PETER HAYDON

CAMRA would rather you drank shit beer as long as it was “correctly” dispensed.

MARK DORBER

I first went to judge in Denver in 1992. By 1995, it was certainly where all the thoughtful English beer people were going. Being on those professionally run blind-tasting panels with like-minded people eager to explore tradition, eager to explore flavor—the best of your peers in the world—was hugely uplifting. There was a buzz, a sense of energy, of unbounded optimism, a feeling that anything was possible.

Vibrant flavours stood out in many of the beers judged and sampled. (Alas, much of the UK brewing industry, by contrast, seems reluctant to offend any portion of the beer market with its bland {aka ‘balanced’}] beers.) (Mark Dorber, “An Uplifting Experience,” The Grist, Nov/Dec 1995.)

ALASTAIR HOOK

From those American trips, I learned that tasty, flavorful, consumer-attractive, choice-providing beer didn’t have to be cask-conditioned.

American microbrewed beers are rich in character, flavor, diversity and in the case of the more successful micros, consistency… CAMRA take the credit for revitalising the magnificent art of cask conditioned ale brewing, but they fail to see how their puritan approach is a threat to the emerging microbrewing scene. (Alastair Hook, “All guns blazing in the USA,” The Grist, Nov/Dec 1995.)

MARK DORBER

Meanwhile, in the UK, micros seemed to lack aesthetic judgement. … They weren’t interested in keg or bottle, only in paying homage to the great god of cask-conditioned beer.

For the small brewer to survive, a quality product is needed at the point of dispense, albeit from a cask with or without the breather, bottled or, dare I say, filtered and kegged. (Keith Lark, Hook’s former schoolteacher, under the pseudonym Keith Laric, “Thoughts of a Beer Drinker,” The Grist, Nov/Dec 1995.)

JOHN CRYNE (Chairman of CAMRA 1989-98)

What Mr. Dorber and his cohorts may have done in 1995 must have passed me by; clearly the ripples they intended to create were something of a damp squib. … Judging by the plethora of U.S. beer styles, presumably they won their argument and CAMRA lost. Oh wait a minute—CAMRA has a 170,000 members and The Grist has presumably gone to the mill?

PETER HAYDON

It was a bit ahead of its time—there weren’t really the number of breweries around then to support it with advertising—but it was a bloody good little magazine.

Alastair Hook founded Meantime Brewing in 1999; it was taken over by SAB Miller in May 2015. Peter Haydon succeeded Alastair Hook as editor of The Grist, which ceased publication in 1998, and now owns a brewery in South London. Mark Dorber now runs the Anchor at Walberswick and was a co-founder of the Beer Academy. The conversations with Dorber, Haydon and Hook were carried out over the phone; John Cryne corresponded by email.

Boak and Bailey have been blogging at boakandbailey.com since 2007. They were named 2014 beer writers of the year by the British Guild of Beer Writers for Brew Britannia: the Strange Rebirth of British Beer. They live in Cornwall in the far west of the UK.

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Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey have been blogging at boakandbailey.com since 2007. They were named 2014 beer writers of the year by the British Guild of Beer Writers for Brew Britannia: the Strange Rebirth of British Beer. They live in Cornwall in the far west of the UK.