This subject as been bubbling away on the back-burner of my mind for some time now, and this blog post by Matthew Lawrence (@seethelizards on Twitter) brought it to the foreground. Matthew’s polemical post was written in response to this by Boak and Bailey, which was in turn written as a contribution to The Sessions, “an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic.” Session number 103 was titled “The Hard Stuff”, and bloggers were invited to write about issues they feel people in the beer world aren’t talking about. For their post, Boak and Bailey jumped in at the deep end and chose the topic of social class in beer writing, lamenting that “the voices of people who really drink in real pubs, in parts of the country not populated by newspaper columnists and academics, are not being heard”.
While not their intention, the comments below the post centred on the extent to which real ale and craft beer are middle class pursuits. The first caveat is that there is no universally agreed definition of class. That aside, I identify as working class – my dad was a postman, my mum a nurse and we lived in a council house – and apart from one clumsily worded paragraph, Boak and Bailey’s post didn’t offend my working-class sensibilities. At the same time Matthew’s post is searingly authentic, with him stating that “the problem as I see it is that the middle classes are encroaching on a hitherto almost exclusively working class domain”. While I have some sympathy with this, I don’t share Matthew’s apparent belief that class divisions can be so clearly delineated. As I stated in a previous post, while I lament the demise of many traditional pubs, victims of changing demographics and gentrification, I’ve also been known to drink in some of their genteel reincarnations. I also pay more for a beer now than I ever imagined I would, and by and large I’m happy to – I understand that more and better ingredients along with higher overheads and tighter margins necessitate this (although I still believe some pubs are routinely taking the piss out of naive punters). However, I also understand that for many, these prices are prohibitive.
Class is important in forming our sense of self, but it is only part of who we are and is fluid, not set in stone. However it’s an indisputable fact that many of the working class are being socially cleansed from neighbourhoods their families have lived in for generations, with any remaining pubs being re-branded with a more affluent clientele in mind. I’m far from affluent but I’m not struggling either, so am I a part of the problem or merely a symptom? Am I, like Matthew argues, encroaching on “their” (the working classes’) space? And is this ambivalence the Catch 22 Boak and Bailey wrote about? Gaining the confidence to write a blog which promptly invalidates my working class credentials? How working class am I anyway? I’ve been know to shop in Waitrose, drink herbal tea and I HAVE MADE MY OWN HUMMUS FFS.
The truth is I’m more complex than that which is reflected in how, why and where I drink beer. In London at least, the way we’re drinking, what we’re drinking and where we’re drinking is changing – I believe for the better. However, I can’t in all honesty say the beer world I inhabit is socially diverse, nor am I comfortable with the policy of “regeneration”. So I commend Boak and Bailey for raising what seems to be for many a taboo subject.
Incidentally, I found Matthew’s vibrator joke funny. Working-class credentials assured.
Image courtesy of Cheryl Cheeks under Creative Commons via Flickr