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Wrestling with Sass

Sassy commentary from a failed journalist

Month

August 2016

Is terrible journalism ruining Bristol?

As I looked up at the wreckage of King Street, I smiled sipping my obviously brand sponsored excellent delicious superb Thatcher’s Gold. I had finally got what I wanted. Every craft beer pub, microbrewery and pub that had even vaguely thought about stocking a Blue Moon had been torn to ground. The readers of my debut Bristol24/7 column had been so moved that they felt compelled to stand up and shout out of their windows: “FOUR POUNDS IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE AMOUNT FOR A PINT,” before laying waste to the popular pub-laden cobbled street.

So impressed by my Harvard references and my qualitative and quantitative data that after the fire had burnt out, they handed me my Pulitzer Prize with tears in their eyes, whispering “Thank you, thank you. Owen Jones is a shit-show compared to you.”

 

Now, obviously, all of that was a fantasy. Don’t go wandering down King Street feeling confused that it’s still standing, that happy pub goers are still frequenting not burnt down craft beer pubs. If you’ve read the first paragraph and feel the urge to comment ‘OH now she’s making fun of BUILDINGS BEING BURNT DOWN, this is SICK, I’m OUTRAGED’ – just chill for a moment.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, feel free to go back and read my controversial article, Are craft beer pubs ruining Bristol?

King Street – the heart of Bristol’s ‘Beermuda Triangle’

Did you read it? Did you briefly think about organising an angry mob? Awesome. Welcome back.

The article stemmed from me being dragged far too many times to pubs where I had to straight up leave because they didn’t serve anything that:

1. I liked. I like cider that is under 7 per cent so I don’t get pissed immediately and I don’t like cider that’s got something added to it like sage, or basil or ginger or whatever.

2. Could afford. I class anything over £4 as too much.

The pubs that seemed to be the biggest offenders were the ones who also served drinks in mason jars, who saw no problem serving ‘the tears of sperm whales that have been listening to math rock cider’ that no one bought because they liked that it was organic, independent and made with love. Nothing wrong with that right? No, of course not – managers and brewers are allowed to do whatever they want – but it doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to pull a face and go, ‘Nah I’m alright mate, this is dogshit and your bar is making me sad.”

 

Some people took this as a slight to specific bars, to specific brewers and oddly enough lots of people thought I was attacking hipsters. A friend of mine recently mentioned that the word ‘hipster’ gained popularity on sites like Pitchfork and MySpace in the mid-2000s to reflect a certain New York/LA mentality towards music and fashion. An elitism that typically resulted in writing on an Underwood typewriter rather than a computer or buying vinyl when you didn’t own a vinyl player.

The word ‘hipster’ can now refer to many different subgroups, but the one that seemed to think it was being picked on was the beard-having, bike-driving and, more often than not, craft-beer-drinking male crowd. Lads, I’m sorry to inform you that this plaid-wearing look is old as sin. It’s not really so much as ‘hipster’ anymore as it is ‘normal human man’.

If I was attacking the sub-culture of trendy wankers than I’d complain about the rising trend of choker wearing Gothy teenage girls who are rocking black Adidas sport coats, but who look like they would cut you if you asked them to play a quick round of netball. If I did complain about them though, it would be highly hypocritical because obviously I’m desperately trying to emulate them with my own black Adidas sport coat and 90s chokers and desperate attempts to be young.

Nick Parker really nicely summarised the ‘craft’ trend in this LinkedIn article. In it he talks about the rise of ‘authentic marketing’, that brands are using language, which is directly lifted from independent businesses rhetoric.

“It’s been drawing closer for a few years, obviously: from micro-breweries to craft gins to small batch bakeries, we’ve wholeheartedly embraced a new generation of high-quality products and artisan entrepreneurs — and big brands haven’t been slow to jump on the artisan bandwagon.”

He also makes the point that a few years ago this was Innocent smoothie trend. Innocent smoothie has a lovely twee, sincere and humorous tone-of-voice that makes you feel like you’re being chatted to by a friend. Then suddenly all brands wanted to be your mate, but like, weird brands, like your bank or a funeral home. Now the tone-of-voice that brands want to replicate is the authentic, independent, organic, home-made, craft, created with love that typically have come from a revival of all things singular and standalone.

“Innocent smoothie has a lovely twee, sincere and humorous tone-of-voice that makes you feel like you’re being chatted to by a friend. Then suddenly all brands wanted to be your mate, but like, weird brands, like your bank or a funeral home.”

Tesco drew major backlash when it launched its ‘farm range’ that wasn’t actually from lovely farms in Herefordshire or Wales, but actually from wherever the hell they got spinach from before they created this charade. I never really thought about it that much, as long as it didn’t say like, ‘This spinach was told it was a piece of shit before it was plucked from the earth’. I didn’t really care. I also didn’t really care when they started putting tractors on the packaging and telling me it was from a farm, I’m still going to buy it regardless.

If you really, really care where your beer comes from, shouldn’t you apply that to everything? Telling me I’m a corporate shill for liking mainstream brewers over independent ones is hypocritical if you’re not buying everything with the Bristol Pound and never buying anything owned by Unilever or Coke.

All that sincerity can make a cynical asshole like me feel pretty ill every time I hear about how someone harping about how much effort and love went into something. Are you buying products and are we ingesting them based on their vibe or whether the product is quality and generally well liked? There’s an insincerity that is at the heart of all of it. It’s cool to tell me that everyone in your bar deeply cares from your brand (because you are a brand a the end of the day) but if I tell you I don’t like what you’re selling, is this lovely tweed beer hippy pretense going to be dropped and will I be met with hostility for being other?

Real journalism as seen in All The President’s Men

One of the most interesting things about the comments and backlash against my article was that people were complaining to Bristol24/7 for even letting it go up. Hopefully, Bristol24/7 has some integrity and wouldn’t let an article go up without considering whether they would back it up – not the opinion, but the right of its author to have an opinion.

Writing an article that could possibly offend your advertisers, the primary source of income for the majority of online media outlets, is a massive risk. But then do you only publish articles that praise your advertisers? Isn’t that biased? Isn’t that controlling the press to some extent? Even if it isn’t The Times but a regional independent web/print magazine, it’s still considered unethical to threaten to pull a magazine from distribution in your shop if you disagree with its content, right?

I could have just written an article about how super duper Bristol is and how great everything is and how every restaurant is great and I would have gotten a few likes and people would have commented going ‘I agree!’ No one seemed to care when that Secret Places in Bristol article from Buzzfeed was actually an advertorial paid by THATCHERS of all companies. We all just slapped each other on the back going, ‘yeah I am a fucking great person for being in this city’. Maybe I would have even gotten some free drinks and free food from some local venues if I had written an ode to craft beer or to sourdough pizza. Maybe after that I would have written more articles about how great those places were, maybe I would get more free stuff, maybe this shit goes on all the time and it’s gross as hell.

I’m not going to throw around the word ‘free speech’ because gross people tout it out too often so they can say horrible shit and get a free pass from criticism. This isn’t what I’m doing either.

Feel free to criticise my article, call it clickbait (it’s not), say it’s badly written (yeah probs), tell me that I’m bad journalist (I only got a 2:1 mate) but maybe don’t send me messages on Facebook telling me I’m a cunt, or screenshot my profile (it’s weird).

I’m not comparing it to The Blacklist or anything that’s been happening in regards to no-platforming, but people who probably disagree with those things in principle, shouldn’t tell the editor or myself that my opinion is so out-of-whack with popular culture that it shouldn’t even be written down online – because that’s mental.

My opinion is my opinion, some things are backed up with facts, some things are played for laughs and the majority is observational based on me being a pubgoer in Bristol. If you don’t get that then please comment below irately until your fingers bleed or feel free to email me at butts@butts.com.

Originally published on Bristol 24/7.

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Are craft beer pubs ruining Bristol?

When I bought my first pint in London, it was 2009. Nu-rave was actually considered a genre of music, having a Tumblr account was still considered fairly underground and you could still get phone contracts with unlimited data.

“£2.50 is actually pretty cheap for a pint, even if it’s Strongbow. I thought London was insanely expensive for drinks?” I said to my new university friends. I was in the Student Union of the University of Westminster, Harrow campus. They chuckled as they informed me that:

  1. Harrow is technically Brent, we weren’t even in London.

  2. This is a SU, of course it’s cheap you crazy person.

My new found friends fizzled fast, but my shocked outraged expression grew stronger every time I went to bars in London, asked what cider they had, was informed it was only Strongbow or Rekorderlig and both were £4 a pint.

As a Bristolian who grew up with lots of different cider choices, ordering Strongbow at a bar is a gigantic bummer. To be honest, ordering Rekorderlig, Bulmers, Magners or any incredibly generic cider is a bit of a bummer because they’re all terrible. It’s just adding insult to injury when you hand a £5 over to a bartender and you get back a few pennies in change.

So imagine my joy when I moved back in Bristol in late 2014, after five years in London I was excited to get back to my adopted hometown. I wanted drinking in parks I didn’t have to travel an hour on a tube to get to, I wanted to hang out by the waterfront when it got sunny, I wanted indifferent bus drivers – but most of all I wanted good cider.

However, in the weekends and summer trips back to visit my friends and family in Bristol, I noticed things had changed. Not particularly drastically, but things were changing. It never worried me too much. I understood that Bristol is an undeniably cool city and people investing in it by opening up new shops, restaurants, pubs and bars is a great sign for a thriving economy.

“Hey what cider do you have?”

“Uh, this is a craft beer pub, we don’t have any”

It was distressing to receive this response in a few new pubs and bars that had opened in Bristol, it was even more annoying when you were met with mocking laughter for even asking. There are a few cider pubs in Bristol, The Apple to name one. If you don’t like cider then they have a few beers and wines for the non-cider drinkers amongst us. Why not have the same policies?

I also stopped myself from firing back to a mocking bartender: “I’M ALSO IN BRISTOL MATE, IT’S NOT CRAZY TO ASSUME YOU HAVE CIDER.”

Some craft beer pubs had one cider on tap, which was great. But typically it was a ‘craft cider’. Whilst I’m not opposed to independent cider manufacturers, I am opposed to being smashed after one pint because the only cider you serve is seven per cent.

Craft beer pubs in Bristol seem to only cater to hipsters who probably secretly really love Foster. They’re undeniably overpriced and thus have driven up the prices of all the pubs surrounding them, because it makes sense that if the pub next to you is charging £4.20 for an IPA then you’re going to charge £3.90 for a Carlsberg.

Who is this craft revival for? Who’s celebrating the different palettes on offer to the discerning pub goer? Unlike people who say they’re ‘into wine’ people who say they’re ‘into beer’ usually just means they’re a functioning alcoholic – not that they’re a connoisseur of the craft.

Getting a pint for under £3.50 is now considered a personal achievement; I punch the air when I discover a pub that gives me pounds for change when I hand over a £5.

Have we turned into London? Where we’re paying for the aesthetics of a pub, the ‘vibe’ of a place and typically a pub that has a ‘vibe’ usually means that they’re only selling chilli and ginger cider – I mean seriously, who WANTS that.

It’s cutting out certain types of people out of the city center of Bristol, even though the rise of these pubs have pushed up the prices there is a still a large discrepancy between standard pub prices and craft beer pubs. The décor of a typical pub is going along with it, hardwood floors and unvarnished stools with fairy lights warming your £4.30 pint is replacing carpets, chips in baskets and promotional beer mats.

There has been a documented backlash against the rise of hipster restaurants. Buzzfeed constantly makes reference to restaurants that present food in new and pretentious ways. The Cereal Killer café sparked a row about gentrification and hipster culture in London.

What’s ridiculous is that it’s not like the people visiting these places in London even live near there. They’ve travelled to go these hipster havens because no one can afford to live in that certain postcode anymore, ironically because of the types of places they’ve just visited.

It’s a vicious circle and one that Bristol that needs to be wary of being dragged into. If you’re trying to buy a house for the first time in the place you grew up in and you can’t afford it. But you walked 10 minutes to a craft beer pub, paid £5 for an imported American beer then you’ve answered why you cannot afford to live where you grew up anymore.

To tie this into a neat little bow, not all craft beers pubs are ruining Bristol but some are only set up to serve a middle class clientele that are unaware they are running themselves out of the town they live in. You know what would help? If they served a cheap cider and beer option from a mainstream manufacturer, so they weren’t only serving a certain demographic of the drinking public.

FYI, that cider should be Thatchers Gold, cheers.

Originally posted on Bristol 24/7.

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