The craft beer revolution is in full force across this great province. Clearly, Big Beer companies consider it a battleground by now, as numbers show a steady decline in sales of their products and an increase in sales of the craft beer industry as a whole.
And it does appear that the battle lines have been drawn between these Big Beer breweries and their older clientele, who – like me – have grown up drinking Molson and Labatt brands, but are now taking the lead of the young and hip to discover the wild and wonderful world of craft beer.
Please understand – it’s not the kids we’re following exactly. The beards. The tattoos. The skinny pants. Tasting rooms are filled with them all the time. (Yes, this is a stereotype, but stereotypes are what they are for a reason, right?) We know something good when we see it, too, but us old folks are just a little slower to arrive.
Of course, craft beer appeals to a wide variety of people – not just hipsters. But as the breweries and craft beer bars have become more mainstream, they have drawn in a good number of those who, like me, grew up drinking Blue, Canadian, Old Style or Black Label. We were hip then – or some of us were. The rest of us thought we were cool. And we drank these beers because that’s all that was available at the time. We thought we were drinking real beer.
We were wrong, of course, and now we know it. “Older” beer drinkers find themselves slipping to the dark side (or the sour side, or hoppy side, or fruity side). If beards are present with this demographic, they are usually neatly trimmed and contain a generous helping of grey hairs. Tattoos? Maybe, but of the military variety. Pants? If they’re tight, it’s because we’re too vain to buy a larger, more comfortable pair.
But we do like beer, and we have been drinking it – or some version of it – for a lot longer than most of these celebrated brewers have been alive. Some of us are even making it ourselves. And while it’s not always an easy conversion, older beer drinkers are taking up the cause, moving away from macro brands (and sometimes even wine). This is making for an interesting mix in bars and tasting rooms around the province.
In other words, this ain’t your daddy’s beer parlour anymore. Or no…wait. It wasn’t. But it is your daddy’s beer parlour now, and you better be OK with that.
Nowhere is this more evident than in White Rock, where I work. We’ve all heard the jokes. White Hair Rock. Only old fossils live in White Rock. People, and progress, move at a glacial pace on The Rock. Not exactly Seinfeld material, but it does play to the older demographics of the area.
Some of it is warranted, I suppose. The beer fans that come into our joint are definitely, for the most part, past the halfway mark on the statistical life-expectancy scale.
And they’re loving the beer – or at the very least, loving the novelty of drinking craft beer. Huge swaths of our customers are complete novices and are venturing into a craft brewery for the very first time. If there wasn’t a brewery in their back yard, they might never have discovered craft beer at all.
Again, this is making for a shifting and colourful demographic makeup at the breweries and bars. And it’s a beautiful thing to see – young folks nestled up at a longer table next to a pair of 65 year-old strangers, swapping stories, sharing information.
Finding common ground that they might never have found if it weren’t for the wide appeal of craft beer and tasting rooms.
I get a firsthand look at this every time our brewery is open – the melding of generations. Talking about beer, which often leads to talking about life. In an industry brimming with interesting situations, these might rank as the best.
If you happen to be sitting beside someone with grey hair and comfortable pants at your local micro-watering hole, and are wondering if he made a wrong turn on the way to the nearest Legion, try to remember that he might have some experience “being hip,” even if he now has some serious problems with his actual hips.
Like you, he likes his beer. And that’s pretty cool, ain’t it?
Bill Haddow is co-founder and co-owner of White Rock Beach Beer Co.