Let’s be honest. Gordon Brown has received a bad press for at least a decade. And while most of it has been merited, some of it has been unfair.
So here is a thought. It is time he was at least partially rehabilitated. The trigger for this? The craft beer revolution.
The thought occurred to me after some City friends and I met for a semi-regular get together and it was proposed that we not only meet in a pub to drink beer (we have been avoiding such evenings for probably 20 years for a variety of reasons, including all being in employment and married) but we actually enjoyed it.
If a trend has penetrated even our unfashionable consciousnesses, something really big must be going on.
The surprises kept on coming. The hostelry in question, the Craft Beer company in Hatton Garden, has 37 different kegs and casks lined up at the bar, the weakest at one end and the strongest at the other. Being a self-confessed lightweight, I hung around at the bottom with the IPAs.
There is a Scottish ale called Kilt Lifter, which I was informed “should be just up your street.”
But the biggest surprise came when somebody said: “You realise we have Gordon Brown to thank for this. It was his tax break that started the whole craft beer thing off.” Quite right, came the reply. “Good for Gordon.” Gulp.
To my knowledge, nobody has had a good word to say about the ex-chancellor and Prime Minister in the City for years. But his reputation is at last being partially rescued by the popularity of craft beer, and without him having to resort to the humiliating antics of his sidekick Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing.
In 2002, he halved the duty on beer for small producers and made it progressive. This is a tax break worth around £45 on the £150 wholesale price of a typical barrel.
A new report from the Bartlett Institute at UCL reminds us just how big the craft beer phenomenon is. By the late 1990s, there were only a handful of breweries left in London, now there are 84. Mr Brown’s tax break aside, this is attributed to the collaborative working styles of the industry, which tends to be found in clusters. The railway arches of Bermondsey are teaming with amiable hipsters producing new brews.
According to Companies House data, in 1995 the number of brewing companies registered in the UK had fallen to 92, now there are 1,237. Last year, a new brewery opened in Britain every 3 days. And the Society of Independent Brewers says that production by its members has nearly doubled since 2009 to over 1.7m hectolitres.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
In these turbulent times, there is something reassuring about the values of craft beer. It brings out our inner Saxon, Celt, Norman, or Viking. There is a hint of nostalgia, and an implicit rejection of corporatism, but the industry has not succumbed to being anti-business or anti-globalisation. It has introduced well deserved competition for the behemoth brands like Budweiser and Heineken.
Increasingly, we all have our favourite new beverages now, perhaps evoking childhood localities or happy memories. I like something called Spire Ale (3.8% ABV, before you ask), produced by a Wiltshire brewer called Stonehenge. Its taste makes Salisbury Cathedral Close, where my wife went to school, appear in my mind.
There are some shockers too. I once emerged from the river Wye in Wales after a hot afternoon’s fishing to find myself caught up in a local beer festival, presided over by some of my ruddy faced fellow-countrymen enthusiastically serving half pint glasses of stuff the colour of molasses and apparently as strong as fortified wine. I am pretty sure it was called Headache. Or Moonshine.
Like all booms, one can imagine the bust coming one day. Mr Brown never did abolish the economic cycle, as he claimed. But that is a long way off. In the meantime, I propose a novel toast, best drunk with something at cellar temperature, with a nice head and not too many bubbles: “To Gordon.”