Here’s a little detail that caught our eye in the Boddington’s Brewery board minute books, from August 1963: an order for pump clips.
Advertising — Pump Clips.
It was decided to place an order with Nightingale Signs Ltd for 5000 Pump Clips, yellow barrel design, at 3 and 4 each, to be apportioned as follows:-
2500 Bitter Beer 1250 Best Mild 1250 Mild
We didn’t notice any earlier reference to pump clips in these documents, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any — we had half a day to read the lot and might have just missed them. And even if this is the first mention of pump clips, it might just be that no-one bothered to write it down before this point.
But, still, our gut feeling is that this was recorded precisely because it was the first time — it was something new for Boddington’s, and literally remarkable.
We’re working on an article about mild in the 21st century, research for which prompted this statement in an email from Andy Smith at Partizan:
The beer was originally simply called mild… We then decided to rebrand as X… This worked OK but not as well as we’d hoped. It was at this stage we put dinosaurs on the label and sales rocketed! I kid you not. It sells as well if not better now as our other dark beers. Dinosaurs! Now we spend our weekends hearing how cute the dinosaurs are (recently changed) and answering the question what is X?
That’s funny, of course, but also made us think, ‘Huh. So craft beer drinkers are like children?’
We’ve observed before, as has almost everyone else who’s written a tedious think-piece on the subject, that craft beer in cans has been successful partly because they are tactile and colourful, bright and toy-like. Beavertown Brewery’s cartoon-laden designs in particular suggest material for an (admittedly slightly weird) animated series and also make them look like a bit like soft drinks. (Gamma Ray more so than this example we have at hand.)
And sometimes, with fruit and residual sweetness and novelty flavourings and higher carbonation, the hippest beers can taste a bit like soft drinks too.
Of course we checked ourselves fairly promptly: one person’s infantile is, of course, another person’s fun, and we understand that you humans enjoy this emotion fun is good.
And even if it is infantile, is that a bad thing? One key reason people drink is to reduce the pressures of adult life and the pub is where grown-ups go to play.
This is a question we’re going to have in mind from now on, though, especially when we find ourselves considering the generation gap between real ale culture and craft beer. (Def 2.)
Saucy beer names — Dirty Tackle, Piddle Slasher, Old Slapper — are a bit of fun to some, off-putting to others, and either way are another battleground for debates over ‘political correctness’, censorship, good taste and sexism.
We’ve been keeping notes for years, now, trying to work out how they came to be so common in British brewing in particular.
(Though America also has them (Old Leghumper) as does Belgium (Mad Bitch) and they also seem to crop up elsewhere on occasion.)
To have saucy beer names, you need to have beer names — that is, other than in this format:
@broadfordbrewer Say your name is Bob Shaw. You brew: Bob Shaw's Mild Bob Shaw's Bitter Bob Shaw's IPA Bob Shaw's Stout Original eh?
The 1966 Brewery Manual contains a reference list of trademarked brand names. It’s not comprehensive, Ron Pattinson tells us, but it’s still a good starting point: of the 650 or so provided none are outright filthy and only about ten provide anything for a bar-room wag to get a snigger out of with enough mugging and winking, e.g. Big Horn, Cock o’ the North, ‘I’ll take a Mild Maid please!’ (And it had apparently not even occurred to anyone that there was fun to be had with ‘Blonde’ — no beers are listed.)
Do you want your feeds clear of businesses, or do you like when a brewery engages with people? Can you think of anyone who does it particularly well, or poorly?
Let’s break that down.
1. Do we want our feeds clear of businesses? No, we do not. Businesses make the beer, and we spend an inordinate amount of time observing businesses, interviewing people from businesses, and wondering what businesses will do next. We opt in to the Tweets and Facebook updates of plenty of breweries — amazing, really, when you think of the lengths we and others go to to avoid advertising in other contexts.
2. Do we like when a brewery engages with people? Yes, to an extent, in a way, within certain parameters. We love it when brewers answer technical questions with (apparent) honesty, or ask questions of the people who drink their beer. It’s great when they reveal a little of what makes them tick, or tell us things we wouldn’t otherwise know — a sense that we’re being rewarded for following with ‘the inside skinny’. As consumers, the more engagement we can get, the better; with our little writers’ hats on, though, a little distance is appropriate: we can’t really be pals.
3. Who’s really good at it? Richard Burhouse at Magic Rock seems to strike the right balance of openness and good taste, never seeming any less than honest. John Keeling at Fuller’s dispenses bite-sized nuggets of wisdom which, one day, will be compiled into a little book for other brewers to keep in their blazer pockets. Fergus Fitzgerald at Adnams gives a real sense of what it is like to be head brewer at an old family brewery: he answers questions freely, and comes across as warm and genuine. And this post sharing every last detail of a highly-regarded recipe from last week, sharing every last detail of a highly-regarded recipe, was great. What they all have in common, we guess, is that there’s no sense of the hard sell about them, and no feeling of being PRd at.
Why do people buy ‘fancy beer’ — because it tastes better, or because it ‘signals’ status?
Psychologist Paul Bloom’s article ‘The Lure of Luxury‘ mentions beer only in passing — ‘the attractive stranger in a bar is aroused by your choice of beer’ — but anyone who’s been called a snob for drinking a £6 pint, or rolled their eyes at the glitzy packaging of a limited edition IPA, will get the relevance.
Dr Bloom sets out two opposing points of view:
People want luxury goods because they look, feel or taste good — they give pleasure in and of themselves.
Luxury goods are status symbol designed to impress others and signal ‘intelligence, ambition, and power’.
The truth, he argues, lies somewhere in between:
Now, only a philistine would deny Postrel’s point that some consumer preferences are aesthetic, even sensual. And only a rube would doubt that some people buy some luxury items to impress colleagues, competitors, spouses, and lovers. Perhaps we can divvy up the consumer world. An appreciation of beauty explains certain accessible and universal consumer pleasures—Postrel begins her book in Kabul after the Taliban fell, describing how the women there reveled in their freedom to possess burkas of different colors and to paint their nails—while signaling theory applies to the more extravagant purchases. A crimson burka? Aesthetics. A $30,000 watch? Signaling. Aristotle Onassis’s choice to upholster the bar stools in his yacht with whale foreskin? Definitely signaling.
He goes on to consider why an exact replica of an object isn’t as desirable as the real thing; why when people buy a celebrity’s jumper in a charity auction they don’t want it dry-cleaned first; and whether anyone needs six mechanical wrists to automatically wind their collection of Rolex watches.
Let’s attempt to translate those questions: Why do people continue to hunt down and pay through the nose for Westvleteren 12 when none but the most refined palates can tell it from St Bernardus Abt 12? Why is beer brewed under contract less appealing than otherwise? Does anyone need a £168 six-pack of beer?
When you choose a beer is it really ‘about flavour’ — the defensive cry of the craft beer drinker accused of extravagance — or something else? And, of course, something else might be fine, depending on your values, and the pleasure it brings is just as real.