Category Archives: marketing

Haves and Have-nots

This morning, Huddersfield’s Magic Rock made Un-Human Cannonball, their 12% 11% ‘Triple IPA’, available for purchase. It sold out online within 20 minutes.

The last week has seen a constant buzz from beer geeks, trigger fingers twitching over mouse buttons, desperate to get their hands on this limited edition, once-a-year speciality. Though we’ve generally been very impressed by Magic Rock’s beer, we refused to play.

Beer, we’re beginning to think, ought to be a repeatable experience. That’s one reason we prefer St Bernardus Abt 12 to Westvleteren 12, and probably why our ‘cellar’ is full of ‘special’ beers we never seem to get round to drinking.

And, anyway, how good can this particular beer actually be?

For all our aloofness, though, when the starter’s gun sounded, we did, for a brief moment, feel the urge to join the race — to avoid being ‘left behind’ and place ourselves among the raptured:

The fact is, this kind of marketing event just works. If we ran a brewery, we’d be doing exactly the same.

If you’re in Manchester or London and want another shot at getting your hands on UHC, there are launch events taking place this evening at the Port Street Beer House and Craft Beer Company (Islington) respectively. Good luck!

You’ve Got To Be In It to Win It

Some British beers from Dark Star, Thornbridge et al.

Your beer might be the best in the world but that counts for nothing if no-one gets the opportunity to buy it.

There are always interesting nuggets arising from the now annual Golden Pints event whereby (mostly UK-based) beer bloggers name their beers and bars of the year. This year, what leapt out at us were repeated mentions for the Citra pale ale Oakham Ales brew exclusively for supermarket Marks & Spencer.

Citra is a great beer, but is it really better than many other similar citrus-hoppy golden ales on the market? Or just more readily available?

There are beers we thought about nominating ourselves but couldn’t because we’d only had one pint or bottle. Ideally, we have to feel we’ve got to know any beer we’re going to name as a Golden Pint, which automatically precludes many one-offs and obscurities.

We don’t know how much money Oakham make from selling beer to and through M&S, or whether there’s any profit for Brewdog in the Punk IPA sold in Tesco for next to nothing, but, even if it didn’t bring in a penny, it would be worth doing as an exercise in promoting ‘brand awareness’.

Eno Sarris at Beergraphs said the following in a recent post about how beer ratings relate to sales:

What the top beers to have, though, are great distribution. And that’s not a brain-buster, but it’s fun to see it here: to sell a lot of beers, you have to be in a lot of places.

We’d say there’s a sweet spot between mass-market volume production and complete obscurity where sales beget ratings beget sales.

Brewdog: Unleash the Yeast

Module 1: Yeast

Look around you. Look AROUND you. Just look around you.

This pack of beer is aimed squarely at beer geeks: the same base beer (amber coloured, 6.3% ABV) fermented with four different yeasts.

Yeast, the Scottish Wunderkinder argue, is an unsung hero in the brewing process, often overlooked because hops hog the limelight — a thought with which we heartily agree.

We also found something extremely appealing about the idea of an off-the-shelf educational tasting session. Like a chemistry set for grown-ups, it encourages the setting aside of a couple of hours, the clearing of a tabletop, and the taking of notes. This is not drinking, but thinking. With drink.

Beer #1: fermented with Pilsen lager yeast

This is a yeast we know reasonably well from our own home brewing experiments but we struggled, at first, to discern its influence in this case. That might be because we have been conditioned to expect that yeast character in weaker, paler beers, and needed to overcome our programming.

Eventually, we did begin to pick out the familiar sulphurous note; something lemony; and then a faint reminder of Parma Violets.

Though they didn’t deliver a huge aroma, we did find that the use of decent amounts of American hops clashed with the yeast, knocking it out of focus.

What we learned: Pilsner Yeast does not seem, as they say, to allow citrusy hops ‘to sing’.

Beer #2: Bavarian weizen yeast

On the odd occasion we have run tasting sessions, German wheat beer has been our go-to to demonstrate the impact of yeast. Its famous banana-clove-bubblegum character is easy to spot and striking. And that is what we expected here.

In fact, we found a grainy, slightly smoky character, with a whack of harsh hoochy alcohol. It wasn’t very pleasant, frankly, and probably wouldn’t help a would-be beer geek to spot this yeast in action in another beer.

What we learned: wheat beer yeast is not much at home in a strong pale ale; and it needs handling properly to make with the bananas.

Beer #3: American ale yeast

This is where we expected Brewdog to shine, and for a brief break from the educational misery. It smelled fantastic, a big leafy fug of Stoned Love rising above the glass.

It tasted, unfortunately, less exciting — plasticky and gritty, like their big Hardcore IPA let down with water.

Three beers in, we were starting to notice a common off-flavour, and wondered if there was a fundamental problem with the base beer.

What we learned: were there actually more hops in this beer than in the others? If not, then it’s easy to see why yeasts like this one are popular with hophead brewers seeking to maximise their impact.

Beer #4: Belgian Trappist yeast

Cor! Though the common dodgy flavour is still just about evident, this was by far the best beer as beer. The yeast is so strident that it stamps all over the hops, pumping out spicy esters and turning the base beer into baked-apples-with-raisins delight.

Well, delight might be a bit strong: it’s not the best Belgian-style beer we’ve had by a long chalk, but really was both a demonstration of what Belgian yeasts do as well as being tasty.

What we learned: ‘Belgian’ is definitely a flavour.

Final thoughts

We hope Brewdog do this again but, next time, the base beer needs to be better and, more importantly, plainer. Legendary British brewer Sean ‘Rooster’s’ Franklin has often spoken of pale’n’hoppy beers brewed without dark malts as providing a ‘blank canvas’ for other ingredients, and that’s what was probably needed here.

We also think there’s something jarring about the application of the Brewdog branding to this product. The beers are not exciting or awesome, even though one is very nice, and the Rock Horns rhetoric is misplaced. We’d suggest that, next year, they call the pack Understanding Yeast: practical exercises for the classroom (J. Watt & M. Dickie) and package it in textbook white.

We bought our four-pack as part of an online order from Brewdog’s own store. It cost £9.50 + delivery (around £2.35 per bottle).

Can Tatty Old Lager Brands Be Fixed?

SKOL advert, 1962.

We got an email from someone at a public relations firm asking as to share our thoughts about a lager brand they’re working with.

We said no because, frankly, what’s in it for us? But we had to admit, the questions were thought-provoking, especially one about how the lager in question could be made to ‘seem more premium’.

Note that word seem: presumably, any change in the way the product is manufactured is out of the question — this is an exercise in presentation.

In the days when brewers could conceal the strength, composition and origin of their lagers, implying ‘premium-ness’ was a lot easier: foil, embossing, heraldry, and the name of a foreign country on the label.

Increasingly, however, punters want to know why you’re charging them extra for a product, and have a right to know. Tesco’s  ‘Finest’ pasta, for example, isn’t just in a fancy-looking packet — the blurb makes clear that it was cut with bronze dies (apparently that’s better) and is packaged by a particular family firm in Italy.

If you really can’t  come up with a story like that — if you’ve spent decades streamlining any romance out of the process to compete on cost, and don’t want to launch a genuinely decent sub-brand for the sake of the ‘halo effect’ – what options are left? Complete transparency –embracing the fact that your product is made in Britain, despite its livery — seems to us to be the only available route.

As we’ve learned while researching the career of early microbrewer Bill Urquhart, Carlsberg has been produced in Northampton since the early nineteen-seventies. If we were Carlsberg, we’d hire the bloke who made this to produce a beautiful film about the building of the then state-of-the-art brewery, and its grand opening by Princess Benedikte of Denmark. We’d get twinkly-eyed retired brewers and ex-pat Danish technical experts who came over with the plant to talk about their work together. Carlsberg, as we in the UK know it, is Danish, but also British — and has been for forty years.

Telling that story won’t make the beer taste better, but being honest about it might make the brand more likeable, which is half the battle.

The PR firm who approached us aren’t working with Carlsberg, unfortunately, so they’re screwed.