Category Archives: marketing

Red Storm Rising

‘Surely there must be a picture of one of these posters we can include?’ said our editor at Aurum when he read the passage about the campaign for Watney’s Red in Brew Britannia.

The ads were controversial because they used lookalikes resembling communist dictators to promote keg bitter — a (ahem…) left-field approach for a big Tory-supporting UK brewery. As a result, it was referred to in numerous articles and books from the 1970s, and much-mocked by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). So, yes, you’d think there would be some documentary evidence of its existence.

But, after much searching, the only image we could find to include in the book was this one, scanned from a contemporary magazine:

Watneys Red Army poster c.1972.

It gets the point across but it’s not one of the classics — where’s Fidel Castro? The snap of a billboard illustrating this article at Retrowow might have done the job but the web editor there didn’t know the source, we couldn’t track down ‘Edward Hahn’ ourselves, and couldn’t get access to a higher resolution copy, so that was a dead end.

Continue reading Red Storm Rising

Pondering BrewDog Brewing Stone

When BrewDog announced that it would be brewing a version of American brewery Stone’s famous Arrogant Bastard Ale, it set us pondering.

And despite what seemed to us a prickly reaction from BrewDog employees and loyalists when we said so on Twitter, we do just mean pondering — our reaction was not instinctively negative. That’s because we think, in certain circumstances, played the right way, brewing beers under licence on other continents might be a pretty good idea, especially if it means we get them (a) fresher and (b) cheaper.

We don’t, for example, have a fundamental problem with Shepherd Neame brewing Sam Adams Boston Lager in Kent — it’s just that we don’t trust that particular brewery to do it well, or to be clear with customers at the point of sale (POS) — we suspect lots of people buy the UK-brewed variant thinking they’re getting a ‘premium’ imported product.

We’re confident that BrewDog, however, will make a good stab at replicating the original Arrogant Bastard, or at least capturing its spirit; and both they and Stone are making a point of being highly transparent, which we expect to (hope will) carry through to POS materials in BrewDog bars.

What happens in future, when this one-off is over, is when it will really get interesting: it’s hard not to see this, and BrewDog’s recent homage to Stone’s Enjoy By, as test projects on the path towards a more permanent, longer-term licence-brewing agreement which will see BrewDog producing Stone beers for the wider UK market.

In other words, we’re not convinced, despite the talk of ‘experiments’ and ‘journeys’, that this is anything other than (very sensible, perfectly legitimate) business, which might or might not be good news for consumers depending on how it is handled.

GALLERY: Vaux Beer Mats 1970s-80s

Vaux was an important brewery in Sunderland in the North East of England which was founded in the early 19th century and collapsed at the turn of the 21st.

These beer mats all come from the massive bin bag of several hundred we acquired from Ebay a month or so ago and span, by our reckoning, about a decade from c.1971 to 1982.

Norseman Lager, 1970s.
The slightly sinister Norseman Lager, 1970s.
"Samson -- Heads Above the Rest"
That’s Jack Charlton, right? So there’s a deliberate joke here about Samson’s hair, right?

Continue reading GALLERY: Vaux Beer Mats 1970s-80s

That Isn’t a Story

People say they want beer writers to tell stories, but what counts as a story?

Some time ago, we spoke to someone at one of Britain’s biggest regional breweries who told us, off the record, about the personal reasons behind the company’s resurgence, which was pure drama, with something of the Thomas Hardy novel about it. We might yet cover it in a blog post or article but, in the meantime, we were struck by how little it is reflected in the official line which is all pride and tradition and shire horses and smiling blokes in blazers.

Then, last week, we got a PR email from a significant and interesting brewery. We replied and asked to be put in touch with the owner of the company, to whom we then addressed a few questions: Which other breweries inspired you? Has the new wave of breweries doing similar things to you been a challenge? There was nothing too probing — ‘How has your relationship with your mother influenced the company?’ — The replies we got, regardless of the question, all read like this (not an actual quote):

We believe in our company! It’s a great time for beer. We are very happy with our great quality beers and the delicious premium food, available at fair prices across all our outlets! We were inspired by our passion for beer.

Maybe it was all true — maybe this particular company is shiny and happy and no-one ever worries about a thing — but, if so, there’s not really much of a tale to tell.

A story is when something happens, for better or worse, that disrupts the equilibrium. It needs highs and lows. EVERYTHING CONTINUES TO BE LOVELY is not a narrative that would get you far in Hollywood.

Our advice to business people and their PRs is this: if you want to get written or talked about, overcome the instinct to whitewash. You don’t have to admit to a 20-year-feud with the head brewer down the road (although that would definitely be a story) — just drop the false smile, and share a little more.

And writers, of course, should resist the urge to jot down the tale as told — be a bit cheeky, ask a few impertinent questions, and look out for tell-tale twitches of the eyelids or balling of the fists.