News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 March 2018: Lemondrop, Brewdog, Hardknott

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that leapt out at us in the past seven days, covering everything from Pink IPA to Gothenburgs.

First, a blast of pure raving enthusiasm to cheer everyone up as Steve The Pour Fool Body waxes lyrical about the “new rock-star flower-bomb” hop variety that “makes your beer taste like LemonHeads candy”. It sounds good; we want to try it.

Illustration: "No! Bad dog."

Now on to the problem story of the week, BrewDog’s Pink IPA. We considered providing a round-up of all the ‘hot takes’ but decided instead to point to one really substantial, thoughtful post by Oli (@CraftBeerCommie) guest posting at Craft Queer. It expresses a counter view to ours (“the idea itself doesn’t seem so dreadful even if the execution is terribly clumsy”) and puts this specific incident into a broader context of BrewDog’s behaviour over the years:

Brewdog as a company has a long history of misunderstanding (some might be so bold as to say abusing) social commentary as a marketing tool…. [In] the company’s earlier years, the bad humoured, unapologetically offensive tone and actions of the company’s founder-owners was able to shelter beneath the veil of an appropriated revolutionary language and DIY punk ideology…. After this, however, it seems that, as with so many other companies, Brewdog intentionally courts controversy as a means of marketing itself. The search for an initial, perhaps viral reaction of offence before the secondary “A-ha! Here’s the punchline” is yet again delivered in a manner that relies as much on customer enragement as it does engagement.

For more on this subject check out Alcohol by Volume where the opinions of women in and adjacent to the beer industry have been collated.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 March 2018: Lemondrop, Brewdog, Hardknott”

Thought for the Day: Win-Win For BrewDog?

Cartoon: waiter, to customer -- "Don't worry, sir, it's an ironic fly."

BrewDog today announced the launch of Pink IPA, a product identical to their standard Punk IPA except for a bright pink label, and the fact that it will be 20 per cent cheaper for women in BrewDog bars, in reference to the gender pay gap.

Satirically dubbed Beer for Girls, Pink IPA is BrewDog’s clarion call to close the gender pay gap in the UK and around the world and to expose sexist marketing to women, particularly within the beer industry. This is our overt parody on the failed, tone-deaf campaigns that some brands have attempted in order to attract women.

The collective reaction to this, it’s probably fair to say, averages out to something like a pained groan.

Criticism ranges from suggestions of rank cynicism — they knew this would annoy people, thus generating coverage — to a sense that BrewDog (to whom the nickname BroDog has occasionally been applied) is the equivalent of “that lad from your A-level politics class who makes ‘get back in the kitchen’ jokes but it’s OK because he’s being ‘ironic’ and is actually a ‘feminist’”. (@alys_key) It’s juvenile, it’s tone deaf, it’s an attempt to co-opt a serious campaign to sell beer. And so on.

Now, from our point of view, the idea itself doesn’t seem so dreadful even if the execution is terribly clumsy. Yes, it might be time for them to admit that a very large, very successful business is not a great vehicle for social commentary or satire — the phrase, we believe, is ‘punching down’ — but we suspect this is intended sincerely, or as sincerely as a marketing stunt can ever be. We believe there are people in management at BrewDog, which remember is very much more than Watt & Dickie these days, who care about these issues and really are trying to find a way to use the company’s clout for good.

But those who are more troubled by this than us (and we don’t question their right to be) find themselves in a quandary. Do they ignore it, thus giving BrewDog a pass? Or do they call it out, thus giving BrewDog publicity?

We’ve long suspected that BrewDog’s marketing strategy is to embed itself into the minds of people outside the beer bubble because that’s the only way to make sense of some its more surprising decisions. We daresay they’d have preferred to go viral today because the reaction to this stunt was positive, but they’ll probably cope with the hurt feelings by reflecting on how they trended on Twitter, got parodied by other monster brands, and were the focus of comment after comment after comment in the global mainstream.

To put that another way, people might be saying, “BrewDog — what a bunch of wankers!”, but at least they’re saying BrewDog, over and over again.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 September 2017: Coopers, Commons, CAMRA Cash

Here’s all the beer- and pub-writing that grabbed our attention in the past week, from yeasty Aussie beer to beer-and-life-event pairing.

Phil Cook at the Beer Diary brings an interesting bit of evidence to the table on the hazy beer debate, providing an overlooked (by us) Australian perspective:

Not long ago, when Coopers Sparkling was the local paragon of ‘good beer’, Australian brewers got into the habit of fogging up their beers seemingly just to emulate it and borrow some of its prestige. Likewise, some brewers of juice-bomb East Coast IPAs exaggerate their haze with additives selected solely for that purpose, and not in pursuit of tastier beer as such. Such trickery is indeed obnoxious, but it’s the cheating, not the cloudiness, that offends me.

The Commons brewery building.

Jeff Alworth at Beervana provides a heartfelt reaction to news of the closure of a brewery he loved, The Commons, which operates in his home base of Portland, Oregon:

But the very thing that made The Commons beloved by some–and they probably have more superfans than Deschutes–made it mysterious to most. It was the Velvet Underground of breweries, making exceptional beer most people didn’t understand. Any brewery that routinely offers mild ales and microbiere (a tiny saison) but not IPA is defining themselves far outside the mainstream. The Commons spent years fielding the same question from confused patrons: ‘which one’s the IPA?’For a time, they were absurdly guiding people to Myrtle, a saison in which astute drinkers might detect the presence of hop aroma. That was their sop to the masses.

His suggestion that the departure of the head brewer was an early danger sign is an interesting one, too — something to watch out for in what may or may not be a period of strife?

Bass on Draught plaque outside an English pub.

Martin Taylor AKA retiredmartin has been reflecting on Bass, a beer with which we are also slightly obsessed, as a manifesto continues to emerge from his reports of visiting every Good Beer Guide pub in Britain:

Some of you may have noticed my predilection for Draught Bass, but it’s a complex relationship… If honest, I’d prefer it if only a landlord who cared about Bass served it, like the Black Lion in Leighton Buzzard so clearly does… Top beers like Young’s, Adnams and Landlord saw their reputation decline as their beers went into chain pubs with more hand-pumps than customers, and I fear Bass has suffered by being served too early, or too long, in many pubs.

We’ve noticed an improvement in Bass, and in Young’s Ordinary, in recent years and think he might be on to something here. And might not a Good Bass Guide — a slim volume — be a useful publication?

Mariage Parfait.

We don’t often include trip reports here for one reason and another but this account of a visit to Edinburgh from Katie at The Snap & The Hiss has at its centre a lovely moment of personal importance, paired, of course, with a suitable beer.

This ostensibly rather boring bit of behind-the-scenes CAMRA business might be one of the most important stories of the week: the Campaign is experiencing some financial difficulties because ‘revenue was likely to be less than the amount forecast at the start of the financial year, and upon which the organisation’s spending plans were based’. In other words, people are literally not buying what CAMRA is selling. We will watch how this develops with interest. (Morning Advertiser)

Meanwhile, BrewDog has done something genuinely interesting and refreshingly straightforward: its owners have pledged to give 10 per cent of profits to charity, and 10 per cent to employees on an ongoing basis. BrewDog haters will no doubt roll their eyes at this but it’s much bolder and clearer than most corporate social responsibility programmes. And when a firm can start giving money away, you have to suspect it’s doing alright, don’t you?

And, finally, as signs of the times go, this is hard to beat:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 3 June 2017: Rating, Flyposting, Logging

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from flyposting to secret manoeuvring.

First, the big story of the week: for Good Beer Hunting Dave Eisenberg has ferreted out the news that Ratebeer, the website where serious beer geeks log scores and notes for the beers they drink, is now partly owned by AB-InBev:

Through its so-called ‘global disruptive growth group’ ZX Ventures, Anheuser-Busch InBev has acquired a minority stake in RateBeer, one of the most popular and reputable beer ratings and resource websites in the world… But the deal isn’t exactly new. In fact, it closed this past October following eight months of talks.

That last bit is the weird wrinkle here. Usually, takeovers or partnerships, or whatever you want to call them, are announced immediately, but this was kept quiet (to paraphrase GBH‘s report) so that the partners could prove that RateBeer wouldn’t be changed by the arrangement. Reading between the lines what that means is that they were worried about suddenly losing half the membership overnight, which might still happen.

(GBH has connections with AB-InBev which are set out in a disclosure statement midway through the article. Judge for yourself whether you think this has skewed the reporting; we think pointedly not.)

Biscuit beers on a blackboard.

Barm at I Might Have a Glass of Refreshing Beer (AKA @robsterowski) attended the Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival and used the opportunity to reflect on ‘wacky’ beers and craft beer culture:

Do you remember a couple of years ago, when cupcake shops were popping up left, right and centre, purveying sickly sweet icing (sorry, ‘frosting’) atop a tiny sponge cake base? Despite being mostly white sugar and refined flour, and unutterably disgusting to boot, they found ready cheerleaders among food media that normally pray dutifully to the idols of local ingredients and fresh produce… This appears to be the phase that ‘craft’ brewers are now passing through.

It’s interesting that some people seem to have read this post as a slam of a festival — ‘Why go to events you know you’re going to hate?’ — but, despite the author’s general tendency to speak his mind, this struck us as quite an objective, ultimately positive account: ‘I did enjoy myself, much to my surprise. More to the point, the punters who’d forked out to get in seemed to be having a good time too.’

BrewDog bottles in a supermarket.

Suzy AKA The Pub Geek is not impressed by BrewDog’s latest crowd marketing campaign:

They’re asking their ‘Equity Punks’ to flypost across a country which carries a potential £80 fine (higher for Scottish ‘punks’) legislated by the Highways Act 1980. Not only do Brewdog want  the ‘Equity Punks’ doing unpaid labour for the cause but they’re potentially breaking the law and they have actually paid for this privilege.

Detail from an old brewing log.

Brewer and beer writer Mitch Steele, late of Stone Brewing, is worried about the decline of the leather-bound hard copy brewing log and what that means for the legacy of the craft beer era:

I suspect there are a lot of craft brewers over the years who have followed a similar pattern. They have graduated from handwritten brew logs, that are filed and stored in a box somewhere, to spreadsheets, or maybe even to more complex equipment supplier automated databases or ERP systems. But in 100 years, who is going to be able to find any of it if they want to document how beers were brewed during our current times? Especially if breweries continue to grow quickly or get sold or close shop… I’m wondering right now if a concerted effort could be made by the industry to preserve some brewing logs from early craft brewers in a safe place, like a library or a museum, where researchers in the future could go back and learn about the techniques and ingredients being used today.

Mild taste-off: multiple milds in plastic beakers.

Ryan Moses, AKA The Beer Counsellor, has taken a month to organise his thoughts on the takeover of Wicked Weed by AB-InBev before reaching any conclusions. Acknowledging the full range of arguments he has nonetheless concluded that buying local is best thing consumers can do in this situation:

Let your love of craft beer inform your buying decisions of what and where you buy.  If you have local breweries near you, frequent them.  Buy their beer, their growlers, and their swag.  If you go to a local brewery and their beer isn’t as good as you had hoped, don’t frag them on social media. Send a personal email or letter to the owner/brewer expressing your concerns in a thoughtful and respectful manner. We must be the ones who control craft beer. Not the faceless conglomerates who could just as easily be selling ball bearings rather than beer.

Counterpoint: Michael Agnew at A Perfect Pint argues (using the strongest of strong language) that critics have a right, if not a duty, to ‘be mean’:

The criticism of my critique is often that I’m not giving brewers a chance. I’m too quick to name the problems. These brewers are young and passionate. They have dreams. I’m stepping on these dreams when all they need is time to work things out. It’s a difficult step to go from brewing ten gallons at a time to brewing ten barrels. Rather than publicly calling them out, I should go in and talk to them… In what other industry do we say this?

We’re probably more Agnew than Moses here but we think blogger and sometime blog commenter Dave S has this right:

A screengrab of the Braciatrix blog.

And, finally, a recommendation for a blog to watch rather than a pointer to specific post: at Braciatrix Christina Wade is considering ‘the history of beer through the women who brewed, consumed, sold, and sometimes, opposed it’. So far it’s proving to be something quite fresh. Take a look.

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 1 April 2017: China, Cream, Cask

Here’s all the beer news, beer writing and beer blogging that’s caught our attention in the past seven days, from China to Bamberg.

For Fortune magazine Scott Cendrowski reports on AB-InBev’s approach to cracking the Chinese market, where a lack of competition regulation makes it easy to lean on smaller brewers:

John Guy, a quick-talking Australian whose ­McCawley’s chain of bars in southern China had sales last year topping $10 million, says he has heard of bar owners being offered 1 million yuan (about $150,000) to switch all their draft beer to AB InBev brands. Guy prides himself on his range of overseas craft beers and says he would never accept such a deal. But other bar owners don’t have the same choice. ‘Some bars run at break-even and make money on tap bonuses—$15,000 a year on some,’ he says.

(Via @thebeernut.)

A sinister character on the phone, in silhouette.

Continuing the theme Steve Body at The Pour Fool has a typically entertaining, eccentric, fire-spitting tirade against AB-InBev which concludes that they’ve forever defiled the term ‘craft beer’ and are therefore welcome to it. Here’s his account of AB-InBev’s provocative party line, delivered by what Body calls a ‘suit’ who somehow, creepily, acquired his mobile phone number:

‘You should know that we consider the term “craft brewing” a misnomer. “Craft brewing” is what WE do. “Craft” implies precision and skill and the adherence to the proven standards and techniques of brewing. What all these little breweries do is amateur brewing.’

(His proposed alternative term is ‘indie beer’ which, of course, has been around for years, along with many other variants.)

Adapted from an image at A Better Beer Blog.

Alan McLeod at A Better Beer Blog (the artist formerly known as A Good Beer Blog) has been investigating the term ‘cream’ as used in relation to beer over the years. His conclusion? As we read it, it’s that historically there is no fixed meaning, or even continuity — it’s just an appealing sounding word that helps to sell beer:

When you consider all that, I am brought back to how looking at beer through the lens of “style” ties language to technique a bit too tightly for my comfort. The stylist might suggest that in 1860, this brewery brewed an XX ale and in 1875 that brewery brewed an XX ale so they must be some way some how the same thing. I would quibble in two ways. Fifteen years is a long time in the conceptual instability of beer and, even if the two beers were contemporaries, a key point for each brewery was differentiation. The beers would not be the same even if they were similar.

(See also: golden ale.)

Brakspear beer mat from (probably) the 1990s.

Feeling somehow related is a post from Phil Edwards at Oh Good Ale! in which he highlights the fragility of the identity of any given beer over time, especially where takeovers and mergers play a part:

[From] the moment a brewery is taken over, its beers are effectively dead. More precisely, from the moment a brewery is taken over, its beers may cease to exist – or be replaced by inferior substitutes – at any time, and there’s nothing anyone outside the new owner company can do about it. The new owner hasn’t bought beers, it’s bought brands and their market share. If the new owner is genuinely committed to making decent beer, the beer backing up those brands may continue to be good, but even that can’t be guaranteed – and, of course, the new owner can’t actually be held to account by anyone else. Even when the new owner continues to make a particular beer the old way, nobody can tell whether they’re going to start cutting corners or simply stop making it – let alone stop them doing so.

Lone Wolf spirits logo.

For the record, but rather tedious: Those of you who follow the Midlands Beer Blog Collective or, indeed, read these round-ups of ours every Saturday, will have heard about BrewDog’s trademark run in with a Birmingham pub several weeks ago, but the story only blew up in the mainstream in the last week via Rob Davies in the Guardian. If you’re after a soap opera, here it is: James Watt of BrewDog responded; there were claims, counter-claims and calls for boycotts; and lots of people made essentially the same observation: ‘Not very punk, guys!’

Our take? We don’t think this does any more harm to BrewDog than any previous PR disaster — indeed, it contributes to the Main Objective — and it seems astonishing to us that there are still people out there who are surprised to discover that James Watt is a pragmatic businessman rather than a maverick freedom fighter.

Twitter Intel

Drip-drip-drip… Earlier this year Cloudwater triggered a scare around the health of cask ale. Now, from Melissa Cole, here’s news of another bruise that may or may not be a symptom of a more serious ailment:

And from the wonderfully nosy Will Hawkes, there’s the interesting news that Mahrs Bräu of Bamberg is planning to start brewing a version of its beer in the UK: