Generalisations about beer culture opinion

Pop Will Drink Itself

We have a weakness for music analogies when it comes to talking about beer, perhaps because of the similar levels of geekiness and subjectivity involved in appreciating both.

This weekend, with a particularly weird UK Top Ten singles chart, we found ourselves pondering this question: what is the beer equivalent of pop music? Pop music (a lot of which, by the way, we like, in a chin-stroking, over-analysing kind of way) is:

  • designed to grab your attention
  • to make you want to listen again — it’s ‘catchy’, full of ‘hooks’.

It’s also targeted at the very young and so songs are usually:

  • short
  • repetitive
  • in 4/4 time and
  • ‘loud’ (actually compressed, but that’s a technicality).

What the most successful pop tunes are not is bland: they are not Muzak. Their creators would rather they were irritating than have them treated as background music. So, here’s our first nomination for a ‘pop beer’: Fruli. It’s bright red, sickly sweet and strawberry flavoured — bubblegum, if you like.

But maybe the one-off ‘craft beer’ novelties that so offend some conservative (small c) beer geeks — the Chili Black Belgian IPAs and the like — are also a nod in this direction? They’ve got hooks (“Cucumber! White chocolate! Bright purple!) and offer instant gratification.

Even though we sympathise with the conservative point of view on this, we do think they sometimes sound a bit like this: “Bah. I can’t tell if half of them are lads or lasses with all that hair; can’t make head or tail of the bloody lyrics; does no-one has the attention span to listen to one LP all the way through? And loud!? Don’t get me started….”

14 replies on “Pop Will Drink Itself”

would craft beer not be closer to punk* or indie, i.e., a small hardcore following who like to hunt out the obscure releases that aren’t to the majority’s tastes?

*ignoring Brewogs self-proclamation of beer for punks here.

That makes more sense to me. If the music’s essentially made by a record company to make money then, to me, it’s pop. On the other hand, some people suggest that anything other than jazz or classical is pop.

BrewDog’s ‘no way commercial’ schtick is an interesting one, but their brand loyalty seems at the moment to be more like a band that could release absolutely anything and the fans would lap it up as the greatest album ever. I’m not saying they are doing that, but they seem to be in that position.

There’s definitely a correlation between the niche music/commerical music dichotomy and the craft beer/cheap swill split.

Just like the majority of people who don’t really care that much about music are happy to listen to the bland and inoffensive offerings of the x factor, the majority of people who don’t really care about beer are happy to drink generic lager. Of course,much to the annoyance of the hardcore set.

If macro lager is commercial pop music, and “craft beer” is punk and avant garde, then what is real ale? Jazz perhaps? Classic Rock?

Indie brewing is almost exactly like indie music – the dedicated fans, the bands that made a living packing out Students’ Unions but never had hits, the moans about how all John Peel ever played was “boring bands from Peterborough”, the isolated critics raving about Disco Inferno or MB Hi-Power or Sudden Sway to general indifference… I could go on. (Just realised that’s Zac up there, not Zak. No offence to Zac, but somebody ought to get Zak in on this. He’d nail it.)

BrewDog’s ‘no way commercial’ schtick

Ha. BD are the kind of music that’s marketed as indie, which is a very different thing. And as I’ve said before, their approach to brewing is about as un-punk as you can get, whether you look at the supermarket end of the range or the Abstrakts – they’re making radio-friendly unit-shifters and limited-edition concept albums, neither of which is remotely punk.

maybe the one-off ‘craft beer’ novelties that so offend some conservative (small c) beer geeks — the Chili Black Belgian IPAs and the like — are also a nod in this direction?

Some of them are certainly releasing novelty singles on multi-coloured vinyl. Others are more like novelty acts, or bands so left-field that they can only get a hearing as novelty acts – while their fans maintain staunchly that Wild Man Fischer or And the Native Hipsters or Captain Beefheart are not a novelty act, they’ve got real talent. And some of the time they’re right.

I have analogized that all beer is like all music each falling under the more general “pop culture” heading. You have to include folk, jazz and American standards to get the full scope. Craft triple IPA” or bourbon barrel stouts are not punk. Whatever the punks drank is punk. Appropriation of punk by the hyper-precious is one of the funniest things in good beer.

Hmmm – I’m sorry, but I don’t think this analogy stands up at all. The point about pop is that while much of it might be bland mass-appeal product designed only to shift units, occasionally up through the same mass-marketing system will come something brilliant, which simultaneously appeals both to the mass market and those who consider themselves true music aficionadoes, eg Frank Sinatra (hugely popular in his time), Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Marvin Gaye, the Beatles, Bob Marley (add some more yourself – I recognise I’m showing my age there with my own selection.) Fruli wasn’t designed to shift mass units, it was designed to fit a niche (and not one I find myself in, I have to add). It’s certainly not the beer equivalent of the Monkees. And I can’t think of any beer that is simultaneously mass-appeal product AND appeals to self-styled beer aficionados.

No need to apologise — can’t take our flaky analogies to seriously!

I like the Monkees, Phil Spector, Brian Wilson so… maybe that’s it? Maybe pop gets respectable with age? And perhaps that also explains our worrying obsession with Watney’s Red Barrel.

Damn Martyn’s just written my post for me!

One thing I would say is Pop can’t be too extreme. A campaign to get RATM to No. 1 was successful because for all their rebelliousness RATM write good tunes, a similar campaign using 4’33” failled, Cage being far too outré to be ‘Pop’

I expect that no matter how good the marketing campaign is you will never make the more extreme flavoured beers ‘Pop’ either.

At least the title of the post made me dig out some PWEI to listern to while commenting.

I think our idea was that sweeter, ‘flavoured’, coloured beers might appeal to the same market that currently buys sickly sweet root beers (Jeremiah Weed?) and all those pear ciders, if marketed correctly.

Who made that Creme Brulee beer they were selling at the Craft Beer Company? That.

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