beer reviews marketing

World Lager Disguised as Craft Beer

Empty skull illustration.

Pistonhead Lager from Sweden’s Brutal Brewing seems, superficially, to be ‘well craft’.

It comes in a can.

A tiny, expensive can, bedecked with cartoon skulls, stylish typography and lifestyle rhetoric: “Pistonhead supports live music, Rock n Roll attitudes and good times.”

And yet it tastes… like Carling. That is, fine, but with a nasty edge in the warm dregs.

It’s bland beer targeted at people who don’t want to look like they drink bland beer — some of the BrewDog attitude without the flavour to back it up.

We’re bracing for more of this kind of thing in years to come.

11 replies on “World Lager Disguised as Craft Beer”

I met a lot of the guys behind Brutal Brewing when I was in Stockholm a couple of years ago, for the beer festival. Although it’s Spendrups’ ‘craft’ arm, and thus easy to dismiss as cynical marketeering, I found them almost impossible to dislike.

Having said that, I diplomatically far preferred Kustom Lager, which (as far as I know) is the Pistonhead dry hopped with Amarillo and Cascade

We suspected but didn’t know that it might be the product of someone’s ‘craft arm’. On *tasting it* it’s easy to dismiss as cynical marketeering…

Two thoughts:

(1) Where does craft beer end and world beer begin? Some US craft-themed lagers are actually pretty bland

(2) I suspect we’ll see a lot more appropriation of the “craft” design language by “mainstream” brands – look at recent rebranding by Ringwood and Batemans, for example.

Our hosts can correct me, but AIUI Ringwood were first-wave US-hops craft (as distinct from West Coast & Rooster, who were zeroth-wave). I know what you mean about Bateman’s, though, and I wish they’d stop it.

Does it taste like something you might have found in a typical pub 10-15 years ago?

If not, its “craft”.

Don’t be fooled by the aggressively postmodern marketing, or stories about how its brewed in a railway carriage at the bottom of the river Severn by a man with a huge beard and ironic glasses, there is only one thing that separates the craft from the crap: the taste.

The good thing about this definition is that it explains why the UK and the US definitions differ in the way they do.

I’m increasingly thinking that the basic issue is that the concept of “craft beer” was always an uneasy yoking together of a relatively useful stylistic description (roughly “beer in a style more associated with US craft breweries than with what traditional UK family breweries or international macrobrewers are currently doing “), a hard-to-define but distinct cultural thing (roughly “beer brewed by hipsters for hipsters”) and a value judgement (generally something like “awesome beer brewed for passion not profit”).

I guess give that, it was always kind of inevitable that if it took off then the word would be co-opted by people sticking hip branding on average beer so they can sell it at inflated prices to
people who aspire to being trendy and like to think that they’re drinking “awesome beer” but also want something relatively unchallenging that they can knock back without falling over…

And given that the muddling of concepts was mostly done (afaict) by the likes of Brewdog in order to build up their brand in the first place, I guess they’re now on slightly shaky ground complaining about it.

Between the turn of the millennium and today, British people have been increasingly exposed to more and more different types of foreign beer. This has led to the growing recognition that the average beer served in the average pub in this country at that period was, frankly, dreadful. The demand for something homegrown but in the style of the superior foreign – particularly American styles, but also Belgian and German – beers started to grow. This was both a long-term grassroots trend and also a short-term fad simultaneously.

Companies like Brewdog sprung up to meet this demand and used the american term “craft beer” to differentiate themselves from run of the mill microbreweries. Existing breweries started to brew different styles of beer and adjust their marketing as well.

Of course, there are also lots of companies who have tried to jump on the bandwagon simply by adopting the marketing image but still producing no beer of interest. There are enough fashion followers out there for this to be a successful short term strategy.

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