Beer: liquid sex, or substitute for soup?

William Schlackman was an American psychologist specialising in attention grabbing market research projects carried out on behalf of big companies. In 1966 he suggested that, for English drinkers, beer was a substitute for sex.

We’ve struggled to track down a copy of the research report itself which is, uh, frustrating, but there’s a summary of its contents in A Monthly Bulletin for January 1967:

At the superficial Freudian level of the unconscious mind, beer-drinking was found, incredibly, to be equated with sex. More profound research revealed this equation with sex to be but a defence enabling the beer-drinker to deny his true motivation… Hunger, the psychologists pointed out, is strong enough in primitive man to stimulate the hunt and the kill. In primitive man, in other words, hunger is overtly a more powerful drive than sex… It comes as a surprise to most of us to learn from the leader of the brewery’s research team, William Schlackman, an American doctor, that what a beer-drinker feels when opening time approaches “is the primitive tension of the hunt.” In civilised man, as in primitive man, “it may outweigh the sex drive.”

The Daily Mirror also picked up the story, quoting Schlackman extensively. Here’s a clearer explanation of his point about beer and sex, in his own words:

The regular drinker puts his love life secondary to his pub life, which is the real reason why so many marriages founder over drink… Confirmed drinkers are rarely womanisers. In fact, they are often hostile to women and to pubs that encourage women’s custom.

So beer displaces sex – got it.

The Mirror article also picks up on a suggestion by Schlackman that the particularly British taste for “tepid” ale rather than cold lager was because…

Beer, which traditionally even schoolboys used to drink for breakfast, subconsciously bears an image very close to that of soup.

Schlackman’s research team came up with a set of personality types matched to beer preference:

The typical draught-bitter drinker was a farm worker on his way home from the plough-field… The mild-and-bitter drinker: A 50-year-old underpaid clerk, dreaming of winning the pools… The Bass and Worthington drinker: A hairy-chested docker… One of the interviewed people though that the typical Bass drinker would probably be a wife-beater, too.

That’s one of those startling statements that makes clear just how much the perception of brands and types of beer can change over the course of decades.

Of course, this should all be taken with a pinch of salt: this kind of pop Freudian analysis has rather gone out of fashion. In 1969, Schlackman suggested that English people liked tea because it reminded them of home, mother and the womb, which says it all, really.

You can read more about William Schlackman and how he ended up living and working in London this obituary – he died in May at the age of 88.

Only Watney’s could be so bold

Can you see spot what drew us to the tatty old postcard of Main Street, Haworth, West Yorkshire, from the 1960s, reproduced above?

That’s right – it’s the advertisement for Watney’s, neatly camouflaged against the brick wall to the left, above a yellow enamel sign advertising St Bruno tobacco.

This particular Watney’s ad campaign ran from as early as 1937, as explained by Ron Pattinson here, along with details of why this design was so successful. Ron also provides a lovely image of the poster which we’ve taken the liberty of nicking:

What we want is Watneys
SOURCE: Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

The really interesting thing about the postcard, though, is that this poster should have appeared in Yorkshire, 200 miles from the brewery’s home in London.

In the 1960s, Watney’s grew and took over regional breweries around the UK. It took over Beverley Brothers of Wakefield in 1967 and began investing in Webster’s of Halifax at around the same time, taking it over completely in 1972.

So the poster in the postcard is a symbol of the arrival of national brands, and of the homogenisation of beer that triggered the founding of the Campaign for Real Ale in the 1970s.

But it’s not all one-sided: if you look closely, you might be able to pick out a small enamel sign advertising Tetley’s next to the Watney’s poster. That, too, would become a national brand, taking a taste of Yorkshire to the rest of the country.

Guinness: a nice, interesting drink for nice, interesting women, 1977-79

In 1977-78, grappling with falling sales and quality problems, Guinness commissioned yet another marketing strategy in the hope of turning things around. One idea was to appeal to young women.

We’ve just finished scanning and cataloguing the collection of Guinness material we wrote about a few times last year. These marketing strategy documents (there are several) are full of fascinating details, not least in the annotations in pencil by (we assumed from context) Alan Coxon, the head brewer at Park Royal to whom these documents belonged.

Here’s what the 1977-78 document says under ‘Strategy & Objectives – Women’:

i) To recruit to more regular drinking the younger female drinker who identifies with the assurance, maturity and independence associated with Guinness for women.

ii) To reduce defection from Guinness by reinforcing the loyalty of existing frequent and less frequent users.

The second group were likely to be ‘older and poorer’, the kind of people who’d traditionally drunk Guinness, but the other group were a new target:

[Younger], socially active and better off. Guinness may already be a part of their drinking repertoire, though remote. These are likely to be C1 C2 women aged 25 to 44.

Here, though, Alan Coxon had some thoughts of his own, neatly marked in the margin:

I just do not believe in the possibility of this. It is not a young woman’s drink, surely. If we get it right it will have the wrong image for young women & surely we cannot expect them to like it!!

The proposed creative approach for appealing to young women was interesting, too, based on ‘the correct blending of four key elements’:

i) The user-image of a self-assured woman who is independent, sociable and healthy; equally at ease in both a man’s and woman’s world.

ii) The product as a unique, attractive, long drink, natural and enjoyable.

iii) The mood as one of relaxed and sociable enjoyment.

iv) The quality and style of the advertising as attractive, credible and contemporary (rather than fashionable or trendy).

The brand position reached as a result of this creative approach should be:

“Guinness is the drink for the self-assured woman.”

Finally, there were suggestions on how to reach women. With television reserved for male-orientated adverts, the idea was to place ads targeting women in magazines – ‘their personal medium’.

How did all this go? Fortunately, we have some handy follow-up information, from the next year’s marketing plan, covering 1978-79. It suggests that double-page spreads did run in women’s magazines (we’d love to track some of these down) and that they were felt to be successful enough to continue with.

An amusing punchline, though, is a restatement of the marketing objective:

The primary task of the advertising is to change attitudes about the kind of woman who drinks Guinness: to oversimplify, ‘Guinness is a nice, interesting drink which is drunk by nice, interesting women.’

UPDATE 08/03/2019: Jon Urch, who works for Guinness, sent us a copy of one of the ads, which we’ve now added as the main image above.

Price as substitute for quality in unfamiliar territory

“In the absence of information, people tend to take a price of the unfamiliar product as a signal of its quality, so high prices do not diminish the quantity demanded very much. When information is provided, the signalling content of the price diminishes. As a result, demand becomes more elastic. In particular, informed consumers see no reason to pay more for the new product given that it has the same ingredients as the familiar one. The effect of the information is thus to encourage more people to switch from the substitute product to the target one at low prices, and vice versa at high prices.”

That’s an extract from an academic paper (PDF) on the behaviour of purchasers of medical products in Zambia, but you’ll encounter versions of this argument everywhere from self-help books on how to sell! sell! sell! to articles in the business press.

The conclusion often drawn is that, perhaps counter-intuitively, if you price your product higher than the competition, many consumers will assume yours is better and worth the extra money.

Conversely, if your product is too cheap, it might seem suspicious: “Hmm. What’s wrong with it?”

Does all of this also apply to beer?

Twenty years ago, we were certainly aware of the aura that surrounded Premium Lager, and Pete Brown has written memorably about the damage Stella Artois did to its brand by reducing the price.

But drinkers these days have lots more information to go on, from beer style to ABV, from hop varieties to brewing location. All or any of these might override price in the decision making process.

And, of course the actual relationship between price and quality in beer is complex: there are lots of bad expensive pints out there, and some really good ones that are relatively cheap.

Our suspicion is that price might be a proxy for quality in situations where none of the brands are familiar, and the only other information is price; or (as this paper suggests) where the choice is between broadly similar products under the same brand name: Carlsberg, or Carslberg Export?

With all this in mind we find ourselves once again thinking about the Drapers Arms, where not only is branding held at arm’s length but also the price structure is flat. As a result, we’ve probably tried a greater variety of beer there than anywhere else, even allowing for the fact this is where we do most of our drinking by default.

GALLERY: Guinness Time in the 1950s – design of the times

The set of Guinness papers we’ve been sorting through for their owner includes a fairly complete two-decade run of Guinness Time, the in-house magazine for the brewery at Park Royal.

While the contents is on the whole fairly dull (egg and spoon races, meet the toilet attendants, and so on) the covers are works of art, redolent of the periods in which they were produced.

Those presented below are all from the 1950s and so there are a couple of references to TV, the hot trend of the day.

Guinness Time Summer 1956 -- a topiary seal.
Summer 1956. Illustrator: Tom Eckersley.
A man uses a giant bottle of Guinness as a telescope.
Autumn 1956. Illustrator: John Gilroy.

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Guinness Confidential, 1977: Economic Crisis, Quality Problems, Image Issues

In 1977 Guinness commissioned consultant Alan Hedges to look into why sales of the bottled version of the stout were dropping off. His research revealed changes in the beer, and changes in society.

Hedges is, it turns out, something of a legend in the world of market research having written an important book called Tested to Destruction, published in 1974.

We guess from the odd contextual clue that he got the Guinness gig because he had worked for S.H. Benson, an advertising firm that held the Guinness account in the 1960s.

He may well still be around — he was active in the industry in the past decade or two — so maybe he’ll pop up to tell us more if he ever stumbles across this post. (That’s one reason we like to put things like this out into the world.)

This particular item is yet another document from the collection of Guinness paperwork we’re currently sorting through on behalf of its owner. We’re not going to share the whole thing, just highlight some of the most interesting parts.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 June 2018: Football, Motorbikes, Public Toilets

Here’s everything about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Russia to New York City.

This is a local story for us: for Bristol Cable Maff Tucker writes about The Banjo, as the council estate at Cadbury Heath in east Bristol is affectionately known, and the pub around which life there is centred:

There’s a wall of pictures in the Lamb that remembers the regulars that have passed away. Les points at a framed bikers jacket: “Jamie England, he was abandoned when he was a kid, his nan took him in and brought him up, along with me and my brothers and sisters because our dad worked days and our mum worked nights.”


Plastic footballs.

At Lady Sinks the Booze Kirst Walker offers advice for discerning beer drinkers on how to go about watching the World Cup, which is now underway:

30 minutes before kick-off – get two drinks

At 38 minutes, get two drinks (studies** have shown that most people will attempt to avoid the half time rush at 40 minutes, by which time you’re already at the bar like a genius).

If you need a further drink before 90 minutes, or if there may be significant extra time because Gary Cahill has straight up murdered someone, the time to go is on 67 minutes when statistically a goal is unlikely to be scored.

Related: this seems like a good time to remind everyone of the existence of the craft beer and football map at Beer Frontiers which lists pubs with interesting beer that also have TVs. It’s also worth noting that some chains (BrewDog, Craft Beer Co) that don’t normally show football are making an exception for the World Cup.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 June 2018: Football, Motorbikes, Public Toilets”

The Ethereal Form of the Spirit of a Place

Where exactly is the Staropramen we get in 330ml bottles in UK supermarkets brewed? Probably not Prague, but good luck pinning it down any more precisely than that from the packaging.

We don’t dislike Staropramen (or haven’t disliked it, of which more in a moment) and have drunk a fair few pints and bottles of it over the years, despite knowing that it’s not generally highly regarded by experts in Czech beer. If we want a lager to drink at a barbecue or to swig from the bottle at a party — come on, this is one of life’s great pleasures! — we’ll sometimes pick up a four-quid four-pack at the supermarket. That’s how we ended up holding bottles in our hands on Sunday and, for the first time in ages, really looking at the packaging.

Staropramen.

Established in Prague. Proudly brewed since 1849. #1 Prague beer in the world. The spirit of Prague. Then, in tiny print, “Brewed and bottled in the EU for Molson Coors Brewing Company (UK) Ltd.”

That all reads to us like the most weaselly possible way of saying NOT ACTUALLY BREWED IN PRAGUE.

So, where is it brewed if not there?

Molson Coors has brewing plants elsewhere in the Czech Republic, and all over the EU, from Bulgaria to Burton-upon-Trent. But we have a suspicion if this version of the beer was brewed in the UK they would be less shy about it, on the basis that they’re reasonably open about the fact that Pravha, the 4% draught variant, is brewed here.

Our guess as to what’s going on, at least in part, is that there is no single point of origin, and that they’re keeping their options open with regard to logistics. Perhaps some of the Staropramen we get in the UK is sometimes brewed in Prague, or at least elsewhere in the Czech Republic, but there might be occasional periods when additional demand is fulfilled by plants in, say, Croatia. Being more specific on the labels would make this kind of flexibility difficult.

So, who can say for sure? We’ve emailed to ask this specific question and will let you know if we hear back.

As to the quality of the beer… Well, we’ve stuck up for it longer than some but it really did taste a bit rough to us this time; harsh and nasty, with the same odd hot, plasticky tang we also pick up in Stella Artois and San Miguel in particular. Perhaps that’s the result of the brewing taking place away from home; or because the beer now only uses “ingredients including Czech hops” (our emphasis); or because the lagering time is a mere “couple of weeks”. Most likely, it’s a combination of these and a lot of other smaller corner cutting exercises, themselves the symptom of a lack of respect for the beer, even if the brand continues to be worth milking.

And why is the brand valuable? Because people think they’re buying something from Prague — a genuine import, a reminder of adventures past, something for which it is worth paying a (small) premium — just like we did on Sunday afternoon.

Where a beer is from, or appears to be from, does matter, at least to the marketing people whose job it is to persuade consumers to buy it.

No Logo

The blackboard at the Drapers.

One of the many interesting things about our local, The Drapers Arms micropub in Bristol, is the lack of branding for beers at the point of sale.

Instead of the customary row of hand-pumps with decorative pump-clips (which have grown bigger and fancier over the course of the past few decades) the Drapers has a rack of casks with beer names chalked on their black jackets, and a blackboard declaring the name, brewery, origin, style and ABV of each beer.

The pump-clips are there, actually, tacked on the wall behind the bar, along with those for beers coming soon, but a determined squint and spectacle push is required to discern any details. Most people, we suspect, think they’re just part of the decor.

The blackboard approach encourages certain unusual, quite pleasing behaviour. For one thing, people often ask each other for advice: “Excuse me — what’s that you’re on? It looks bloody good.” And we’ve never known a pub where tasters are so freely offered and  as gladly taken, and where such generous time is given to conversations about taste and preference.

Which brings us to our main point: the lack of obvious branding seems to push people — and certainly forces us — to focus on the beer.

We’ve always been quite open about the fact that, being human beings with a full suite of emotions, nurtured in late 20th century capitalist society, we are easily swayed by packaging and marketing. Of course we challenge ourselves and attempt to overcome this instinct to superficiality but if we’d seen this pump-clip, for example, we might have let our gaze pass over it in favour of something else:

Ramsbury Belapur pump-clip
SOURCE: Ramsbury Website.

It’s not bad but it doesn’t suggest that this beer is anything special. It’s a bit cheap and a bit staid. But at The Drapers, a level playing field for the graphically challenged brewery, we went for it, and were really glad we did. It’s a thoroughly decent beer we’ve had several times since, and Ramsbury have been added to our mental list of breweries always worth a go.

On the flipside, there are beers that, divorced from very smart graphic design and winning blurb, are easier to assess objectively. In plain brown wrappers it’s easier to discern that a slightly bland pale ale from a hip brewery taste much like a slightly bland pale ale from a micro-brewery founded in 1983.

We generally argue for more information rather than less (see tomorrow’s blog post) but somehow the omission of this particular type of information — the visual — really works for us.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past seven days, from ongoing developments in the discussion around sexist beer branding to the ever-expanding BrewDog empire.

Katie Taylor has an interesting run-down on Moorhouse’s rebranding exercise. Packaging re-designs are usually among the world’s most boring topics but this case sees a longstanding problem solved as poorly rendered ‘sexy’ witches in flimsy frocks are out, replaced by more abstract, modern designs that come with an unambiguous statement of intent:

“When I joined, Moorhouse’s was a strong brand, tied into the provenance of the local area,” said Lee [Miller] when I met with him a couple of weeks ago. “But we are guilty as charged. Our branding was indefensible and really could have happened sooner. What I wanted to make sure of was that when we did this, we did it right. I wanted Moorhouse’s to set out its stall, to bring in a new brand ready for the future. We hold our hands up.”

But the stuff about the temperance influence on their new range of beers is almost as interesting.


Illustration: lambic blending.

Returning to his favourite topic Roel Mulder gives us‘Eight Myths About Lambic Debunked’, with plenty of reassuring references.

Quite a lot is made of the fact that lambic is made out of wheat, today usually 30% to 40%. In the 19th century, that was even more: a 1829 recipe specifies no less than 58% raw wheat.[15]However, at that time all-barley beers were only just starting to gain popularity in Belgium. In fact, at the start lambic was quite modern for not having any oats, spelt or buckwheat in it…. only in the 20th century did it become special for not being an all-barley beer.

A reminder, this, that snappy stories and simple explanations in beer history are usually the work of storytellers and marketing people; the truth is almost always more complicated and, frankly, less fun.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 31 March 2018: Moorhouse’s, Memel, Mellowness”