D'oh! Stupid tastebuds…

tongue.jpg Yesterday, the BBC reported that wine drinkers tested by scientists thought a wine tasted better when they were told it cost $45 rather than its actual cost of $5.

I thought this was really interesting.

I really don’t think price has ever affected my judgement — it certainly didn’t in the case of pricey Belgian ‘champagne beer’ DEUS.

But I am happy to admit that beers sometimes seem to taste better or worse to me depending on context, presentation and my own expectations.

I suspect that I might be sucker enough to favourably review, say, UK-brewed Fosters, if it was presented to me in a big German stein and I was told it was traditionally brewed in Augsburg.

I’m a marketing man’s dream.

Bailey

Blog round-up

A couple of things from other blogs that have caught our eye recently.

Wilson at Brewvana has organised a “tasting session to engage women in brewvana”, with six beers tested on women from six decades. It’s a thoroughly good read, with Wilson being slightly surprised by the favourite beer. He then challenges us to organise similar tastings.

I’m still sceptical about there being a difference between male and female tastebuds – I think a lot of the conclusions from tasting would apply to a group of men who didn’t like beer either. Still, quite up for organising some tastings at some point…

Image, and therefore, marketing does have a lot to do with it, a factor Wilson and his tasters discuss, and is discussed at more length in an article by Lew Bryson in Conde Naste.

I think in the UK, real ale is disliked by women for the same reason it’s disliked by men – it’s often too warm, too flat and off. And the sterotypical image of the real ale drinker is the old bearded sexist (rather than the young clean-shaven sexist for mainstream lager…). More on real ale marketing to come in a future post.

On the subject of beer warmth, this seems to be exercising British blogs, especially when it comes to real ale. Stonch plumps for 11 degrees* as does Tandleman. This is slightly cooler than CAMRA recommendations (12-14), and certainly cooler than it’s served in a lot of pubs, especially in the summer. This topic seems to attract a lot of interest, judging by the number of comments. Who said that real ale lovers were anal beer geeks?

I suppose the one thing conclusion that can be drawn is that temperature is a matter of personal taste rather than scientific truth. I’m generally pretty happy between about 8 deg and 12 deg for most ales. Too cold can be a problem, but I’d rather too cold than too warm (it can always warm up!) Except that last night I was drinking Orval in a pub, which was absolutely revolting straight out of the fridge but rather nice when it had warmed up a bit (they recommend 12-14 on the bottle, and who am I to argue with the monks?)

Finally, Tandleman is also plugging the Winter Ales festival in Manchester, ticking off other blogs for not mentioning it. Sorry for our typical southern bias, hope this makes up for it!

Talking of regions – I’ve been offered a job that may mean spending a lot of time in Birmingham. Can anyone advise me on the beer and pub situation there before I accept the offer?

Boak

*That’s in Celsius.  About 52F

What’s in a name?

There’s a common stereotype that real ales have silly names. You can see this stereotype in action in Viz‘s “Real Ale Twats” sketches kindly uploaded by Stonch back in September.

Actually, this isn’t as true today as it used to be — I was looking through a couple of festival programmes recently, and the truly daft names were few and far between.

But look hard enough and you can still find the Old StoatWobblers, Tiddly Vicars, and the famous Piddle in the Wind. You can groan at terrible puns like “Santa’s Claws”, and “Smoking – then they bandit”. Then there are the “ha-ha, aren’t we being politically incorrect” names such as “Dry hopped Naked Ladies” and “Top Totty”, usually with a highly amusing pump clip too. Very seaside postcard.

Why do brewers go to all that effort to produce what might be a good brew and then cheapen it with a lousy name? I’ve thought of three possible reasons;

  1. they think it appeals to the sense of humour of the average real ale fan
  2. it’s a way of catching the eye at a beer festival, when there are hundreds of others to choose from
  3. actually, the beer isn’t very good, but they’re hoping to sell it on its novelty value.

There might be something in (1) but it’s based on a generalisation which doesn’t hold true. I’m sure I’m not the only real ale fan to find silly names a bit tacky and an insult to my sense of humour. So, by extension, (2) doesn’t work for me either. It’s not that I won’t drink a beer such as “Cunning Stunt” because of the name, but I’m more likely to pick something with a sensible name and label, that suggests quality and integrity. This is because I’ve now started to believe in option (3) and associate stupid names with amateur gimmicks, and thus don’t expect the beer to be any good.

Incidentally, while “researching” this, I found an old article (from August 2003) on the subject. It makes pretty much the same points as above:

‘There are too many rather suggestive names in real ale, which I don’t think does the industry much good,” said Steve Reynolds, marketing director at Springhead brewery.

Do these silly, sexist or crude names actually appeal to *anyone*? Or am I just a prudish, po-faced stormtrooper of political correctness…?

N.B. I’ve never had any of the beers mentioned above — they might taste great!

Boak

Council sponsored beer

breckland.jpgA while ago, I wondered why more local breweries didn’t advertise by the sides of railway lines, like they do in Germany. One reason we came up with was that local councils wouldn’t want to be seen to promote booze or boozing.

Well, Breckland council have no such worries — earlier this year, they joined forces with the Iceni Brewery to come up with a special beer to welcome home local troops who’d been fighting in Afghanistan.

It’s not clear whether the council actually subsidised the brewing of this special batch of beer, but they’re certainly not shying away from being associated with and promoting a popular, successful local brewery.

I don’t know about you, but nothing about this makes me think (Daily Mail voice): “NOW LOCAL COUNCIL BACKS BINGEING”.

More councils should be backing, subsidising and promoting local their local breweries. They should be proud of them like Breckland Council is of Iceni.

Bailey