Weird cider/beer hybrid


The latest issue of Marketing magazine brings news of the launch of an appalling-sounding half-beer/half-cider chimera from one of the big international brewers. It’s made with cider, barley malt and “sparkling water”. I can’t be bothered to give this foul-sounding product any publicity by naming it… so I won’t.

The interesting thing is that they claim to have devised the product based on research which shows that a significant number of women “don’t like beer and distrust the quality of wine in bars”.

For one thing, I’m not sure that the logical conclusion from that research is: “I bet those same women would just love a weird cider-beer hybrid!”

But I’d also observe, paraphrasing their line, that there are many people of both genders who “don’t like wine, and distrust the quality of real ale in pubs”, which explains the popularity of bland lagers and Guinness in the UK. Too often, the choice is between a corporate product which is boring but consistent, and a “real” product which stinks, tastes bad and looks bad because it’s not been well looked after. You can’t blame people for going down the bland route when that’s the choice.

In both cases, the solution is probably campaigning to improve the quality of the wine, beer, cider, whisky or whatever, in bars and pubs.

One way to do that would be for CAMRA to make the criteria for getting into their Good Beer Guide slightly more strict. At the moment, as far as I can tell, it lists every pub with any kind of cask ale on offer, although they say “only pubs with a consistently high standard of real ale are considered for entry”. Sadly, my experience has been that quite a few unwelcoming, grotty, smelly pubs get in because they’ve got an old, rank cask of Greene King IPA on one pump at the bar.

How do you win converts to real ale?

Thanks to Stonch, for posting this link to a BBC article on CAMRA‘s bid to make ales women-friendly.

“Paula Waters [CAMRA’s first ever chairwoman] said most adverts for beer were biased towards male drinkers: “When is the last time you saw any press or TV advert for beer which is meant to attract women?

“At best they are inoffensively aimed at men and at worst they are downright patronising to women.”

She has a point – although I wouldn’t say I’d noticed that many adverts for real ale outside of specialist magazines and beer festivals. And I wonder what an advert aimed at women would look like (would I find it more patronising, like the idea of “girls’ bars” at beer festivals?)

Does marketing play that big a part in attracting people (male or female) to real ale? I think it can have a part to play, based on my own experiences.

fixed_perspective.jpgWhy did I get into real ale? Well, I almost didn’t – it took a long time because, frankly, so many of the pints were bad. At the time, I just assumed that’s what real ale tasted like. Now I can see that the kind of places I was drinking were not looking after their beer terribly well.

Why did I keep persisting with ale? It was because I liked the idea of drinking something traditional and “real” (and so did the crowd I was with) This seemed much cooler than drinking Guinness or mass-produced lager – even if I didn’t enjoy it at first.

So perhaps marketing does help in arousing the initial interest. The “real ale” concept is a great asset to start with – even more could be made of this to emphasise how natural and traditional real ale is. The “local” angle is important here, too – people are increasingly trying to eat locally-sourced food, and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t help sell real ale too.

However, a marketing campaign on its own is no good if you go into a pub for your first pint (or half) of real ale and it’s stale or off. So perhaps CAMRA could put more effort into promoting knowledge amongst landlords and bar staff on keeping and serving real ale (I’m sure CAMRA already does this, but there’s definitely still work to be done)

Here are my thoughts on how you introduce people (male or female) to real ale .Proper Job!

  1. Make sure it’s a good beer, in a pub where they know how to keep it! Sounds obvious, but you don’t want their first pint to be the last. You also want there to be a range available, so they don’t have to stick to the one drink, and so that they get a sense of the fantastic variety in real ale.
  2. Alternatively, consider introducing your victim to a range of bottle-conditioned beers in the comfort of your own home (or theirs). Bottle-conditioned beers are often less variable, fresher, and if you’re serving it at home, you have the advantage of controlling the glassware (which we’re very keen on) and the serving temperature.
  3. I’d usually start with something pale, but definitely not bland – a well-balanced IPA for example. I’ve got a friend coming round tonight, and I’m going to try her on a St Austell “Proper Job” IPA (bottle-conditioned, of course). Then possibly Hopback Summer Lightning.
  4. Resist the temptation to demonstrate all your knowledge about hop varieties and malt complexity. Unless you are trying to convert a nerd, in which case go in all guns blazing – even if they don’t like the beer, it’s something to else to be nerdy about.
  5. Be patient! You probably aren’t going to convert someone to real ale overnight – it may take a prolongued campaign.

Has anyone got any success stories in converting people to real ale? Is a beer festival, such as the Great British Beer Festival, the place to do it?


More boring lagers launched

Carlsberg have decided to distribute Polish lager Okocim on tap, across the UK.

Okocim is not an especially exciting beer. It is not even the best Polish lager — and Polish lagers are a sorry bunch, to be honest.

It’s an attempt to tap into the market for “world lagers” — a bizarre sub-category much loved by chain pubs, which includes San Miguel, Kirin Ichiban, Peroni and so on.

I wish someone would distribute Jever Pils, for example, or Kostrizer Schwarzbier. That would be news.

Heineken UK relaunch

Today’s issue of Marketing Week carries a story about Heineken, who are apparently relaunching in the UK with a more “continental” image. They want people to drink Heineken in smaller measures, with a thicker head, as a “premium beer”.

This won’t do anything about the actual taste of their beer – it’s still “cooking lager” – but it is an interesting step away from British lager culture.

Marketing Week also points out how badly Heineken goofed when they relaunched last time, putting their beer’s ABV up to 5% just when everyone got upset about binge-drinking. They spent a fortune on announcing “new, stronger Heineken”, and then a year or so later their competitors were all announcing, for example, “new, weaker Becks”, or Stella, or Carling.

They’re also announcing a new “draught keg” for home use. Er… Party Seven?

Big brewers supporting small ones

News from the “Morning Advertiser” that Charles Wells pub company are to open a speciality beer pub in their home town of Bedford made me think about the big brewery business model.

In a period when small producers and local produce are cool, and big brands just aren’t, more and more of those big brands will want a piece of the smaller ones. In the past, they’d have taken over smaller brands, incorporated them, and eventually done away with them altogether. Now, it makes more sense to keep them intact, but at arms length.

McDonalds aren’t hiding the fact that they own a share of Pret a Manger, the posh high street sandwich chain (itself now also a big brand). They just don’t publicise it much. It’s insurance for them in case the bottom falls out of the little brown beef pattie market, and also protects them from accusations of being low-class, or peddlers of only unhealthy food. They’re hedging their bets.

Charles Wells Pub Company, a part of the growing Wells and Youngs’ empire, are helping the parent company to cover itself here, too. People can’t accuse it of crushing competition, or reducing variety if it keeps opening pubs selling boutique beers – beers, of course, which don’t directly challenge it in the marketplace.

Market forces might be working out in the favour of the British drinker: if customers want choice and the products of smaller breweries, the big breweries are going to get in on the act and help out.