Generalisations about beer culture marketing opinion

Bad Beer Won’t Save Beer

Some people argue that, for beer to prosper, it must defeat wine and cider in a battle that’s being played out in British culture.

A further twist to that argument is the old classic that your enemies’ enemy is your friend or, to put it another way, if you love beer, you ought to love all beer. Because it’s not wine.

We can’t agree with that.

If people are choosing to drink wine, cider, pear cider, spirits, fizzy pop or buttermilk, well, good for them; but we also believe that to know beer is to love it. In other words, lots of people who don’t think they like beer just haven’t tried a really good one.

People who find beer “too bitter” or bad tasting aren’t going to be won over by nasty beer. They already think it’s nasty and those products just confirm their prejudices. They might, at a push, be lured into drinking the odd bland beer, but that’s not going to convert them anymore than wallpaper turns people on to art.

What might convert people is really amazing, impressive, exciting beer. Colourful beer — perhaps literally so. Eyecatching beer with a story and sexy label. But, most of all, beer that presses the pleasure buttons because it tastes so damn good. Irresistibly so. This is component missing in so many brand extensions and big beer launches.

Consider this: three of our wine-drinking friends have independently said more-or-less the same thing to us in the last year and a half: that after tasting US IPAs on holiday they are interested in trying more beer. Doesn’t this opens up a whole different interpretation of the idea of gateway beers — not “easy drinkers” for beginners but a kind of shock therapy?

And maybe, if people don’t like beer any more, because they think other things taste nicer, then beer’s time as a mass product is over. That’s not the end of the world, though it is a sad thought.

Beer styles

Explaining lager vs. ale

This week, a colleague asked me in the pub whether London Pride is better than Carlsberg and what the difference is between them. I wasn’t quite sure what the most helpful answer would be.

I’ve seen a perfect demonstration of the wrong approach, in a well-known beer geek pub in London. A young woman at the bar asked her boyfriend what ale was, exactly, and how it differed from beer. She was overheard by a huge, bearded man with bona fide piss stains on his trousers. He ran the length of the bar, pint in hand, to crowingly deliver a complex explanation about different yeasts and top and bottom fermentation. He also threw in a bit about exceptions to the basic rule like koelsch, alt, dark lager and so on. As well as making him look like a total tosser, it wasn’t a terribly helpful answer for someone with a very limited understanding of beer and a passing interest in finding out more.

I’ve been asked this question by Spanish friends in the UK, and my answer is usually something like: “Lager’s what you usually drink in Spain. It’s generally light in colour and fizzy. In Spain (and usually in Britain), it doesn’t have a strong flavour, although you can get lagers that are more bitter or aromatic. Ale is a traditional British drink, and is less fizzy, fruitier and usually more bitter. It is often brown, but can be lighter or darker. Personally, I think the flavour of ale is much more interesting and varied than the lagers you usually get in pubs in Spain or the UK.”

But that also looks quite patronising when I write it down.

So what is the best answer, particularly if you want to encourage people to try the ale and give the Carlsberg a miss?