Thought for the Day: Win-Win For BrewDog?

Cartoon: waiter, to customer -- "Don't worry, sir, it's an ironic fly."

BrewDog today announced the launch of Pink IPA, a product identical to their standard Punk IPA except for a bright pink label, and the fact that it will be 20 per cent cheaper for women in BrewDog bars, in reference to the gender pay gap.

Satir­i­cal­ly dubbed Beer for Girls, Pink IPA is BrewDog’s clar­i­on call to close the gen­der pay gap in the UK and around the world and to expose sex­ist mar­ket­ing to women, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in the beer indus­try. This is our overt par­o­dy on the failed, tone-deaf cam­paigns that some brands have attempt­ed in order to attract women.

The col­lec­tive reac­tion to this, it’s prob­a­bly fair to say, aver­ages out to some­thing like a pained groan.

Crit­i­cism ranges from sug­ges­tions of rank cyn­i­cism – they knew this would annoy peo­ple, thus gen­er­at­ing cov­er­age – to a sense that Brew­Dog (to whom the nick­name BroDog has occa­sion­al­ly been applied) is the equiv­a­lent of “that lad from your A‑level pol­i­tics class who makes ‘get back in the kitchen’ jokes but it’s OK because he’s being ‘iron­ic’ and is actu­al­ly a ‘fem­i­nist’”. (@alys_key) It’s juve­nile, it’s tone deaf, it’s an attempt to co-opt a seri­ous cam­paign to sell beer. And so on.

Now, from our point of view, the idea itself does­n’t seem so dread­ful even if the exe­cu­tion is ter­ri­bly clum­sy. Yes, it might be time for them to admit that a very large, very suc­cess­ful busi­ness is not a great vehi­cle for social com­men­tary or satire – the phrase, we believe, is ‘punch­ing down’ – but we sus­pect this is intend­ed sin­cere­ly, or as sin­cere­ly as a mar­ket­ing stunt can ever be. We believe there are peo­ple in man­age­ment at Brew­Dog, which remem­ber is very much more than Watt & Dick­ie these days, who care about these issues and real­ly are try­ing to find a way to use the com­pa­ny’s clout for good.

But those who are more trou­bled by this than us (and we don’t ques­tion their right to be) find them­selves in a quandary. Do they ignore it, thus giv­ing Brew­Dog a pass? Or do they call it out, thus giv­ing Brew­Dog pub­lic­i­ty?

We’ve long sus­pect­ed that Brew­Dog’s mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy is to embed itself into the minds of peo­ple out­side the beer bub­ble because that’s the only way to make sense of some its more sur­pris­ing deci­sions. We dare­say they’d have pre­ferred to go viral today because the reac­tion to this stunt was pos­i­tive, but they’ll prob­a­bly cope with the hurt feel­ings by reflect­ing on how they trend­ed on Twit­ter, got par­o­died by oth­er mon­ster brands, and were the focus of com­ment after com­ment after com­ment in the glob­al main­stream.

To put that anoth­er way, peo­ple might be say­ing, “Brew­Dog – what a bunch of wankers!”, but at least they’re say­ing Brew­Dog, over and over again.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 2 September 2017: Coopers, Commons, CAMRA Cash

Here’s all the beer- and pub-writing that grabbed our attention in the past week, from yeasty Aussie beer to beer-and-life-event pairing.

Phil Cook at the Beer Diary brings an inter­est­ing bit of evi­dence to the table on the hazy beer debate, pro­vid­ing an over­looked (by us) Aus­tralian per­spec­tive:

Not long ago, when Coop­ers Sparkling was the local paragon of ‘good beer’, Aus­tralian brew­ers got into the habit of fog­ging up their beers seem­ing­ly just to emu­late it and bor­row some of its pres­tige. Like­wise, some brew­ers of juice-bomb East Coast IPAs exag­ger­ate their haze with addi­tives select­ed sole­ly for that pur­pose, and not in pur­suit of tasti­er beer as such. Such trick­ery is indeed obnox­ious, but it’s the cheat­ing, not the cloudi­ness, that offends me.

The Commons brewery building.

Jeff Alworth at Beer­vana pro­vides a heart­felt reac­tion to news of the clo­sure of a brew­ery he loved, The Com­mons, which oper­ates in his home base of Port­land, Ore­gon:

But the very thing that made The Com­mons beloved by some–and they prob­a­bly have more super­fans than Deschutes–made it mys­te­ri­ous to most. It was the Vel­vet Under­ground of brew­eries, mak­ing excep­tion­al beer most peo­ple did­n’t under­stand. Any brew­ery that rou­tine­ly offers mild ales and micro­biere (a tiny sai­son) but not IPA is defin­ing them­selves far out­side the main­stream. The Com­mons spent years field­ing the same ques­tion from con­fused patrons: ‘which one’s the IPA?’For a time, they were absurd­ly guid­ing peo­ple to Myr­tle, a sai­son in which astute drinkers might detect the pres­ence of hop aro­ma. That was their sop to the mass­es.

His sug­ges­tion that the depar­ture of the head brew­er was an ear­ly dan­ger sign is an inter­est­ing one, too – some­thing to watch out for in what may or may not be a peri­od of strife?

Bass on Draught plaque outside an English pub.

Mar­tin Tay­lor AKA retired­martin has been reflect­ing on Bass, a beer with which we are also slight­ly obsessed, as a man­i­festo con­tin­ues to emerge from his reports of vis­it­ing every Good Beer Guide pub in Britain:

Some of you may have noticed my predilec­tion for Draught Bass, but it’s a com­plex rela­tion­ship… If hon­est, I’d pre­fer it if only a land­lord who cared about Bass served it, like the Black Lion in Leighton Buz­zard so clear­ly does… Top beers like Young’s, Adnams and Land­lord saw their rep­u­ta­tion decline as their beers went into chain pubs with more hand-pumps than cus­tomers, and I fear Bass has suf­fered by being served too ear­ly, or too long, in many pubs.

We’ve noticed an improve­ment in Bass, and in Young’s Ordi­nary, in recent years and think he might be on to some­thing here. And might not a Good Bass Guide – a slim vol­ume – be a use­ful pub­li­ca­tion?

Mariage Parfait.

We don’t often include trip reports here for one rea­son and anoth­er but this account of a vis­it to Edin­burgh from Katie at The Snap & The Hiss has at its cen­tre a love­ly moment of per­son­al impor­tance, paired, of course, with a suit­able beer.

This osten­si­bly rather bor­ing bit of behind-the-scenes CAMRA busi­ness might be one of the most impor­tant sto­ries of the week: the Cam­paign is expe­ri­enc­ing some finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties because ‘rev­enue was like­ly to be less than the amount fore­cast at the start of the finan­cial year, and upon which the organisation’s spend­ing plans were based’. In oth­er words, peo­ple are lit­er­al­ly not buy­ing what CAMRA is sell­ing. We will watch how this devel­ops with inter­est. (Morn­ing Adver­tis­er)

Mean­while, Brew­Dog has done some­thing gen­uine­ly inter­est­ing and refresh­ing­ly straight­for­ward: its own­ers have pledged to give 10 per cent of prof­its to char­i­ty, and 10 per cent to employ­ees on an ongo­ing basis. Brew­Dog haters will no doubt roll their eyes at this but it’s much bold­er and clear­er than most cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty pro­grammes. And when a firm can start giv­ing mon­ey away, you have to sus­pect it’s doing alright, don’t you?

And, final­ly, as signs of the times go, this is hard to beat:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 3 June 2017: Rating, Flyposting, Logging

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the last week, from flyposting to secret manoeuvring.

First, the big sto­ry of the week: for Good Beer Hunt­ing Dave Eisen­berg has fer­ret­ed out the news that Rate­beer, the web­site where seri­ous beer geeks log scores and notes for the beers they drink, is now part­ly owned by AB-InBev:

Through its so-called ‘glob­al dis­rup­tive growth group’ ZX Ven­tures, Anheuser-Busch InBev has acquired a minor­i­ty stake in Rate­Beer, one of the most pop­u­lar and rep­utable beer rat­ings and resource web­sites in the world… But the deal isn’t exact­ly new. In fact, it closed this past Octo­ber fol­low­ing eight months of talks.

That last bit is the weird wrin­kle here. Usu­al­ly, takeovers or part­ner­ships, or what­ev­er you want to call them, are announced imme­di­ate­ly, but this was kept qui­et (to para­phrase GBH’s report) so that the part­ners could prove that Rate­Beer would­n’t be changed by the arrange­ment. Read­ing between the lines what that means is that they were wor­ried about sud­den­ly los­ing half the mem­ber­ship overnight, which might still hap­pen.

(GBH has con­nec­tions with AB-InBev which are set out in a dis­clo­sure state­ment mid­way through the arti­cle. Judge for your­self whether you think this has skewed the report­ing; we think point­ed­ly not.)

Biscuit beers on a blackboard.

Barm at I Might Have a Glass of Refresh­ing Beer (AKA @robsterowski) attend­ed the Edin­burgh Craft Beer Fes­ti­val and used the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on ‘wacky’ beers and craft beer cul­ture:

Do you remem­ber a cou­ple of years ago, when cup­cake shops were pop­ping up left, right and cen­tre, pur­vey­ing sick­ly sweet icing (sor­ry, ‘frost­ing’) atop a tiny sponge cake base? Despite being most­ly white sug­ar and refined flour, and unut­ter­ably dis­gust­ing to boot, they found ready cheer­lead­ers among food media that nor­mal­ly pray duti­ful­ly to the idols of local ingre­di­ents and fresh pro­duce… This appears to be the phase that ‘craft’ brew­ers are now pass­ing through.

It’s inter­est­ing that some peo­ple seem to have read this post as a slam of a fes­ti­val – ‘Why go to events you know you’re going to hate?’ – but, despite the author’s gen­er­al ten­den­cy to speak his mind, this struck us as quite an objec­tive, ulti­mate­ly pos­i­tive account: ‘I did enjoy myself, much to my sur­prise. More to the point, the pun­ters who’d forked out to get in seemed to be hav­ing a good time too.’

BrewDog bottles in a supermarket.

Suzy AKA The Pub Geek is not impressed by Brew­Dog’s lat­est crowd mar­ket­ing cam­paign:

They’re ask­ing their ‘Equi­ty Punks’ to fly­post across a coun­try which car­ries a poten­tial £80 fine (high­er for Scot­tish ‘punks’) leg­is­lat­ed by the High­ways Act 1980. Not only do Brew­dog want  the ‘Equi­ty Punks’ doing unpaid labour for the cause but they’re poten­tial­ly break­ing the law and they have actu­al­ly paid for this priv­i­lege.

Detail from an old brewing log.

Brew­er and beer writer Mitch Steele, late of Stone Brew­ing, is wor­ried about the decline of the leather-bound hard copy brew­ing log and what that means for the lega­cy of the craft beer era:

I sus­pect there are a lot of craft brew­ers over the years who have fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern. They have grad­u­at­ed from hand­writ­ten brew logs, that are filed and stored in a box some­where, to spread­sheets, or maybe even to more com­plex equip­ment sup­pli­er auto­mat­ed data­bas­es or ERP sys­tems. But in 100 years, who is going to be able to find any of it if they want to doc­u­ment how beers were brewed dur­ing our cur­rent times? Espe­cial­ly if brew­eries con­tin­ue to grow quick­ly or get sold or close shop… I’m won­der­ing right now if a con­cert­ed effort could be made by the indus­try to pre­serve some brew­ing logs from ear­ly craft brew­ers in a safe place, like a library or a muse­um, where researchers in the future could go back and learn about the tech­niques and ingre­di­ents being used today.

Mild taste-off: multiple milds in plastic beakers.

Ryan Moses, AKA The Beer Coun­sel­lor, has tak­en a month to organ­ise his thoughts on the takeover of Wicked Weed by AB-InBev before reach­ing any con­clu­sions. Acknowl­edg­ing the full range of argu­ments he has nonethe­less con­clud­ed that buy­ing local is best thing con­sumers can do in this sit­u­a­tion:

Let your love of craft beer inform your buy­ing deci­sions of what and where you buy.  If you have local brew­eries near you, fre­quent them.  Buy their beer, their growlers, and their swag.  If you go to a local brew­ery and their beer isn’t as good as you had hoped, don’t frag them on social media. Send a per­son­al email or let­ter to the owner/brewer express­ing your con­cerns in a thought­ful and respect­ful man­ner. We must be the ones who con­trol craft beer. Not the face­less con­glom­er­ates who could just as eas­i­ly be sell­ing ball bear­ings rather than beer.

Coun­ter­point: Michael Agnew at A Per­fect Pint argues (using the strongest of strong lan­guage) that crit­ics have a right, if not a duty, to ‘be mean’:

The crit­i­cism of my cri­tique is often that I’m not giv­ing brew­ers a chance. I’m too quick to name the prob­lems. These brew­ers are young and pas­sion­ate. They have dreams. I’m step­ping on these dreams when all they need is time to work things out. It’s a dif­fi­cult step to go from brew­ing ten gal­lons at a time to brew­ing ten bar­rels. Rather than pub­licly call­ing them out, I should go in and talk to them… In what oth­er indus­try do we say this?

We’re prob­a­bly more Agnew than Moses here but we think blog­ger and some­time blog com­menter Dave S has this right:

A screengrab of the Braciatrix blog.

And, final­ly, a rec­om­men­da­tion for a blog to watch rather than a point­er to spe­cif­ic post: at Bra­ci­a­trix Christi­na Wade is con­sid­er­ing ‘the his­to­ry of beer through the women who brewed, con­sumed, sold, and some­times, opposed it’. So far it’s prov­ing to be some­thing quite fresh. Take a look.

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 1 April 2017: China, Cream, Cask

Here’s all the beer news, beer writing and beer blogging that’s caught our attention in the past seven days, from China to Bamberg.

For For­tune mag­a­zine Scott Cendrows­ki reports on AB-InBev’s approach to crack­ing the Chi­nese mar­ket, where a lack of com­pe­ti­tion reg­u­la­tion makes it easy to lean on small­er brew­ers:

John Guy, a quick-talk­ing Aus­tralian whose ­McCawley’s chain of bars in south­ern Chi­na had sales last year top­ping $10 mil­lion, says he has heard of bar own­ers being offered 1 mil­lion yuan (about $150,000) to switch all their draft beer to AB InBev brands. Guy prides him­self on his range of over­seas craft beers and says he would nev­er accept such a deal. But oth­er bar own­ers don’t have the same choice. ‘Some bars run at break-even and make mon­ey on tap bonuses—$15,000 a year on some,’ he says.

(Via @thebeernut.)

A sinister character on the phone, in silhouette.

Con­tin­u­ing the theme Steve Body at The Pour Fool has a typ­i­cal­ly enter­tain­ing, eccen­tric, fire-spit­ting tirade against AB-InBev which con­cludes that they’ve for­ev­er defiled the term ‘craft beer’ and are there­fore wel­come to it. Here’s his account of AB-InBev’s provoca­tive par­ty line, deliv­ered by what Body calls a ‘suit’ who some­how, creep­i­ly, acquired his mobile phone num­ber:

You should know that we con­sid­er the term “craft brew­ing” a mis­nomer. “Craft brew­ing” is what WE do. “Craft” implies pre­ci­sion and skill and the adher­ence to the proven stan­dards and tech­niques of brew­ing. What all these lit­tle brew­eries do is ama­teur brew­ing.’

(His pro­posed alter­na­tive term is ‘indie beer’ which, of course, has been around for years, along with many oth­er vari­ants.)

Adapt­ed from an image at A Bet­ter Beer Blog.

Alan McLeod at A Bet­ter Beer Blog (the artist for­mer­ly known as A Good Beer Blog) has been inves­ti­gat­ing the term ‘cream’ as used in rela­tion to beer over the years. His con­clu­sion? As we read it, it’s that his­tor­i­cal­ly there is no fixed mean­ing, or even con­ti­nu­ity – it’s just an appeal­ing sound­ing word that helps to sell beer:

When you con­sid­er all that, I am brought back to how look­ing at beer through the lens of “style” ties lan­guage to tech­nique a bit too tight­ly for my com­fort. The styl­ist might sug­gest that in 1860, this brew­ery brewed an XX ale and in 1875 that brew­ery brewed an XX ale so they must be some way some how the same thing. I would quib­ble in two ways. Fif­teen years is a long time in the con­cep­tu­al insta­bil­i­ty of beer and, even if the two beers were con­tem­po­raries, a key point for each brew­ery was dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. The beers would not be the same even if they were sim­i­lar.

(See also: gold­en ale.)

Brakspear beer mat from (probably) the 1990s.

Feel­ing some­how relat­ed is a post from Phil Edwards at Oh Good Ale! in which he high­lights the fragili­ty of the iden­ti­ty of any giv­en beer over time, espe­cial­ly where takeovers and merg­ers play a part:

[From] the moment a brew­ery is tak­en over, its beers are effec­tive­ly dead. More pre­cise­ly, from the moment a brew­ery is tak­en over, its beers may cease to exist – or be replaced by infe­ri­or sub­sti­tutes – at any time, and there’s noth­ing any­one out­side the new own­er com­pa­ny can do about it. The new own­er hasn’t bought beers, it’s bought brands and their mar­ket share. If the new own­er is gen­uine­ly com­mit­ted to mak­ing decent beer, the beer back­ing up those brands may con­tin­ue to be good, but even that can’t be guar­an­teed – and, of course, the new own­er can’t actu­al­ly be held to account by any­one else. Even when the new own­er con­tin­ues to make a par­tic­u­lar beer the old way, nobody can tell whether they’re going to start cut­ting cor­ners or sim­ply stop mak­ing it – let alone stop them doing so.

Lone Wolf spirits logo.

For the record, but rather tedious: Those of you who fol­low the Mid­lands Beer Blog Col­lec­tive or, indeed, read these round-ups of ours every Sat­ur­day, will have heard about Brew­Dog’s trade­mark run in with a Birm­ing­ham pub sev­er­al weeks ago, but the sto­ry only blew up in the main­stream in the last week via Rob Davies in the Guardian. If you’re after a soap opera, here it is: James Watt of Brew­Dog respond­ed; there were claims, counter-claims and calls for boy­cotts; and lots of peo­ple made essen­tial­ly the same obser­va­tion: ‘Not very punk, guys!’

Our take? We don’t think this does any more harm to Brew­Dog than any pre­vi­ous PR dis­as­ter – indeed, it con­tributes to the Main Objec­tive – and it seems aston­ish­ing to us that there are still peo­ple out there who are sur­prised to dis­cov­er that James Watt is a prag­mat­ic busi­ness­man rather than a mav­er­ick free­dom fight­er.

Twitter Intel

Drip-drip-drip… Ear­li­er this year Cloud­wa­ter trig­gered a scare around the health of cask ale. Now, from Melis­sa Cole, here’s news of anoth­er bruise that may or may not be a symp­tom of a more seri­ous ail­ment:

And from the won­der­ful­ly nosy Will Hawkes, there’s the inter­est­ing news that Mahrs Bräu of Bam­berg is plan­ning to start brew­ing a ver­sion of its beer in the UK:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 March 2017: Bibles, BrewDog, Bulldogs

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related news and reading that’s seized our attention in the last week, from marriage equality in Australia to takeover tremors at BrewDog.

A quick men­tion, first, for Nathaniel South­wood whose post on why he’s done with beer fes­ti­vals went mild­ly viral on Red­dit this week, some­what to his sur­prise. We’re also fes­ti­val scep­tics and so, it seems, are plen­ty of oth­er peo­ple out there.

Portrait shot of Mike Marcus.

For Brew­ers’ Jour­nal edi­tor Tim Shea­han has pro­filed Mike Mar­cus, the out­spo­ken founder of Man­ches­ter’s Chorl­ton Brew­ing Co. At times aggres­sive­ly polit­i­cal on social media, and com­mit­ted to pro­duc­ing chal­leng­ing beers, his com­ments come across as refresh­ing­ly unvar­nished:

Some peo­ple can’t under­stand why we don’t have a busi­ness mod­el to sell to a big­ger busi­ness. Sure you have some excep­tions in the UK with the sales of Mean­time and Cam­den Town but with some­thing like 1,700 brew­eries, how many are going to exit like that. Ten, maybe. Who knows? I want an investor that backs me and works with me. It’s why we’ve nev­er done crowd­fund­ing, every­one is look­ing for an exit.

A glass of beer at BrewDog Bristol.

With that segue, let’s turn to Brew­Dog: in the last cou­ple of weeks the Scot­tish brew­ery has writ­ten to share­hold­ers (PDF) and post­ed on the forum for ‘Equi­ty Punks’ (crowd-fund­ing back­ers) with news of changes which pave the way for an out­side investor to acquire a 30 per cent share of the com­pa­ny by, in effect, down­grad­ing the val­ue of shares held by small­er investors. There’s a short sum­ma­ry of the main points by Kad­him Shub­ber at the Finan­cial Times (reg­is­tra­tion required) and Glynn Davis at Beer Insid­er pro­vides help­ful com­men­tary:

Crowd-fund­ing is being mar­ket­ed to very small investors who prob­a­bly do not have much finance expe­ri­ence. They think they are buy­ing ‘shares’ but if their pre-emp­tion rights are being wide­ly removed as an orig­i­nal con­di­tion, then they are not get­ting what any rea­son­able per­son would view as equi­ty… I strong­ly sus­pect that the FCA (Finan­cial Con­duct Author­i­ty) will be along short­ly to inform Brew­Dog, Crowd­Cube et al of this very fact.

Detail aside, this tells us that a move every­one has been wait­ing for is final­ly under­way. We doubt very much that the par­tic­u­lar investor Brew­Dog is court­ing is a big mul­ti-nation­al brew­ery – they’ve just banged on about that so much when they did­n’t need to that we can’t see it hap­pen­ing. But who knows.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 18 March 2017: Bibles, Brew­Dog, Bull­dogs”