We’re back on this again: should consumers be told, at point of sale, if a beer is brewed somewhere other than at the brewery whose name it bears?
Bristol Beer Factory is a substantial, well-established brewery, so we had no reason to doubt that its Infinity lager is brewed here in Bristol. And because we never doubted it, we never thought to research it.
If we had, we’d have found this page on the website which explains its provenance in some detail:
For lager that was particularly important and challenging for us with our restrictions on space to fit the necessary bespoke lager tanks into our compact site on North Street. Anyone who has been on a tour of our brewery will know that space is already at a massive premium. Thus, the reason we have not brewed a lager before now: we did not have the space to add the necessary tanks and equipment to brew a world-class lager. So, it became clear, we needed to find a creative solution… We started looking all over for a partner brewery… Utopian Brewery, near Crediton Devon, had recently been set up by Richard Archer and were now producing fantastically brewed, British lagers… [and] we quickly established that Utopian were the brewery that we were looking for.
That is a pretty decent degree of transparency, isn’t it?
You might observe that this important information is delivered quite a long way down quite a long page, after a history of Helles as a style – why not put it in the first paragraph?
But maybe that’s quibbling.
The problem is that where we really need the information, as buyers, is on the front of the can, or the font in the pub, or the beer menu, or the blackboard with the beer list.
When we Tweeted about this the other night we certainly didn’t think it was a ‘scoop’. If anything, we felt a bit daft.
How could we, living in Bristol and reasonably switched on to goings-on in the industry, have missed this important detail?
And if we didn’t know, what are the chances that most people ordering a pint in the pub will have any idea at all?
“But they probably don’t care!”
Well, imaginary heckler, we come back to a point we’ve made before: if it doesn’t matter where it’s from, why put Bristol in the name of your brewery? There’s clearly some perceived value in local, independent, and all those other nice ideas.
People in Bristol, perhaps more than in many other parts of the UK, like to buy Bristol Things – or, if they must, Somerset or Gloucestershire Things. Devon? Might as well be Tasmania.
On Twitter, Ed Wray provided a reason why transparency might be difficult:
That makes sense.
Let’s say Bristol Beer Factory decides to put ‘Brewed by our friends at Utopian in Devon’ on packaging and in point-of-sale copy.
Then, two months later, they decide they need to increase capacity and start working with a second partner, or switch to a bigger brewing partner.
They’d have to reprint labels, reissue font lenses, update website pages, brief staff and customers…
Keeping it vague certainly makes sense in terms of efficiency.
As consumers, this is very much not our problem. But we get it.
What this has done is reminded us to check the origins of craft lagers.
Is (some) Lost & Grounded Helles still being brewed in Belgium, for example? We think so, but there’s no easy way to find out.