Categories
marketing

Killian’s, Irish red ale and French beer drinkers, 1978

During 1978, Guinness got twitchy: a new beer was muscling in on their turf in France. Did George Killian’s Irish Red present a threat, or an opportunity?

From its London base at Park Royal, Guinness commissioned Market Behaviour Limited to go to France and investigate:

RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

1. To study the premium beer market sector in France. To explore beer drinkers’ attitudes towards the sector and the various brands of beer within that sector. (The research concentrated on the bottled beers within the sector.)

2. To explore attitudes towards Killian’s, and to find out which elements of the marketing mix are leading to its current success.

3. To undertake exploratory research into the idea of a new bottled beer to compete with Killian’s, positioned somewhere between the Spéciale and Luxe categories. To explore reactions to the new beer both with and without the Guinness connection.

The report they turned in in December 1978 is interesting not only because it provides more information on the creation of a new beer style but also because it hints at the craft beer culture to come.

The best place to start with the story of Killian’s is Martyn Cornell’s recent in-depth piece on its genesis at Zythophile. It was that which reminded us of the document we’ll be digging into in this post, which we got hold of via former Guinness head brewer Alan Coxon’s papers.

In summary, though, it was launched in 1974 by the French brewery Pelforth, based on a strong ale recipe bought from the Irish firm of Lett & Co., and presented to the French market as a traditional Irish ‘style’. It was a huge success which made other breweries keen to produce their own takes on Irish red ale. That included Guinness.

Commodity blonde vs. quality rousse

Guinness’s market research team focused on drinkers of what we would probably call premium beer – why, and when, did they consider it worth upgrading?

The majority of people seem to split their beer drinking into two main categories: firstly, occasions when the taste and quality of the beer are thought to be important enough for the drinker to exercise his choice in terms of the type of beer, (blonde, brune, rousse, Geuze) and the brand; and secondly occasions where the taste and quality of the beer are far less important and the drinker tends. to choose a cheaper brand of ‘blonde’ beer, almost as a ‘commodity’ product.

French beer drinkers appear to take more care in choosing their beer when they want to relax and when their objective is the enjoyment of the beer. On these occasions they tend to choose a slightly more expensive beer which they feel has a more identifiable taste than an ‘ordinary beer’. This would, for instance, be the occasion when the majority of drinkers of ‘rousse’ and ‘brune’ beers would switch from drinking an ordinary French ‘blonde’ to their favourite type of beer, and when confirmed ‘blonde’ drinkers would switch from an ordinary French ‘blonde’ to either a foreign ‘blonde’ beer or a better quality French ‘blonde’ beer.

However, most of the beer drinkers to whom we spoke tended to drink an ordinary French ‘blonde’ beer most of the time. The ‘normal’ beer to drink in the cafe/ brasserie/bistro is a ‘demi’ of the establishment’s draught ‘blonde’ beer, which is usually an ordinary French ‘blonde’. The important feature of this type of drinking is that, most of the time, the drinker is not aware of which brand of ‘demi’ he is drinking.

A few things strike us as interesting there:

  1. The perceived connection between the colour of a beer and its depth of flavour. We all know that pale beers can be flavourful, and that dark beers can be bland, but there is still a popular perception that darkness equates to intensity.
  1. The idea that people could identify as drinkers of quality beer some of the time while also enjoying necking “Whatever normal lager you have, mate,” on other occasions.
  1. That brand becomes more important with ‘savouring’ beers.

The research confirmed that, almost overnight, French drinkers had accepted the existence of a new style, even though only one example of that style existed:

The research seems to indicate that George Killian’s has been successfully introduced into the French beer market.

The majority of people accept [Bières Rousses] as a legitimate category and not just a description of George Killian’s beer… George Killian’s seems to have attracted beer drinkers because it aroused their curiosity through its unique positioning as a ‘rousse’ beer and because of its taste. Killian’s originally drew its drinkers from ‘blonde’ drinkers as well as ‘brune’ drinkers, but we feel that its major appeal now lies with ‘blonde’ drinkers who are seeking something more than a ‘blonde’ beer but who do not want the heaviness or the bitterness of a real ‘brune’ beer. We feel that a ‘rousse’ beer will not have great appeal to the majority of ‘brune’ drinkers as it lacks the bitterness and heaviness which are characteristics which these people look for in a beer.

Reading that, we can’t help but think of the success of Camden Hells and similar ‘mainstream upgrade’ beers. If the majority of drinkers like standard lager, giving them something a bit more characterful, but not too scary, is a good way to win market share.

The researchers also reached the conclusion that beer was primarily drunk in France as an accompaniment to a night out with “the lads” (their phrase). On almost every other occasion, wine, spirits, coffee or other drinks were preferred. Beer was also seen as almost exclusively a drink for men; when asked why women might drink beer, one respondent said:

Par snobisme essentiellement. Vous ne pensez pas qu’elles le font pour fair plaisir a l’homme? (To be fashionable, essentially. Don’t you think that they do it to please the man?”)

Another interesting finding was that Killian’s was popular with drinkers in France despite being French, and despite being a Pelforth product. An imported product, with Guinness’s name attached, would surely be able to steal some of Killian’s thunder.

The result of all this activity was, we think, the launch of a stronger version of Smithwick’s under the name Kilkenny – hey, that sounds a bit like Killian! – on to the French market in the 1980s.

Categories
Beer history

Harp: the cool blonde lager born in Ireland

Harp Lager was once a household name in the UK but, never much loved by beer geeks, and outpaced by sexier international brands, has all but disappeared.

It was launched in Ireland in 1960 as Guinness’s attempt to steal a slice of the growing lager market, hitting the UK in 1961. It is still brewed in Dublin and apparently remains popular in Northern Ireland. We can’t recall ever seeing it on sale in England, though – even in the kind of social clubs where you might still find Whitbread Bitter or Bass Mild.

There’s always something fascinating about brands that arrive, dominate, and disappear. Harp Lager in particular is interesting because of the sheer amount of time, money and energy which Guinness sunk into it over the course of decades; because it provided a glimpse into the era of multinational brewing that was just around the corner; and because it tells a story about the early days of the late 20th century UK lager boom.

The tale begins in the post-war era when, for reasons that are much debated, British drinkers began to turn away from cask ale and towards bottled beer, with hints that lager might be the next big thing.

Guinness was then very clearly an Anglo-Irish business, with major brewing operations at both Park Royal in London and at St James’s Gate in Dublin, and managed largely from London.

Categories
Beer history

Hobnobbing with Guinness, 1963

In June 1963, Guinness welcomed assorted members of the British press to Park Royal and then St James Gate on a three day tour (or bender) in the company of some of Guinness’s most senior executives and, of course, Norris McWhirter.

McWhirter was serving at the time as information officer for Guinness, as well as compiler in chief of the Guinness Book of Records. He led an, erm, interesting life.

Most of the main newspapers of the day were represented on the invite list for the press tour, including The Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Daily Mail.

The official press pack set out the itinerary for the three days, has biographies of key personnel and some distinctly corporate Fun Facts.

There is also a distinct focus on labour relations, highlighting that “all brewery personnel up to Foreman level are Union members” and setting out the sick pay policy in some detail. Was the idea, at least in part, to reassure investors that Guinness was not vulnerable to industrial action, as some other businesses, such as the UK branch of Ford, had begun to seem at the time?

Once the party had been flown to Dublin, things got even more highfalutin, with a dinner including the Taoiseach, the Governor of the Bank of Ireland and the President of the Dublin stock exchange.

The following day’s tour of the Dublin brewery included a “private interview” with the President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera.

Once all the obligatory hobnobbing concluded, our intrepid journalists had the option to stay on for a third day of shopping, touring and visiting the Navan races.

We don’t have any context for this document, so we don’t know if this was an annual affair or a one off and if so, what the reasons were for it.

We do know, thanks to an internal document of expected questions and answers, that they were expecting a wide range of questions on just about everything from production and sales to employment practices.

There were particular sections on Draught Guinness, Harp lager and continuous brewing, which were all new areas for Guinness, as well as questions relating to their acquisition of the Nuttall Confectionery Group in 1961. (A tour of Callard & Bowser was included in the Park Royal leg of the trip).

Below is a sample of the questions and prepared answers. The last one, be prepared, might seem slightly startling.

Is Guinness Really Good for you?
Yes, we have many thousands of testimonies from the medical professional as the value of Guinness.

How much do you spend [on advertising?
About one third of a penny per bottle overall.

Is Dublin stout brewed for Britain the same as Park Royal Stout?
Yes.

Do you contemplate another brew?
No.

A quick note: they’d just launched Harp Lager so this was about whether they planned to expand the range any further and launch, say, a mango IPA.

How can you expect to do well with beer now that wine and spirit drinking is a “done” thing?
It is true that wine sales are going up quickly but only a comparatively small amount is drunk by a particular section of the population.

What about failure of Common Market Negotiation?
This has not changed our picture. Our main trade within the European Common Market is with Belgium and France where Guinness has always been regarded as a speciality drink commanding a higher price than regular beers.

Why did you build a brewery in Nigeria?
Because it is more economical to brew and bottle locally than to import in bottle as we were doing previously. It is our biggest single overseas market.

Was it wise politically?
We have no reason to think otherwise.

You can read more about the Guinness brewery in Nigeria here.

It has been said that Harp lager sales have been disappointing – is this so?
All lager sales have been disappointing for the past year or two, but Harp distribution was right up to our estimates and sales were not far short.

Is this venture wise – you are now in direct competition with other brewers?
Our Harp lager venture has not in any way prejudiced our happy relations with other brewers.

Why are you selling SS Guinness? Has cross-channel trade declined?
Because it is 32 years old. Our cross-channel trade has NOT declined.

Does Guinness own a computer?
No.

If not, why not?
With our present volume of work, it is more economical to hire time than to own a computer.

Do you employ coloured people at Park Royal?
Yes, from time to time.

What was behind that final question? Were they expecting to be told off for employing black staff, or congratulated for it? That very brief, blunt answer seems designed to avoid the topic.

This is another item from the vast collection of Guinness documents Fiona shared with us last year. We’re slowly working through, digesting and sharing.

Categories
Beer history

Complexifying Guinness, 1967

We’ve shared a few accounts of how Guinness was produced in its heyday and here’s yet another, focusing on the conditioning and packaging stage.

It comes from the spring 1967 edition of Guinness Time, the staff magazine for the London brewery at Park Royal, and picks up on a piece from winter 1966 on the brewing process proper which, unfortunately, we’ve never managed to get hold of.

Men at work.
“Albert Addison supervising our own bottling line with fitter Bill Morse looking on.”

Here’s where this piece begins:

Storage – The beer is stored in large stainless steel vats, the two largest of which can each hold a whole day’s brew, about 160,000 gallons. The beer remains in storage vat for between three and ten days and during this period a certain amount of maturation takes place…

A brewery worker looking into a vat.
“Yeast’s eye view of Bill Childs dipping a racking vat.”

The section that really grabbed our attention, because it provides specific detail about a sometimes mysterious part of the process, is entitled ‘Make-up’:

Beer cannot be despatched direct from the storage vat, for it is quite flat and tastes rather uninteresting in this state. So to form the famous Guinness head when the beer is poured and to give it life and sparkle when it is drunk, we blend in a small of amount of gyle, which is beer containing malt-sugars and yeast… but which has not been allowed to ferment. This we achieve either by using the beer immediately after declaration to the excise officer or, if we want to use it the next day, by chilling it in the storehouse…

The blending of the gyle with storage vat beer is known as the ‘make-up’ and takes place daily in the racking vat. It also affords an opportunity of blending several days’ brewings together, to even out the inevitable small differences that exist between different days’ brewings. Various other beers are added, such as barm beer from the yeast presses, which are pasteurised before the make-up.

A man checking meters.
“Senior jackman Tom McCann on duty in the sight room.”

Workers on the shop floor.
“Vatman Tom Jones couples up prior to bottoming a storage vat, with Peter McMullen looking on from the electric truck.”

That’s the bottled product; here’s the draught process:

Meanwhile, in the racking vathouse, Draught Guinness will have been made up in the same way as the Extra Stout but with a slightly lower proportion of gyle since the beer is processed rather differently. The aim of this processing is to turn the still rather unexciting racking vat beer into the attractive palatable final product, for when Draught Guinness leaves the brewery it must be in all respects ready for drinking.

After conditioning in tanks, the beer was run through a pasteuriser at 190°F (88°C) before being put into specially designed casks (kegs).

That’s fascinating for two reasons.

First, there’s an acknowledgement that without blending with mature beer, Guinness was a bit boring.

Secondly, Draught Guinness was, in fact, distinctly less interesting than bottled, as beer geeks always insisted.

Categories
News pubs

News, nuggets and longreads for 27 July 2019: Majorca, Manchester, meniscus

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from London brewers in Dublin to Irish pubs in Majorca.

First, some news – recently released statistics on pub closures seem to suggest that the rate at which they’re disappearing has slowed:

There were 42,450 pubs at the beginning of 2018 but 914 fewer by the end of the year, a rate of 76 net closures a month. But 235 vanished during the first half of this year, or nearly 40 a month, according to government statistics… The commercial real estate consultancy Altus Group, which compiled the data, said government measures designed to staunch the flow of pub closures appeared to be having some effect.


The Brown Cow pub.
SOURCE: Manchester’s Estate Pubs

It’s always exciting to see that there’s been a new post by Stephen Marland at Manchester’s Estate Pubs and this week we got two:

There’s the usual poignancy and the usual mix of photography, near poetry and history, now with added spice from notes by the late Alan Winfield.


Beer foam

At The Pursuit of Abbeyness Martin Steward has been reflecting on the magical properties of beer foam:

There is something in cask-ale culture that has long looked with distaste upon an abundance of bubbles. In this world, quite at odds with that of the bottle-conditioning Belgians, fizz is foreign. The bartender who can pump a pint of Bitter to the meniscus-straining lip of a session glass achieves the approbation of the penny-pinching pub-goer… These old geezers were the ur-Icemen… Do I commit an injustice against them? Is this an aesthetic choice, rather than one of economy? Or perhaps an ideological one—a manifesto statement on the seriousness of cask ale?


Alcudia
SOURCE: Lady Sinks the Booze

Kirsty is back! An account of crawling around Irish and English pubs in Spain might not immediately seem as if it’s going to be essential reading but her writing could make notes on a trip to Tesco entertaining:

Like everyone has a favourite ring on the cooker, everyone has a favourite corner of the bar, and mine is front right for both. I think I had a John Smiths, I can’t remember, but it certainly wouldn’t be anything either craft or Spanish. I was on holiday from more than work, I declared myself on holiday from beer geekery… When we returned to O’Malley’s the following day, our host actually greeted us. “How’s life Richi?” asked Darren with a cheery demeanor. Richi shrugged. “You want the real answer or the bullshit customer answer?” We asked for the real answer. “I hate my life, I hate my job, I wish I was on holiday like you, now what do you want?”


Partizan menu at Guinness
SOURCE: The Beer Nut

We hadn’t heard about the collaboration between English craft brewery Partizan and Guinness until the Beer Nut posted a typically sharp review of the beers:

It was odd seeing some internet opprobrium being meted out to London brewer Partizan when they announced they had created a collaboration series of beers with the Guinness Open Gate Brewery. Craft die-hards taking a pop at the macros and anyone too close to them is not unusual, but I didn’t see anyone having a go at another Londoner, 40FT, when it did something similar. Partizan seems to be held to a different standard… Three collaboration brews were created, two at Open Gate and one at Partizan. The theme of the series was Italian-style aperitifs.

Finally, here’s a useful signpost:

For more reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s round-up from Monday and Alan McLeod’s from Thursday.