Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A fruit-based beverage for the laydeez?

Link here and here.

It's interesting the creator declares "The way real ale is branded is an absolute turn-off for girls at the moment. Imagine any of my friends walking up to a barman and ordering a pint of "Old Ruddy Fart" yet insists on describing her beer as "real ale". Surely the neutral "beer" would have been more suitable.

It's curious that she's aiming for a type of consumer usually neglected by brewers - women - yet seeks CAMRA's questionable seal of approval by having Paula Waters, chairman of CAMRA pulling the first pint. If I was creating a beer brand for women I'd be banning the words "pint" and "ale" as, in my experience, they are a big turn-off for many women. 

Surely making a song and dance about CAMRA's seal of approval is not going to help in selling this beer to female customers as already "The way real ale is branded is an absolute turn-off for girls". Perhaps the plan is to establish the brand amongst die-hard real ale drinkers to drive volume before genuinely trying to expand in the female beer-newbies market. Whatever, it seems a confused marketing plan.

"The Female palate" - is there such a thing? I very much doubt it. A token addition of something fruity strikes me as a wee bit patronising. Then again, I'm not female, so I should shut up.

I feel a bit guilty for the negative tone of this post. I really do want more brewers attempt to win customers otherwise unentertained by beer, but I'm doubtful this is the way to do it. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Lovely cuddly-wuddly pubcos in whose safe hands we trust our pubs, Pt. 2

Tandleman's comment on my previous post deserves some examination.

"I like the fair pint campaign recognising as it does the need for the tie for those tied to brewers who own up to 500 pubs, (To do otherwise would mean we would lose all our Family Brewers."

The tie was originally a good thing in that it allowed brewers to develop and have an outlet for what they made. It was never designed for giant and avaricious PubCos. It is their monopoly we must challenge."

You are mostly right in what you say, but your anti CAMRA swipe is just your prejudice showing. CAMRA has campaigned against the big Pub Companies and indeed, if I remember correctly, spoke against them in the last round of government enquiries."

CAMRA, as far as I know, supports the tie in broadly the same way as the Fair Pint Campaign which you rightly praise."

The problem is unfairness. The members of the Fair Pint campaign are angry because they rightly see being tied to unnecessarily expensive sources of supply as reducing their competitiveness. The tie system is fundamentally anti-competitive and that is the crux of the argument against it.

The problem is the tie is always anti-competitive. It is irrelevent whether the pub chain owns 10, 100, 500 or 5000 pubs. And herein lies the problem for CAMRA.

CAMRA heartily dislikes the Pubcos and would like to see their wings clipped. Unfortunately, challenging them for anti-competitive practises would draw attention to the same anti-competitive advantage heartily embraced by the "Family" Brewers (many of which are rapacious PLC pubcos in their own right.)

So, CAMRA has a conundrum – it has a big stick with which it could beat Enterprise et al but that big stick would necessarily inflict collateral damage to their beloved "Family" brewers. And that would be just not on. Even discussing it would cause a mighty big stink.

Also, I believe CAMRA's taciturnity on the subject of competition is political. Although competition and choice go hand-in-hand, CAMRA demands only the latter. As I've previously described, a far-left anti-capitialist ethos pervades CAMRA and talk of competition provokes a head-in-the-sand response. The dread word "competition" can evoke raw memories of the socially brutal Thatcher years. It needn't be so.

I suspect that Tandleman reveres the "Family Brewers" more than I do. The worst of them e.g. Greene King are rapacious pubcos like Enterprise and Punch; only we're expected by CAMRA to pussy-foot around them only because they persist in brewing real-ale (dull as ditchwater though it is.) At the other end of the scale there are some rather more endearing companies. I used to be particularly irked by Youngs, on whose territory I lived for fourteen years. Firstly their own beers were extremely inconsistent. Getting a good pint was the exception, not the rule. Secondly, entering a Youngs pub entailed being deluged with promotional dreck for Stella and Guinness. To all intents and purposes some of their pubs didn't really sell their own beer; beers from the mass-producers won the Youngs seal of approval. In many of their pubs it was even impossible to buy their rather good bottles, notably Chocolate Stout, and particularly, Special London Ale. Why should they benefit from the tie system? (My opinion of Youngs has improved since the Bedford move as consistency and outright tastiness has improved considerably.)

I've had conversations on this theme rather often and inevitably someone will ask "well, Mr Opinionated , what would you do?". Here it is:

End the tie system; it's screwing the country's pubs and inhibiting the craft sector. Yes it would be a big upheaval and there is some merit in the argument that some nice cuddly, long-established traditional brewers would suffer and something should be done to protect them. I would impose two strict conditions that would allow the retention of a tied estate: a) if the company can prove it owned the pub continuously for the past 100 years it can continue to do so. b) that pub shall sell ONLY it's owners beers; not contracted, not licensed (it can be called the Sam Smiths principle.) I'd also automatically give listed status to all pubs 100 or more years old.

OK, my plan will need some fine tuning. I expect your comments will help.

(BTW, I'm not "anti-CAMRA", I'm CAMRA-sceptic. I'm pro-CAMRA-actually-achieving-real-progress.)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Lovely cuddly-wuddly pubcos in whose safe hands we trust our pubs.

News story here.

As if life isn't tough enough already for the people whose humble livelihoods are the hands-on running of pubs - Enterprise is to "get tough" on tie breakers.

"Buying out of the tie is nothing more than stealing", says Enterprise boss. If that's the case then the exorbitant prices for stock relative to the open market they charge are what - extortion, demanding money with menaces, fraud?

Remember folks, the tie system is illegal under the Treaty of Rome as anti-competitive - a clause for which Britain stupidly has an exemption.

The Fair Pint Campaign is doing stirling work opposing the biggest difficulty faced by the pub trade; but where's CAMRA when their alleged campaigning power is needed? Oh yes, I remember: they support the tie system and in doing so implicitly support the crippling dominance of Enterprise and its chums. Crackers. Bloody crackers.

Background stories:

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

I feel dirty and ashamed...

... that I set foot in a Wetherspoons. I hate them. Your life is too short to spend time reading a rant about why I despise these hell-holes, so I won't do it.

It's that time of year again when Wetherspoons commission some interesting beers and like moths around flames the beer-curious flutter in.

I tried Firestone Walkers California Pale Ale (4.5%) -  fresh, (too) cold and indifferent. Somehow there seemed to be a hole in the flavour even after the beer had warmed up. The bitterness seemed not to be integrated. This is a style I have a lot of experience of: I've even judged the category at the GABF.

On the other hand:

Mikkel's Viking's Return (4.5%), a smoky, malty dark ale was a work genius. It was excellent. Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso brewed it for the festival at Jennings in Cumbria. A message to Jennings: don't let him leave with the recipe, steal it off him.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Provocative Beer Name?

I've just noticed that Firestone Walker Brewery of Paso Robles, California produces a beer called "Velvet Merkin Oatmeal Stout".

What would the prigs of the Portman Group think of that?

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Brewdog v. Wychwood

Tandleman's post "Brew Dog to be Top Dog by 2015" has once again got me thinking about branding in the craft beer sector.  We see from the linked article that not all is doom and gloom - "We have expanded 900% in 12 months" say BrewDog. 

Melissa Cole pre-empted my thoughts on BrewDog: "... fearlessly dragging beer into the 21st century - for creating taste and flavour profiles that provoke thought, and occasionally shock, but termpering that by brewing very drinkable and accessible beers too. And for bringing humour to brewing that doesn't involve crass humour or innuendo."

Conspicuous by its absence from BrewDog presentation is tedious boring guff like "brewed by traditional technique only on from the choicest malt and hops" and "This beer commemorates the anniversary of the 900th Anniversary of the Battle of Milton Keynes when the famous warrior dwarf Aelred the Plucky singlehandedly slayed the Stevenage Hoards".

When I see that kind of stuff I despair. It's crap. It's complacent and unimaginative - and it's endemic.

Blogger Dave of the Woolpack Inn, up the road from me in Cumbria, a relative newcomer in Blogville, writes beautifully on the difficulties facing landlords: here, for instance. For a while he had me jealous of his insight and his eloquent ability to express it. But then he dropped a clanger - "I've always liked Wychwoods advertising." 

Agh! Wychwood branding! Stop I can't take it any more - oh no, they've released the Goblins - Arrrgghhhhhh Help! Stop, stop, I'll give you the top-secret invasion plans!

Wychwood branding is in my beer Room 101. It's awful, it's embarrassing. And all that mickey-taking of lager drinkers - what the hell do they think that's going to achieve other make die-hard lager drinkers think "bugger that ale stuff"? It lets the side down.

Brewdog v. Wychwood: No contest.

p.s. yes, I know it's cider.