Showing posts with label marketing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marketing. Show all posts

Thursday, February 5, 2015

About That Spoof

The ad that cannot be mentioned without whipping up a veritable cyclone of spittle flecked craft fury has certainly lead to an outpouring of media commentary. Whether it's fellow bloggers going all Roger the Rabbit and counting the ways they are offended, Twitter groaning under the weight of outrage and calls for boycotts, or retaliatory videos like the one below...

Of course it is a well made video and of course it brings up the seemingly age old canard of craft beer being made by hand, a myth which I dealt with in more detail here. The video claims that craft beer is brewed 'the actual hard way', which is of course understood as being the mythical 'by hand' method.

My first reaction when I saw that part of the video was that it reminded me of those arguments you had on the school playground about who's dad was bigger, or harder, or whatever. Another thought that went through my mind was the number of times I have heard craft brewers and drinkers claim that decoction mashing is no longer necessary for making Pislner style lagers because 'modern malts are more modified', where then is the commitment to doing things the 'actual hard way' and doing a decoction mash rather than single infusion?

It would seem to me at times the 'actual hard way' is really just a fig leaf for having a production capacity where automation is not needed because the volumes of beer being brewed are manageable without computers and other modern technology. From what I have heard from head brewers in a number of companies, more advanced automation becomes a necessity once you reach about 30,000 barrels of beer per year - a number which is about the production of Virginia's largest independent brewery.

Once a brewery gets to the point of brewing 16 million barrels of a single beer per year, I think Anheuser-Busch's total production is about 120 million barrels, so even the flagship is only 10%, then state of the art technology is an absolute necessity.

Brewing by (mythological) hand then is not really the 'hard way', it is the only viable way for small breweries who don't have the capital, market share, or need for automation. Once a brewery becomes a big company, and there are plenty of such businesses in the self-proclaimed 'craft' sector, then brewing the 'easy' way with computerised automation becomes the only way to keep up and keep growing.

It's fairly evident that there actually isn't an easy or hard way of making beer, it's all a question of scale.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

About That Ad

The pitch seems to have hit a much more fevered tone in the last few days than usual. I guess it has something to do with this Budweiser Super Bowl commercial...

Admittedly I am something of a johnny come lately to this particular party because I didn't see the commercial until the furore was in full swing on Twitter. I am not a fan of American Football, a phrase which could easily be the understatement of the year, so I wasn't watching the game and thus couldn't get my knickers in a twist at the appropriate moment. Ah well.

Yesterday though I took a few minutes to sit down and watch the commercial, and I actually quite like it. It's well made, tells a clear story, and takes a few well aimed jabs at the perceived snottiness of many a craft beer aficionado, well played Anheuser-Busch, well played. Be honest, we all recognised people we know in their depiction of people fussing over their peach pumpkin ale or whatever the hell abomination they referred to. When I watched the ad for the first time I was reminded of a scene in The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer where Max and Alan kidnap a craft acolyte from a bar...

Now, I am not going to go down the path of hand wringing about how that nasty big corporation is being mean to the little breweries that it is intent on buying up, because such a narrative (admittedly the dominant narrative it seems) misses the entire point of the commercial. It is also a flawed narrative because it conflates the Budweiser brand with the AB-InBev company. Let's get one thing straight, Budweiser is just one brand owned by AB-InBev, and this commercial was for the brand not the company behind it. Remember, Elysian, 10 Barrel, and Blue Point were purchased by AB-InBev not Budweiser, to think that Budweiser owns these craft breweries is as daft as saying that the breweries are owned by AB-InBev's other major brands, Stella Artois, Beck's, or even Leffe.

But the core message of the commercial is actually one that I can get on board with, because I have been saying something similar for quite some time. Beer is for drinking, with your mates, preferably down the pub. Sure, I am not going to go an order a pint of Budweiser because it is not my cup of tea, but I find myself increasingly drinking almost exclusively from breweries that I know make great drinking beers rather than an endless morass of shit with random extraneous ingredients -  I can think of plenty of breweries that should be focusing on quality and process management rather than what strange herbs from their aunt's garden they can dump into their next batch.

When it boils down to it though, I get the feeling that the hysteria is largely about one thing, and one thing only, the commercial is very close to home, and for many craft beer fans having the tables turned on them is uncomfortable. As with fundamentalists of every stripe, if you can't laugh at yourself then you might be taking things too seriously. It's just beer remember.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Hand Made Tale

One of the most common marketing memes amongst brewing companies is that their beers are 'handmade', 'handcrafted', 'made by hand', or some such term, often phrased in juxtaposition to something along the lines of 'not by machines'. This zythophilic ludditism plays very well with people looking for a more 'authentic' or even folksy view of beer, but it really doesn't fit very well with the everyday realities of working life in many a brewery.

Beer is, by its very nature, an industrial product, something that would never occur in nature, and the processes that go into making your pint, whether that pint comes from SABMiller or your local microbrewery, are heavily mechanised.

Let's start at the beginning. The mill, which crushes the malt so that the sugars and enzymes can do their thing in the mash tun, is a machine. I don't know of any brewery, regardless of size, out there that has its brewers use a pestle and mortar to crush their malt. Perhaps there are nanobreweries using the hand cranked barley crushers that many a homebrewer would use, but they still just hand cranking a machine.

Let's head then to the mash tun, where the grain will sit in warm water while alpha and beta amalayse do their thing to the starches in the grain. Here again machines come to the aid of the brewer in the form of mash rakes, which admittedly not all brewers have the luxury of. With mashing done, it's time to lauter and sparge the grains, pumping more water over the grains to extract more wort from the mash, pumps being machines.

I think you see my point, and I don't need to go through the entire brewing process pointing out where mechanisation is part and parcel of modern brewing. Ultimately the use of machines is an every day reality is the vast majority of breweries. Sure some may have more advanced systems involving hop chargers to automatically dose the boiling wort, but these tools don't impact whether or not the beer is actually worth drinking.

If transparency is really all that important in beer marketing then there are plenty in the craft segment of the industry whose marketing is guilty of deceiving the consumer. Claims that their beer is 'handmade/handcrafted' ring hollow when the truth is they use many of the same machines and technologies as industrial scale breweries.

I don't believe that the use of machines in a brewery impacts the flavour of a beer as much as the choice of ingredients, recipe, quality control processes, or the skill of the brewers themselves, but they do make a lovely straw man as a replacement for faceless corporations.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Retail Juxtaposition Fail

When Mrs V lived in Charlottesville we usually shopped at the local Giant, at Pantops. Now that we live something like 15 miles from town we still often shop at the same store as it is on the way home. Yesterday I popped in after work as we needed some bits and bobs, and as ever I wandered down the beer aisle, which has recently undergone something of a transformation and expansion.

As part of this expansion, there are a series of information boards above the large coolers. The boards describe some beer styles and give an explanation of what 'craft' beer is, in the minds of some. Here is a picture I took yesterday of one such board.

Somewhat incongruous, no?

I am not saying that there is a deliberate attempt by either the large corporation that retails food, drink, and other necessary items, or the large multinational corporation that makes, and through its distributors, controls the entire beer industry in the US, to mislead consumers. It is however, an interesting case of product placement. Surely this board would have been better suited on the opposite cooler, rather than the board describing, loosely, a few beer styles? After all that was where all the 'craft' beer is kept.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Get Off My Kilt!

There are times, when I am in my more grumpy and sarcastic moments admittedly, that I get annoyed by some of the naming choices and subsequent marketing efforts that breweries put in to promoting their beer.

One of my favourite websites highlighting the horrors of sub-par naming and branding is the magnificent Pump Clip Parade, a veritable litany of the ribald, obscene and downright offensive. Were a visitor from outer space to visit that website to get an idea of British drinking culture, they would likely conclude that British drinkers are only interested in third rate puns, naked women and frequent references to World War 2.

Sadly, the American craft brewing industry is not averse to indulging in national stereotyping in order to sell beer. As you quite possibly are aware, I am Scottish and happily so, though I feel no compulsion to run around in a Tam o'Shanter with bits of ginger hair sticking out the side, whilst swinging a Claymore and yelling '' at all and sundry. Forgive me then if I am being a tad touchy at the number of beers sold in this country which have some form of kilt elevation in their name; Kilt Lifter, Kilt Flasher, Kilt Raiser, Naked Under Me Kilt, Lift Your Kilt and so on and so forth. It simply bugs my head that many brewers of 'Scottish' ales have decided that the one part of Scottish culture to focus on for their naming conventions is the kilt, and I say that as someone who loves wearing his kilt, often just around the house when trousers simply don't go the job.

There is far more to Scotland than a few metres of worsted wool and the legendary absence of undies, so brewery marketing departments, how about engaging in some innovative thought (rather than just thinking that chucking the word 'innovative' in your marketing copy makes you beer 'awesome') when branding your 'Scottish' ales? How about making reference to the many aspects of the modern world that have their roots in Scotland? How about referring to eras of Scottish history other than William Wallace?

So while beer is supposed to be fun, resorting to lazy national stereotyping is the mark of ultimately crap marketing and detracts from the beer itself.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Oh FFS!!!

Here I was having a happily non-spleen venting Friday when my good friend Max, aka Pivní Filosof, sends me this link.

Hoping that I was about to read that another brewery in the US has seen the light about brewing great Czech style beers I read this sentence, attributed to the president of Susquehanna Brewing Company, Fred Maier:
“It’s an innovative black pilsner”
Oh please no! Not again! How many times will we have to bang this drum? Let me say this one more time, and forgive the caps lock and bold, but it seems clear that some of the trendy kids at the back of the classroom are simply not listening:


Now, that's not to say there isn't a tradition of dark lagers in the Czech lands, there is, they are called tmavé or sometimes ?erné, but tmavé is the legal term.

As for being innovative, well done "craft" brewers for joining 19th Century Bohemia in brewing dark lagers which don't have the roastiness of a schwarzbier and enjoy a healthy respect for Saaz hops.

Spleen vented, carry on.

Monday, March 19, 2012

You Need Glasses Mate

Friday was a day off, as I mentioned in my post that day. It was also the day that Whole Foods did a half price special on growler fills. Not wanting to get stuck in a queue I decided to get along early to fill a couple of my growlers with delights for the weekend, thus is was that I walked out with a couple of litres of Victory Prima Pils and Potter's Craft Cider. The Pils was bascially the best beer available, pretty much everything was "Belgian" or a beer with added "flavour" like apricot or cocoa, and Mrs Velkyal likes cider so I figured I's get her a treat, old romantic that I am.

I didn't originally have any special plans for the Pils, but whilst wandering around the shops yesterday I decided to do a taste comparison that I have been meaning to do for a while now, 1 beer, 6 glasses. From my cupboard I pulled an American pint glass, a nonic, a classic Chodovar Czech beer glass, a Chimay chalice, a snifter and my Lovibonds fluted half pint.

For some reason, people make a big song and dance about glassware, that certain types of glass are better for various beer styles, that beer should be served in the correctly branded glass and so on an so forth. Admittedly I am something of a glassware philistine, the only thing I object to is a frosted glass, it just shouldn't be done. Anyway, with an open mind and Mrs Velkyal saying that she thought the main difference would be in the aroma stakes, I spent a couple of hours emptying the growler into the various glasses in the pictures below and taking notes.

From a visual perspective the only variant in the 6 glasses was that the chalice didn't hold the head very well, the other 5 had nice rocky heads which lingered for the duration of drinking, but in the chalice it dissipated quickly.

As Mrs Velkyal had expected, the different glasses had an impact on the intensity of the aroma of the beer. In each glass, other again than the chalice, I could smell varying degrees of graininess, lemony citrus and grass, though it was most noticeable in the Lovibond's half pint and the Chodovar glasses. In terms of taste, there was hardly any noticeable difference between the glasses.

Purely on the basis of this experiment then, I would say that a slightly fluted glass, as both the Lovibond's and Chodovar glasses are is best suited to a German style pilsner, though I have to admit that in the context of drinking in a pub, I don't think the additional aroma would really be all that much of a big deal, and that is an important thing for me. When I am in the pub, playing pool, talking with friends and having a drink, I really don't care about identifying every trace of aroma, swirling my beer in a glass like some wine snob and pontificating on about traces of burnt gimp suit and strawberry, or whatever Jilly Goulden's latest taste sensation is.

Perhaps though a subtle, clean, crisp lager is the wrong beer for this kind of experiment? So I will re-hash it sometime with a nice stout, or maybe even an IPA such as the 100% Fuggle hopped one from St George Brewing. As it stands though I am still not convinced that different styles of glass make that much of a difference to the experience of drinking a beer, though as a marketing and brand tool they are superb.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Take Time for Design

Today I am unemployed, though come Monday I will be employed again. Yesterday was my last day working for Convoy, a graphic design company here in Charlottesville, Monday will be my first day at Silverchair, a software company about 2 blocks up the street from Convoy.

No longer working in the graphic design world means I can finally talk about design for breweries without having to declare a vested interest. It was a couple of years ago that I wrote about the abysmal state of many a brewery's website, and design assets in general, as well as posting about those that get it right.

Have things improved in the 25 months since that pair of posts? In some respects yes, but I still wonder how many breweries and brewpubs out there are neglecting their website and other design elements such as logos, labels and the like?

Clearly the bigger "craft" breweries generally do a good job, Samuel Adams redesigned their website last year sometime. I think it is much improved on the previous iteration, particularly for finding details of their beers and the fact that they are not using Flash anywhere on the site. The same can not be said of Sierra Nevada though, the basic structure and design of the site has not changed since we moved to the States in 2009, though thankfully Flash is also a thing of the past on their website.

Unfortunately there are still too many breweries with websites which are nothing more than a riot of colour, fonts that look like they fell straight off Jimmy Carter's desk just after legalising homebrewing and information which is haphazardly "organised".

Recently I got my hands on the business start up plan for a brewery startup here in Virginia and whilst going through the numbers, one thing jumped out at me, there was no planning whatsoever for brand design, whether logo, labels or website. Perhaps I am being crazy here, but who in their right mind commits potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to creating a brewery but not a penny to creating their brand and making their beers stand out on the retail shelf, whether physical or virtual?

Yes, good design is expensive but how much more expensive is it in the long run to have your beer ignored on the shelves because of amateurish design?

* all the pictures are examples of beer related design that I like, and that last one was done by my friend Rob of Opta Design in Prague for my LimeLight homebrew.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Enough with the Oxymoronic Beer

One of the things that is guaranteed to set me off in an apoplexy of rage, or at least a muttered "oh god, not again", is fannying about beer style descriptors in an attempt to describe a beer. There is one word which is pretty much the source of all this annoyance, the word "black", as in "black" IPA, "black" Pils, "black" K?lsch and so on and so forth, and I say this as a devoted drinker of black beers.

Let's get this straight, a black ale can in no way, shape or form be an India Pale Ale - there is a hint in the name there, perhaps you can spot it? Now of course it can be an Export India Porter, as it would have been during the era of the British Raj. I have no problem with it being a Cascadian Dark Ale or even an American Black Ale, but Black IPA? Please.

Then there is the notion of the Black Pils. Could someone please explain to me how a "black" pils differs from a schwarzbier or a dunkel? Perhaps it falls somewhere between the two and would qualify as a tmavé (that really would mess up the stylistas at certain advocating rating sites)? If it is, in fact, a schwarzbier then please just bloody well call it a schwarzbier. My cynical side (what's that, you didn't realise I have one?) wouldn't be too surprised if "black pils" is a schwarzbier but hopped to proper pilsner levels, in which case why not Indisches Schwarzbier? Alternatively you could make it stronger and call it Imperiales Indisches Schwarzbier (or would that be a Baltic Porter by this point?).

The one though that raised my hackles this week is the concept of a "black K?lsch". According to the K?lsch Convention, for a beer to be able to use the appellation "k?lsch" it must be brewed in Cologne, and "pale, well attenuated, hop accented, bright, top fermented". There's that tricky word "pale" again. Sure, a brewery might have got 4 out of 5 of the beer's characteristics right, but it is not a K?lsch because it is not pale. Interestingly, the only major difference between between K?lsch and Scottish 80/- in terms of the style parameters is the colour. Is "black" K?lsch therefore a Scottish 80/- by another name?

I am fairly sure I am not the only one that finds this idea that by adding a dash of dark malt to a pale beer style you have somehow created a fusion of traditions, innovated in new and sexy ways, annoying, especially when similar styles already exist. It was said of the great Scottish author Lewis Grassic Gibbon that he had a talent for "calling a spade a spade", it would be nice if breweries would do likewise.

* the full quote about Lewis Grassic Gibbon, author of A Scots Quair, is that Gibbon was ""for ever calling a spade a spade, when there is no need whatever to refer to the implement at all".

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lazy Marketing

Mrs Velkyal and I spent the weekend in South Carolina, again visiting friends, going white water rafting and just generally having a blast before the end of the summer holidays - Mrs V is back at work today.

On Saturday afternoon we went off to the shops to get in supplies for a little soiree we had planned for that evening - basically drinking and playing board games with friends. I have to admit that while I take a great interest in food, both the preparation and eating thereof, I really do not enjoy bimbling around the shops. My approach to shopping is simple, get in, get done, get out. What I tend to do is wander off to the booze section and see what is available.

The shop we went to was Greenville's branch of Trader Joe's, and I had heard good things about their Bohemian Lager. Although I knew I wouldn't be buying anything that day, I had bought a case of homebrew and a growler of Devils Backbone Barclay's London Dark Lager, I went to have a look at the selection purely out of curiosity, and general interest. Trader Joe's has a range of own label, Central European style beers, namely:
  • Bohemian Lager
  • Vienna Lager
  • Dunkelweizen
  • Bavarian Hefeweizen
  • Hofbrau Bock
At only $5.99 for a six pack, I know that when the planned Charlottesville branch opens, I will spend some money and try the beers. However, it was the packaging that I found particularly interesting, some of which you can see here.

Each of the labels features a picture of what most people would expect a Central European urban scene to look like, and to the untrained eye the interest level would no doubt stop there. But look a little closer at the label for the Vienna Lager, the building is the Old Town Hall in Prague. The ragged edge of the red building is where the Nazis set it on fire and parts collapsed as a result.

Now take a quick look at the Bavarian Hefeweizen label, and unless I am mistaken, that is a picture again of the Old Town Square in Prague. Look at the Hofbrau Bock label and that skyscape is from the Old Town side of the Vltava, looking across the Charles Bridge toward St Nicholas' Church in Mala Strana.

While I am entirely biased and would say that there is no more beautiful city in Europe than Prague, though Budapest and Lublijana both come close, it feels like lazy marketing to rely on the consumer's lack of knowledge or interest in your labeling. It also feels something of a slight on Vienna and the cities of Bavaria that beers historically and intrinsically bound to those locales should have pictures of Prague on the labels.

Just a simple search of one of the many online stock photography services pulls up plenty of pictures for iconic places and scenes, such as Vienna's Hofburg, Munich's Frauenkirche, Schloss Neuschwanstein or the Wieskirchen.

This kind of lazy marketing really does my head in. I know it is just a picture and that the important thing is the beer in the bottle, but the cynic within wonders if they can't be bothered to get the artwork right, did they bother enough with the beer itself. I guess I will find out when Trader Joe's opens its doors in Charlottesville.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bar End Mutterings

I am in one of those moods today. I am sure you know the type, all the thoughts in your head are converging and splitting off like Spaghetti Junction. As such, it would be so easy to go on a random waffle and/or rant about something and end up in Manchester when I wanted to be in Somerset (thinking about it, the South West of England wouldn't be such a bad place to be right now - see what I mean, one throwaway line and I am thinking about River Cottage and maybe going for a spot of fishing by the sea).

Anyway, beer, this is after all a beer blog. A couple of things that caught my attention recently, firstly why were most of the beers I had over the weekend murky? Not slightly hazy, not a touch cloudy, but downright murky? Only one of said beers was from a hand pump, and that right at the end of the cask, so I kind of turned a blind eye to that, but I can't remember ever having had a murky beer from a keg before - just unfiltered beer or a systemic problem in the bar? I fear I may have to sell my soul and buy a smart phone at some point so I can take decent pictures when in the pub (yes I am one of those people who thinks of phones as a communications device rather than a life defining gadget).

Secondly, bloody hell beer can be expensive over here, especially if you drink "craft" (cynical note perhaps, do you ever get the feeling that the "craft" tag is being used as a synonym for "premium" and to jack up prices?). Now, before anyone gets all righteous and tells me that I don't have to drink "craft" beer, I know I am my own worst enemy in this because I like going to the pub for a beer or three when I could buy a six pack and sit at home, but sometimes I wonder if Virginia's licensing authorities should get its head out of its arse and let people sell beer without having the restriction of having to serve food as well? I also accept the fact that drinking imperial pints rather than American pints whenever I have the option (that's 20oz instead of 16, or 568ml instead of 448ml) is possibly not fiscally sound. Just as a example, for the same price of a single imperial pint of something or other at the place I frequented on Friday night, I could drink 13 half litres of exceptional lager in Prague - as I say, just an example.

Thirdly, and completely unrelated to beer, is it really necessary to turn the entirety of October over to Halloween? It's bad enough that Christmas gets earlier and earlier every year, but going nuts over Halloween? Has nobody told the marketing cretins of this world than saturation just ruins holidays and events? Random thought for the day, consumerism leads to a loss of perspective in life. Discuss.

As I said, my mind is not in the most coherent of moods today.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Guilty by Association

One theme that seems to do the rounds time after time is trying to define the nature of a "craft brewery". Some will tell you its about the ingredients they use, others will say that it is about the size of the operation, everyone seems to have a different opinion about what constitutes a craft brewery. While I don't want to get into that whole discussion in depth, one thing that has been bothering me of late is the loose use of the very term "craft beer".

I am on record as not being a huge fan of the term itself, after all, does a beer like Orval qualify as "craft beer" given the use of hop extract or not? I do not believe that we are experiencing a "craft beer revolution" as some would grandiosely put it, rather we are having the beer equivalent of the organic and slow food movements, realising that chemicals and additives have no place in the food chain. The craft beer movement is really just a reflection on our culture's return to a pre-industrial model where local products were the norm rather than the exception.

And so craft beer grows, while the mass produced beer makers lose market share. One trend that troubles me though, is the big boys picking up the term "craft beer" and claiming a portion of the market for themselves.

One example of this struck me the other day when I saw an advertisement for a beer festival which is coming to Charlottesville in the coming weeks, Top of the Hops. The event website proudly proclaims that visitors will get "two-ounce sampling[s] of craft beers from around the world", eager to see what samplings would be available, I checked out the breweries coming to town. Some of the local breweries coming include Legend from Richmond, whose beers are excellent, Blue Mountain from just up the road and from further afield Bell's Brewery.

A couple of brewers coming though kind of stand out from the crowd, Blue Moon, Leinenkugels and Pilsner Urquell in particular. Now, it isn't the quality of the beer I want to discuss, or the ingredients, but rather the companies behind these breweries. Everyone and his uncle knows that Blue Moon is a Molson-Coors product, while Leinenkugels and Pilsner Urquell are both SABMiller brands. Isn't it slightly incongruous to have a product like Blue Moon or Pilsner Urquell described as "craft beer" - are they even sure that the Pilsner Urquell is from Plzen rather than brewed under license in Russia or Poland?

A craft brewer, at least here in America, according to the Brewers Association is "small, independent and traditional". When discussing the independence of a craft brewer, they further claim that if more than 25% of the company is owned by a non-craft brewery, then they no longer qualify as such. Obviously that disqualifies Pilsner Urquell as a beer from a "craft brewery" in the American context, unless of course SABMiller are somehow to be afforded that status, oh wait, they aren't small enough.

In allowing representatives from the big industrial breweries in a "craft beer" festival, I feel that the image and "brand", if you will, of craft beer is diluted, blurring the edges for many consumers as to what constitutes a craft beer. A further example of this would be product placement in supermarkets, where you generally have beers divided into "domestic" and "import", with craft beer lumped in with the import beer. Given the amount of wrangling that goes on in the retail process about where products are placed on supermarket shelves, it is no coincidence that Blue Moon is always in the import/craft beer section, but surely as the product of mass swill producing Coors it should be in the domestic section?

I would like to make clear though that I have no problem whatsoever with Blue Moon, and even enjoy Pilsner Urquell in the right circumstances, but to create in the consumers' mind an association with craft beer through participation in a "craft beer" festival is disingenuous, whether on the part of the brewery or the festival organisers I wouldn't like to say. If, however, craft beer is to stand apart from the morass of mass produced muck, then the "movement" needs its own festivals, with clear and strict definitions of who qualifies to participate - I would suggest the Brewers Association definition as a starting point, even if that means well known breweries are turned away because they have gone beyond the definition of craft, to become small industrial brewers, it would also mean openness on the part of breweries as to ownership information.

One festival though that I will be attending is the River Bend Beer Festival in Scottsville where the criteria for being allowed to participate includes being a Virginia brewery, thus giving small local breweries an opportunity to present their beers to a slighter wider audience, kind of like the Slunce ve Skle festival I so enjoyed in Plzen - though unfortunately without Pivni Filosof to get rat-arsed with drinking shots.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What is Innovation?

I have blogged before about how important context is to the appreciation of beer, thinking in particular about the context of being in a good pub with well cared for beer. Recently though I have been pondering over the wider context of drinking beers from outside their "sitz im leben" to use a term from hermenutics, basically drinking foreign beer out of the context that created it.

I have written often about the difficulty of finding a pilsner that comes close to those that I drank regularly in the Czech Republic, but also I find that drinking the pasteurised Pilsner Urquell that we get here in the States simply doesn't do the job either, though I find the Budvar holds up fairly well to the rigours of transportation.

This widened scope of thought raised the question in my head the other day of how valuable is it for non-American breweries to export to the US American style beers, and the phrase "carrying coals to Newcastle' immediately to mind. For those unversed in the delights of English phraseology, it basically means that taking coal to Newcastle would be pointless because there is so much of it there already. So it is with beer, especially IPA, in the American context. 

When I go to one of the various booze stores I like here in Charlottesville with a mind to get a nice, big hoppy IPA in the American style then I have a short list of beer that fits the bills, Sierra Nevada Torpedo being number 1 on the list (a seriously magnificent beer). The American IPAs sat on the shelf which were brewed in the UK simply don't get a look in, not because they are bad beer, they aren't, not because I don't like them, they are ok, but somehow it just doesn't feel right, almost like choosing Wimpy instead of Wendy's.

This line of thought then took to wondering about what exactly is "innovative" beer, and again that is contextually conditioned (approved by CAMRA for sure!). So big hop bomb IPAs are not exactly innovative any more in the American context, in fact they are almost the style of beer against which a craft brewery is measured, yet in the UK they are something new and sexy, and thus innovative. Innovative in the American context would be a dark mild, like that made by Blue Mountain Brewery recently, it would be a best bitter, again something that Blue Mountain has in the pipeline from what I understand. The "boring brown beers" of the UK are innovative in the American context, and much welcomed in the Velky Al context.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Revolutionary Tosh

One of the streams of consciousness that spouted forth from one of the people I was listening to in a pub recently was loosely around the theme of the "craft beer revolution" which is apparently sweeping the world with a tsunami of beery goodness. In fact, as the gentleman in question pontificated and warmed to his theme, the phrase "craft beer revolution" was dropped into conversation with all the regularity of a Valley Girl saying "like" or "so".

Is there any more vacuous and pointless phrase in the beer world today than "craft beer revolution"? For crying out loud we can't even agree on a definition for "craft beer", having heard of late that apparently the likes of Samuel Adams and Fuller's don't count because they are big companies, a symptom no doubt of the bitter fan unable to handle that his once exclusive domain has been invaded by scurrilous interlopers whose only interest is to enjoy a nicely made pint rather than question if said beer is "in keeping with the style".

Now, I don't want to get into the whole definition of what constitutes "craft beer", but I do want to pick up on the word "revolution". Just for reference sake, here is a dictionary definition of "revolution":
  • an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.
  • a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, esp. one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence.
  • a sudden, complete or marked change in something.
Obviously people drinking "craft beer" is not bringing about the first definition there, in fact if some of the beer geeks I have overheard of late were let loose anywhere near government I would be running for the hills, as they have all the fervour of the Spanish Inquisition or the McCarthyite Trials. I guess definition two is out of the running as well, purely from observation in the local supermarket, the vast majority of people are still buying Bud Lite, and I am yet to see a craft beer fundamentalist smash a mini-keg of beer over someone's head in an effort to get them to convert. Three is a no starter because it has taken Samuel Adams 25 years to become one of the biggest craft beer companies in the US, and they have just 0.9% of the total American beer market according to their current advertising.

Evidently then, all this talk of "revolution" is complete and utter unfounded bullshit, but it sounds great in marketing a product, after all why be normal and every day when you can be "revolutionary"?! Of course the marketing bullshit brigade would have you believe that almost every product you buy these days is revolutionary, whether it is your vacuum cleaner, the shoes on your feet or the amazing new healthy sweetener which is just natural sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

The question though has to be asked, what is going on with craft beer? It is beyond question that, especially in the American market, there are more and more craft breweries, making a wider range of beers, as well as crossing beer styles to make hybrids and new styles (and no, Black IPA is not revolutionary either, interesting yes, revolutionary no - putting the ingredients together in a slightly different way is not a revolution). Aging your beer in wooden casks is not exactly revolutionary either, what do you think they used before metal? Using weird and wonderful herbs and spices is nothing new either, think of beer before hops, so that's not revolutionary.

The British context is easier to get a handle on in my opinion because we never had the insanity that was Prohibition, and so still have a few decent sized independent breweries that have been around for more than a century. Of course there are plenty of new microbreweries opening up across the UK and their share of the market is increasing, but is it revolutionary? On the mainland of Europe there is a similar story, large family owned breweries are being supplemented by a growing number of smaller start ups making beers which have never been seen in those countries before, but still the larger breweries use the traditional methods and ingredients and can be regarded as "craft" brewers.

So no, there is not a craft beer revolution going on, though there may be plenty of revolting craft beer and craft beer drinkers. What is happening is a renaissance of the brewing industry, and if in the course of that renaissance the big industrial brewers want to jump on the bandwagon and make craft beers and widen the number of people enjoying well made beer then that can only be a good thing in my book.

Here endeth the, slightly longer than intended, lesson.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Visit Our Web Shite

I have been somewhat reticent about writing up this post, although it has been pottering around my head for a while, but what the heck.

Marketing is part and parcel of business, you simply can't get away from it. Why is Windows the dominant operating system for PCs? Because its predecessor, MS-DOS, was marketed so well and became the dominant pre-Windows OS - back then there was a raft of other available operating systems, some better than MS-DOS, that went to the wall. Windows built on the success of MS-DOS and ran with it.

So it is with breweries, industrial breweries have larger, more loyal, customer bases,  not because of the quality of their beer but because they have better marketing. Now, of course, this is something that in many ways is a circular argument, of course they have better marketing, they have more money, and because they have more money, they have better marketing. Having said that, BrewDog, I am fairly sure, doesn't have the marketing budget of AB-InBev, yet they do a very good job of marketing their beers, whether or not you agree with their methods.

One thing though that constantly shocks me, and I say this with a professional interest, is that a large number of craft brewers and brewpubs have piss poor web sites, their beer may be great, but their web site lets them down. When I say I have a professional interest, I should declare here that I am the Business Development Director for a web design studio here in Charlottesville, so I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at web sites. To be horribly blunt, many a small brewery's web site looks as though it was designed by someone's nephew, whilst sat in a basement listening to Rammstein or some such. Not just ugly, but with poor navigation and a lack of interesting content, not to mention the regularly broken links which really irks me, taking BrewDog though as my example again, they have a well designed web site, which sells their vision, beer and merchandise very well.

It is too easy for a small brewer to say "I can't afford a fancy web site", but I am not talking here about having a fancy website, with videos of swaying barley and the like. Something that is clean and professional looking, rather than being as spotty and horrible as the nephew that built it, is really not all that expensive. While every brewery has its core, local, customer base, the growing number of beer tourists makes a good looking web site all the more important, because the web site is the gateway to the beer, as well as being a gathering point for the existing customer base to learn about new products and events.

Without good marketing a company will fail, regardless of how good, innovative or drinkable the product is - if people aren't spending money, then you aren't making any, and a good web site will help you make more money, which despite all the "I am in it to make great beer" shite, is the real reason a person starts a business - they want to be richer than they were when they started.

Just a small aside, at the weekend, I was the featured blogger over on the Beer Wench's blog, so pop along and have a read.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Get Into The Spirit

BrewDog are one of my favourite breweries. Not just because they are from the same part of Scotland as my mother and most of my family; not just because they make fabulous beer (of the 4 bottles than came across the Atlantic with me, 3 were Paradox Smokeheads); not just because they actively involve their customers in their decision making processes; because of all the above and more.

Well, James and co are at it again and have created a website dedicated to their excellent Zeitgeist lager, which they are turning over to their customers to take ownership of. The idea behind the website is that the Zeitgeist brand belongs to the customers, as such the content is created by those who buy and drink the beer.

Here's how it works, firstly you need to buy some Zeitgeist through the website - use the purchase code SHEEP in order to get a 70% discount, and you will get a code allowing you to post content on the blog. Considering a 12 pack costs £12, a 70% discount will save you £8.40. Not only do you get to be part of something different and new, you can get some superb beer at an insanely low price, so get in there while the offer stands!

Monday, June 15, 2009


For those who don't speak Czech, the Pilsner Urquell beer mat above says something along the lines of "it is not necessary to change perfection". It then goes on to say that the spirit level was invented in 1661 and that the extraordinary taste of Pilsner Urquell has been there since 1842 (being snide do they mean the taste of the unfiltered version or the standard bottled stuff?).

So the marketing boffs at Pilsner Urquell want us to believe that their beer tastes exactly the same as in 1842? I may not be up there in the zythophilic stratosphere with the likes of Michael Jackson, but after ten years in the Czech Republic I can tell that something has changed. Could it be the shorter lagering time now used? Or possibly the stainless steel fermenters and tanks rather than wooden barrels?

While the mat is indeed correct in stating that it is not necessary to change perfection, experience begs the question why the hell did they?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Missed Opportunities.

I am starting to think that "Missed Opportunities" should be the credo of the marketing departments for most independent Czech breweries, come to think of it, most Czech breweries in general. Evan has commented several times about how poor our local breweries are here when it comes to using labels creatively.

Take the beer in these pictures as an example. Named in honour of an Austrian author and poet, who also wrote in Czech. How did I discover this, having not known it before? Yes, I had to look it up on Wikipedia. Going back to the label, it just left me asking questions, and probably annoying Mrs Velkyal into the bargain. It is possible to deduce that the beer is named after a guy called Klostermann who lived from 1848 to 1923, but that's where the information finishes. These were the questions that went through my head:
  1. Why are there 4 city crests on the label? What cities are they?
  2. What is Klostermann's connection to Strakonice?
  3. What did Klostermann do?
  4. Why is "Lager Bier" on the label in German instead of Czech?

It was only when I read his wiki entry that it became clear, and I had checked the back label, to be told the ingredients of the beer and the best before date.

But grumbling without suggesting an alternative is pointless, so here is what I would do:

  1. Use a complete wrap around label, rather than the more usual front and back efforts
  2. Leave the front section largely as it is
  3. On the back section, put the smallest possible barcode on it, and have it horizontal rather than vertical, decrease the size of the font for the ingredients and then give a potted biography of Karel Klostermann.

The potted biography could be something like this:

"Born in 1848 in Haag am Hausruck, Karel Klostermann was an author in both the Czech and German languages. His later writings are based in the ?umava region under the title "In the Heart of ?umava". Klostermann died in 1923 in ?těkeň, a village near Strakonice."

Oh, and if you want to look at the brewery website for more information about the beer, don't bother - it isn't even listed in their "assortment" section.
As for the beer, it was alright, not an amber lager up there with the likes of Primátor's excellent 13° amber, but certainly a decent enough drink.

Monday, November 3, 2008

An Original Advert

I guess you have to give credit where credit is due, and even though I don't drink Pilsner Urquell all that often, it is still a nice beer from time to time - usually when out with the lads and it is the only vaguely drink worthy beer on offer.

Mrs Velkyal and I went for one of our mammoth 3 hour strolls around the city centre last night, which included crossing the Charles Bridge from Malá Strana into Staré Město. Just behind the statue of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV was the advert for the original Pilsner which you can see below.

I thought it was rather clever, and rather more ironic given the recent post on Beer Culture about Pilsner Urquell being brewed in Poland and Russia - the original post has disappeared due to some technical issues.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

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