Saturday, 26 January 2013

What is Beer Innovation?

Further to my previous post about the Beer Innovation Summit, I've been thinking about what beer innovation actually is and how important it might be.

Many breweries like to think they are innovative. We’d like to think we are, to some extent, although to be honest we often feel like we are lagging behind and copying too much. But then, is there really anything new in the beer world?

Obviously there are some new things happening; spirit cask aging, strong beers, crazy freeze distillation, mixed up beer styles and many, many things. But aren’t these just variations on a theme?
The big multinationals come up with new things from time-to-time.  Widgets in beer cans to make the beer seem like draught smooth flow. Perhaps extra cold is an innovation only made practical by improvements in cooling technology efficiency. Perhaps putting the lime into lager, so that its ready to serve on draught, is a fairly clever idea?

As I move my business forward I have to consider what might be innovative enough to maintain interest in my products. Indeed, I’d like to expand my customer base. All of this requires a stimulation in our brand.

What I don’t want to do is just re-invent the wheel and call it innovation. I know we’ve been accused of copying in the past and I’m keen to try and avoid this where I can in the future.

But what does constitute real beer innovation? Perhaps the reader has a view that is different to what the “innovative” brewers believe? Perhaps the reader doesn’t think beer innovation is necessary at all. If so, how do we excite a new and youthful beer drinker? I can tell you one thing for sure, if we don’t innovate, even if the innovation is in the message rather than the product itself, beer will continue to lose appeal in the face of wine, spirits and RTDs.

The picture is of my Great Grandfather with his car. I’m not sure of the date, other than early 20th century, around a 100 years ago. You may wonder what this has to do with beer. The motorcar has changed a lot in 100 years. However, they all generally run on four wheels, have some sort of energy to rotary motion converter and carry people about. The 100 year old car has some appeal to the enthusiast, but most people like the modern version. Indeed, most people who buy cars lust after newer models, even when the changes are slight.

Photography has also changed in this hundred years, silver nitrate is no longer the main compound that enables it to happen.

In a hundred years beer has changed a lot, but it is still a fermented alcoholic beverage made from grain. Most people like up-to-date brands; tradition and stagnant brands tend to fail.

I don’t know if my Great Grandfather drank beer. If he did I doubt the beer he drank would be of interest to most of the population today. However, I would like to own his car.


Ed Davies said...

Is there any innovation left? Ready made beer cocktails perhaps? There can only be a finite number of variations in the production, storage and dispense of beer...

anon said...

Innovation in the way beer is supplied would be welcome. I used to live in the west country (Swindon, Cirencester & Cheltenham), I could never find any beer from the likes of Hardknott, Thornbridge, Summer Wine, Magic Rock etc entering the booze chain down there? Now I've moved to London it's fairly regular at the likes of Craft/Cask, The Rake etc.

Is the problem that landlords aren't knowledgable enough about new brewing trends or are the local brewers, not known for their dynamism in flavour, controlling supply? Is there no market outside of Bristol or London?

Dave Bailey said...

Ed, slightly defeatist I'd venture. Surely there must be room for innovation? It's just a case of thinking outside the box and away from the established norms.

Anon, part of the problem of developing a more diverse beer scene outside the major populations is a matter of numbers. Where there are more people you only need the same proportion of a niche market to make it work.

In a small town, where a fraction of a percent are interested in "Craft Beer" it can be tricky to get enough throughput for any pub to justify sticking it.

Ron Pattinson said...

"Innovation" is the biggest lie in modern brewing. Just marketing bullshit.

Dave Bailey said...

Ron, although the term is used in marketing as a means to sell beer I could argue, and often have, that every brewer needs to market.

If you are suggesting that marketing is bullshit then I might as well pack in the idea of being a commercial brewer. Every business has to find a way to engage its market.

John S said...

Innovation doesn't just mean the beer itself.

Plenty of room for environmental innovation both for large and small breweries. Increasing utility costs and regulation will increase this.

Packaging can always be developed (as you mention with widgets).

Consumer engagement - whilst there is much here already there are plenty of potential customers who have yet to be targeted (plenty of women). Also tools such as untappd.

Pastey said...

As the song once went: "You can't mix a cocktail from memory, and pretend what you're drinking is new"

Yes, there are only so many things that can be done with a finite set of ingredients, and it seems that the only innovation listed is reliant on technological advances.

But that then leads you to ask, can only technology lead to innovation in beer?

Personally, I don't believe so. I don't mind that lots of brewers seem to copy each other. In fact, as a drinker I welcome it. Brewing always seems to go in fads. It probably started with burtonisation, and in my memory with breweries like HopBack and Oakham pushing the lighter beers. Recently there was a fad for adding spices to dark beers, then a fad for black IPAs, we've just seen a fad for saisons, and now we're seeing low gravity beers.

I often hear it argued at the bar that brewers are just copying each other, but I prefer to see it as they're inspiring each other. If we only had one black IPA I don't think I'd have bothered with a second pint of the stuff. Wasn't impressed by it from the first brewery I tried it from. Same goes with all the other styles and mixes that the breweries have been coming up with recently.

Copying someone is kinda lazy, and that does seem to be what the larger breweries do when they try to jump on bandwagons, but seeing a beer that someone else has brewed and thinking "Hey, if I did that I'd change it like this..." and then going and doing it, that's inspiration.

In short, because I do ramble, without the technological advances, yes it's all variations on a theme. But as the saying goes, variety is the spice of life.

StringersBeer said...

Mostly, marketing (valuing effect, with disregard for truth) is precisely the kind of stuff we call "bullshit". Like Harry Frankfurt said. That it works is neither here nor there.

Nice car by the way.

steve thack said...

Lets not confuse innovation with either marketing or fashion. Heavily hopped beers are in fashion and can be marketed in ways that increase sale and/or attract a premium price. Not sure it's innovative, often bloody good beer. Though I suspect major companys are planning to 'innovate' heavily hopped kegs and use of the word craft.

StringersBeer said...

P.S. Recency Illusion

BeerReviewsAndy said...'s a cracking beer brewed by Adnams

Barm said...

You can innovate, but you have to wait for the market to catch up. Innovation is only one part of the equation. Successful innovation appears when the early adopters become numerous enough that other people start copying them. That’s one of the reasons things go in and out of fashion so rapidly; there’s slow growth and then suddenly it’s everywhere. Most of us drink what our friends drink. Relatively few of us want to stand out and be laughed at. What will get young people (or women or anyone else) drinking hoppy beer, or dark beer, or cask-conditioned beer, or wine, or gin, is ... seeing their peers drinking it.

Anonymous said...

Marketing IMO is a mix of:

a) quality - perceived or real
eg BMW, Audi

b) image / label - Levis, Burberry

c) price - lout, smooth etc

The trick is to be close enough to (a) with the right bit of (b) while getting (c) spot on.
Within that you can have as many or as few variations as you feel happy with.

Just my two pence worth.....

Cooking Lager said...

Innovation is any idea, new or derived than alters the product or service offered in the marketplace. Usually done to attract a price premium above current offerings.

Successful innovation is the application of that idea that alters the market from that point onwards. As imitators arrive it may no longer command a price premium but its effects alter the fundamentals from that point forth. Beer widgets in Britain, Lite Beer in America are examples. Unsuccessful innovation would be beer widgets in America and Lite Beer in Britain.

StringersBeer said...

Innovation, like life, only makes sense backwards.
Got a new product or service? Take it to market. Did the market like it? -> Innovation. No? -> Stupid gimmick.

pdtnc said...

Silver Nitrate, btw, is the only photographic medium with any real longevity... it does not rely on optical or magnetic media or Dye based printing.

Just saying :)

Peter Brissenden said...

Necessity is the mother of all invention.

Ultimately innovation will only happen where and when it is needed. Most of the crappy 5bbl cask beer breweries opening in this country don't need a fly by wire, automated mash/lauter/whirlpool setup with pressure differential measuring devices, CO2 meters, accurate ways of measuring dissolved oxygen in packaged beer, a microscope etc.

It is a chicken and egg problem. The tools that make innovation easy are only available to those with real intent and deep pockets. Most of the guys who have real intent don't have deep pockets.

Innovation for me isn't brewing the wackiest, stongest, weirdest beer. I think the biggest innovation that needs to happen in the UK is proper quality control. Something the big guys have had sorted for years. To me a brewery who can say all our packaged beer leaves tested, clean, with a known quantity of CO2 and a dissolved oxygen level of under 20ppm is really fucking innovative.

Ed said...

I'm not sure if it's possible to do anything really original in the world of beer. But you can do stuff that isn't commonly available in your current market, which you can call innovative if you like.

Dave Bailey said...

Just for completeness, Boak and Bailey have written what I think is the best considered reply to my question. Find it here here

city said...

thanks for share.