Friday 31 October 2008

Halloween and the spirit of the brewery

I've always liked Wychwoods advertising because of the way it takes the micky out of lager drinkers. It's nice to see that at this time of year the beer is to be found all over the place, it's fitting that this type of marketing can work to produce a grand success.

Stonch has got some for Halloween and when I went to my friends pub last night I found he also had the same, tacky LED pumpclip on display.

The problem I have is that the marketing gives me the impression that the beer is made in a small microbrewery, all hand crafted and the like. I very much doubt that with the sudden increase of sales this Halloween, that all the Hobgoblin being sold tonight will have been brewed in the same brewery. If anybody can confirm, for sure, that every drop is still brewed in the Wychwood brewery then fine, but I'd be surprised if this market penetration is supported by production at the original site.

I am sure that Marstons have capitalised on this seasonal event and brewed as much of the stuff in as many of their breweries as they could manage. They have sold it all over the country in their various pub estates and free trade outlets. Good for them.

It's all fine, so long as we realise that the beer and the brewery are now a very separate thing. Hobgoblin is a product. It's marketed under the name of Wychwood and a very good job is made of that. Marstons, who have a reasonable track record of keeping breweries going, are not really interested in the brewing capacity of the Wychwood brewery. Make no doubt about it they are interested in the ability to use the established trading name. They can combine a good product and it's marketing with the companies ability to distribute. The beer can be brewed anywhere and still be called Wychwood Hobgobblin because the names are now owned by Marstons.

My point is that during a time of shrinking beer market overall, there is no requirement to increase brewing capacity. Additionally to this we have an increase in success of the smaller breweries. Small breweries start up, some become successful and get bigger, really successful ones get bought up by even more successful ones until eventually they get bought by regional and nationals. Along the way some brewery sites will close, it's inevitable.

If we, the beer enthusiasts, want to see new beers then we also have to accept that this progress will also result in some failures. Beers will eventually move to new sites and despite concerns over the water being different I believe reasonable facsimiles can be made. The problem with the real ale market is that the typical real ale fan enjoys the variety. They like new ales to try: market penetration can only go so far. Once we started brewing our own and putting it on the bar, the likes of Jennings beers started to fall out of favour with our customers. Maybe this was partly due to the increased saturation of the market that the take over by Marstons caused or maybe by the fact that my beers, brewed on the premises were more attractive being rarer, but the effect was definitely there.

When I started out my drinking career in the early 80's the one brewery's beer that seemed to be sought after was Theakstons, probably rightly so. Today it is very much seen by many as old hat and boring. This is, I believe, the effect of the massive market saturation achieved by S&N when it took over. Having said all that, I still like Old Peculiar as my all time favorite beer.

As Ron says the location of the brewery might have some relevance to the beer being produced, but I believe not as much as many beer drinkers would like to believe. What the discerning ale drinker still wants is some feeling that the beer is special, this is something that the national brewers understand, they understand that a beer that is revered, like Hobgoblin, has some merit. The charm is lost when the product is pushed too far.

I do worry that as happened with Theakstons in the hands of S&N, many very revered names, like Hobgoblin, Jennings and maybe even Pedigree will eventually loose their charm as the big breweries use and abuse the good name, suck out the juice and throw away what's left. It seems to have happened with Theakstons, thankfully that name has withdrawn back into the family with good success.

The good news is that the diverse beer market is strong and forever changing. Rather than bemoaning the closure of breweries we should celebrate that big breweries need to keep their offering exciting. We should also be really happy that there are so many new microbreweries and brew pubs springing up. This cannot happen without some changes, and failures, at the other end of the scale.


Whorst said...

Years ago, there was a beer called Pete's Wicked Ale. It was classified as a Texas Brown Ale. It was INSANE! I believe it was dry hopped with Goldings. Well, Pete sold everything and it's brewed under license by some contract brewery now. Awful, and not even a shadow of its former glory. I used to like Directors, but wonder what it tastes like now? I believe Young's are brewing it.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I remember Pete's. Used to be a good brew, in the big bottle as well.

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