Saturday, 11 June 2011

A bit of perspective

Beer is a highly scalable product. It is highly industrialiseable. It can be made in large quantities, in big breweries, with inevitable economies of scale. It can be made really economically, by faceless multinational corporations, by cutting costs on ingredients so that the result is a bland, fizzy, cold product, sold to numpties who know no better. Oh wait, I'm denigrating 90% of beer. Never mind, that's what CAMRA started with 40 years ago, it was OK to do it then.

Beer can also be made in small sheds, hand crafted by passionate artisanal brewers who care more about the flavour of the beer rather than saving a few pennies on the production costs. The consistency of the resultant beer can often be highly variable and the experimental nature often produces beers with dubious palatability. Additionally, they are mainly Real Ales which might turn out to be flat, warm and vinegary.

These two examples of denigration of various beers are still all too rife. Some commentators are prophesying that this is damaging the world of beer in general. We should all just get on with making good beer and let the beer do the talking, apparently.

Now, I like the sound of that, I really do. I'd love it if I could just get on and make beer, make sure my phone number is in the telephone directory1 and wait for the phone to ring red hot with enquiries. This just doesn't work.

I saw recently, somewhere, someone stating that the only beer which is not marketed is made in your garage. In other words beer, or any product for that matter, cannot sell without it being marketed. Sometimes that marketing can be low key. Sometimes it can just be a micro-brewer going around a few pubs and convincing them to buy his beer. That can work, but I can tell you from experience that this does not produce sales of any significant amount compared to the effort that is put in.

I'd like to consider something, something that concerns me a great deal but doesn't come to light very often; The majority of beer that is sold in this country is lager made in relatively large quantities and marketed at the masses. The majority of it is targeted at the football supporting males of the population. I know the vast majority of football supporters are sensible, law abiding and non-violent. The mainstream press do not view football supporters in this way. The stereotype football supporter is often portrayed as a mindless thug whose choice of alcoholic beverage is dirty lout drunk until he2 vomits in the street. Consider, do the large brewers do the beer industry any favours by aligning themselves with this market?

Craft beer, and in this context I include the majority of cask beer, bottle conditioned beers, various imported foreign beers and some notable non-bottle conditioned and keg beers alike, are not mentioned in main stream media to any great extent. Wine gets talked about a great deal in the mainstream media. In fact, beer is barely mentioned much at all on TV, radio or in the papers, except to point out that it gets people drunk, makes them violent and causes disorder in city centres, especially if there is a football match occurring at the same time.

Do we really think that the current spats occurring between bloggers and CAMRA, CAMRA and BrewDog, or BrewDog and beer geeks who didn't get their beer, is really making much of an impact on the overall creditability of beer? No, I don't think it's making much impact at all.

Most of the general public know about big beer brands, mainly because of sport related advertising. Most of the general public are aware of the value of cask beer and to some extent that is down to CAMRA and the quiet work done by micro-brewers and regional brewers alike along with organisations like SIBA.

How then does a brewer who wishes to make in-roads to what he/she sees as a gap in the market? With existing polarised views that beer consists either of fizzy cold keg for football supporters or cask beer for middle aged gentlemen, how does a brewer make the point that his beer is different? How does a brewer who wants to target his beers at people who don't want to drink mainstream lager or cask session beer if the brewer doesn't actually point out that their product is neither of these things?

Well, we know the answer to that one.

Meanwhile, I have been getting a little bit bemused by various notary people in the beer world being concerned about the bad image being given to beer by various marketing campaigns. Referring to the football link, I can't help feeling that nearly any marketing activity associated with beer is going to be seen by someone, somewhere, as a bad thing for beer.

Moreover, why do we think beer is different? Why do we think that it is the only market that suffers from promotion via highlighting the differences between products? I'm convinced it's not.

I asked a friend on twitter, who runs a software technology company, if the same sort of teacup based storms occur in the software industry:
"@HardKnottDave the world of Beer is a polite tea party compared to the ongoing brawl that is the software industry." - @JunkLight
Come on everyone, get a bit of perspective.


1Do telephone directories still exist? Do people still use them?

2Yes, he is always male.


Alistair Reece said...

Interesting post Dave.

When I worked in the stag party industry in Prague I was always amazed at the number of people who would have their first few mouthfuls of a beer like Gambrinus or Staropramen (not exactly good beers, but the Czech equivalent of Carling I guess) and lament loudly that "why can't we get lager like this in England?". Perhaps I am being over optimistic here but there is a demand for better lager in the UK, what is lacking is an infrastructure for getting better lagers into the hands of the people.

You know as well as I do that the reason people can't access better lager on a regular basis is because of tied estates and PubCos, not because it isn't being made.

It is all good and well for supermarkets to sell all manner of good lager, but most people will drink what they know, and what they know is what they can get at the pub. And so the cycle goes.

One other thing I would like to note is in talking about spats, you mention one between "BrewDog and beer geeks who didn't get their beer" - just because a beer geek doesn't rave over a BrewDog beer doesn't mean it is the geek who didn't "get it", it could just as easily be a case of BrewDog not being the dog's bollocks they are in their own minds.

Curmudgeon said...

Depends what you mean by "better lager" but my local pub has Staropramen and many Robinson's pubs now have Veltins, both of which are a notch or two above Stella in the food chain.

Unknown said...

"Beer geeks not getting BrewDog beer" was deliberately ambiguous. "get" as in not understanding or "get" as in gaining possession of..... you choose.