Carlsberg and the C Word

Kraft!

Carlsberg Sweden have announced they will be launching a, and I quote, ‘craft-style’ lager this year. It’s hard not to be cynical when a large company enters a player into a growing trend somewhat late in the game (see Stella and cider). After all, there’s nothing connoisseurs like more than when a large mainstream company launch something that shamefully imitates or seeks to imitate a niche product, right? Right?

‘Lawn Mower’ will be a 4.8% lager developed by Carlsberg in the backyard (ooh, so rustic) of its Falcon Brewery in Falkenberg. The ‘Backyard Brewery’ is the latest in long line of craft brewery pilot plants opened by larger brewers in the last few years. In the UK, Molson Coors have had a pilot plant (based out of the old White Shield Brewery) for a few years, and regional ale producers Brains and Thwaites have both built a ‘craft brewery’ recently. The aim for any brewer who does this is the same: to produce and test out small batches of left-of-field beers, to build long-term brands out of successful brews, and to improve their reputation among beer geeks.

This is all well and good. Big brewers want to have a slice of the growing ‘craft beer’ trend, and win over people that think they’re only interested in making common denominator beers. Fine. And Sweden’s craft beer scene is ripe for the picking. In fact, most of Scandinavia is undergoing a beer renaissance. BrewDog sales figures indicate that most of their exported beer goes to Sweden, and brewers like Mikkeller and Nøgne ø are darlings of the UK and US craft beer scenes.

So with that in mind, why in the name of all that’s holy and good have they described it as:

“dry hopped with Amarillo and Cascade to give it a grassy aroma.”

Bad news for beer-loving hayfever sufferers

I mean, I get it: ‘grassy’, ‘lawn mower’, but there’s several things wrong with that sentence. First, what is a grassy aroma, why is it appealing, and why would you build an entirely new brand around it? I understood a grassy aroma to typically come from lightly hopped lagers and ales, and an actual ‘fresh-cut grass’ aroma is relatively rare, usually buried or distorted by stronger, sweeter scents from the malt. If that’s what you’re going for, fine, but it’s not an aroma that speaks to experimental palates used to hop bombs and barley wines.

It’s also worth clarifying, in case you didn’t already know, that Amarillo and Cascade hops are the kind of big, brash, tropical fruit-scented behemoths that are found in so many American IPAs. They don’t have a grassy aroma. They’re bursting with orange and grapefruit, and taste like it too.

Not grass.

So in conclusion, they are either a) making the beer completely wrong, b) describing it completely wrong, or c) both.

It would seem that Carlsberg have hired one of those beer marketing people that say really weird, nonsensical things. You know, like ‘Brewed traditionally for flavour and taste’ or ‘the beer’s carbonation gives it great, refreshing aftertaste’ or they think Maris Otter is a kind of hops. These people should have been hounded out of beer marketing about seven years ago and forced to write reclining chair ads in the Daily Express.

When I saw ‘Carlsberg to make craft-style lager’ and ‘amarillo and cascade’ I simply assumed they were going for some kind of a Brooklyn Lager rip-off. It’s a safe bet that people will like it and it wouldn’t be too hard to achieve. To be honest, I still suspect this to be the case, and they’ve simply got some utter berk to explain the beer to the media. The same spokesman, clearly some kind of android, goes on to say:


“When we tried some of those high quality brews, we saw an opportunity to bring the concept to market,”

and:

“It (the Backyard Brewery) is not a new brewery, it’s a virtual concept where we leverage our newly-renovated development brewery to make room for creativity and passion.”

We are to assume there was previously no room for passion or creativity at Falkenberg Brewery, and that new ideas were hunted down and shot like the dogs they are. The evidence is in Carlsberg’s “varied portfolio” today. Impressive stuff. Three, count ’em, THREE lagers.

If Carlsberg really want to impress craft beer lovers, they need look no further than the beers they were making a few decades ago. The likes of Carlsberg 47 (Vienna lager), Carlsberg Gamle (Munich lager) and Gammel Porter, among others, were still being made in the brewer’s main headquarters in Denmark as recently as the 1990’s, and a large brewer resurrecting old brands (like Molson Coors did with Worthington White Shield) is generally more impressive than turning out a cynical knock-off.

They could maybe leave the old trademark off though…

I can see why they are desperate to diversify but they should look a little closer to home if they want to gain any credibility, which appears to be another C word they have no concept of the meaning of.

Do these kind of moves by large brewers rub you the wrong way? Does anybody know if those old Carlsberg brews are still available? What’s the story with swastika trademark? Do you like the smell of cut grass? Leave a comment.

Author: Chris Hall

London-based freelance beer writer and blogger. Member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. Co-author of 'Craft Beer: 100 Best Breweries in The World' On Twitter @ChrisHallBeer.

8 thoughts on “Carlsberg and the C Word”

  1. This is exactly what big brewers shouldn't do. Good piece Chris. And you know using "leverage" where "borrow" or "use" was clearly more meaningful just makes an awful set of clichés, more awful.

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  2. The execution here is indeed poor; however, in some respects, it is a necessary move on the part of larger brewers. I refer specifically to the Brains brewery, which you mentioned. They're a large brewery on the Welsh scene, naturally, but can hardly be compared to the likes of Carlsberg. It's difficult to imagine Carlsberg suddenly going under (though all things are possible) but even with a 125-plus year history and a deep trench dug into the Welsh scene, I personally feel that Brains will be struggling within 30 years time if they don't innovate. Already, leaner, younger Welsh brewers, let alone the global scene, are beginning to chip away and press in from all sides. (Today, Brains are co-running a pub with the Otley brewery, tomorrow Otley are buying out Brains pubs. Well, all things are possible.)I'm told a significant part of their brewery equipment dates back to the 50s. Sure, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but you can only stretch things so far before they snap under the pressure of modernised competition.That's why, at this stage, I'm very welcoming of the Brains craft brewery. They're certainly more grass roots in their approach as well (no pun intended on your excellent article). They're asking actual beer writers such Simon Martin, rather than corporate drones, to spearhead this initiative. It's something I intend to keep a close eye on, and hopefully raise a glass to in the coming months.

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  3. I wonder where the line is between genuinely investing in innovating brewing and cynically buying into a culture your company does not represent. I agree that the likes of Brains and Thwaites are being genuine and forward thinking. Carlsberg just sound like someone's embarrassing dad trying to be on-trend.

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  4. Reblogged this on athenaminerva7 and commented:
    This sounds a bit illogical but also that there trying to jump on the band waggon a bit late and just make more money/save face. I dislike grass flavours in my beer because I am not a cow. I do however like tropical flavours and amarillo/cascade so it may turn out good but I highly doubt this.

    Liked by 1 person

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