The Craft Knight Rises

Craft Beer Rising at the Old Truman Brewery – a sign of things to come?

The modern British beer landscape is rich, exciting and diverse. Traditional CAMRA-organised events, with rows of tilted casks and hi-vis-jacketed stewards are no longer the norm. We now have a variety of species of beer festivals. There are those put on by individual pubs (like last year’s CAMRGB takeover at The Lamb on Holloway Road), where a special selection of beers are brought in for a weekend. There are painfully trendy, street food-oriented outdoor events, like this week’s #BrooklynFeast in Dalston (where else?), which are pre-hashtagged for your social media convenience. There are also events that try to do a little bit of everything.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, Craft Beer Rising took the beer blogosphere by storm and established itself as the new must-visit event of the British beer calendar. It couldn’t have been more different to the London Drinker Beer and Cider Festival, or the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), CAMRA’s yearly beer bash. Fewer beers may have been on offer, but there was a wider variety. Cask, keg and bottled beers were present from breweries all over the UK and the world. The trend for street food was both acknowledged and catered for. Real ale, craft keg and much more were all included as part of the same experience, and the crowd was just as varied, in both age and gender.

I wrote about Craft Beer Rising recently in Rum & Reviews, and I must admit I got rather excited about how it represented what I thought beer festivals should be all about. Before I went to the London Drinker event, I thought to myself, ‘Ha! Let’s this how this measures up!’ thinking that it would seem pale in comparison to Craft Beer Rising.

2013-03-07 17.19.35
The CAMRA London Drinker Beer & Cider Festival. Proof that traditional beer festivals are still popular.

However, north London’s CAMRA beer festival is still going strong. The London Drinker event last week, in its regular home of the Camden Centre near Kings Cross, still had a big draw. Beer bloggers, beer tickers, old timers, young whippersnappers and brewers great and small made up a large portion of those attending. This was a CAMRA event though, and while women were more than welcome, many did not seem to feel welcome enough to actually attend.

The beer was served to much higher standard than I remembered, though the London bar seemed to have the lion’s share of the best beers. The main bar seemed to be 70% golden ale, and didn’t have nearly as many people drinking at it with ‘bloody hell that’s good’ faces. Unfortunately, the food offering was pretty basic, and shared space with the foreign beer bar. Some real treats were hidden away here though, particularly the mini-casks of Schlenkerla Marzen (liquid smoked bacon) and other German beers.

It wasn’t as much fun as Craft Beer Rising, but I can’t say that CBR was better either, as much as I would like to. These are two completely different events, and I expect #BrooklynFeast on Tuesday to be just as different again. I would be wrong to rank the UK’s beer festivals by how ‘good’ they are. Beer festivals are very subjective, individual experiences that appeal to tastes and personal preferences. The Celtic Beer Festival is completely different to GBBF, just as Wandsworth Beer Festival is to London Drinker, and just as the BrewDog AGM is to Craft Beer Rising. If CBR seems to be the better event, it might be because it adopts positive features from each of the above, and tries to do a bit of everything, and does it well. If this is a trend is on the rise (sorry), then I welcome it. We all get the beer festivals we deserve.

The fact is that each of these events is just as important. Each of them demonstrate the thrilling diversity of the British beer landscape, and we should recognise that each and every one is something to be proud of.

No Future – is beer innovation a myth?

The recent Beer Innovation summit received a very mixed reaction from the beer blogging community. At best, it was a valiant effort to establish some joined-up thinking and show appreciation of technological advances. At worst, it was a heavily blinkered back-patting exercise as everyone present congratulated themselves for being such good eggs.

Dave Bailey helped stir up debate on this issue, in an attempt to answer the following: what exactly is innovation in the brewing industry? Is it better quality cans to improve freshness and taste? Is it someone using Brettanomyces yeast and chili and ginger and mystical moonberries in an Imperial Black Saison? Is it creating a product designed to attract new drinkers to beer, which in the process alienates the faithful?

As far as I can tell, the debate simply created more and more questions, so many in fact that I can’t be sure that innovation in beer exists at all. Yes, technological advances can be innovative, but aren’t they simply industrial advances that improve the means of production, not the product? New beers are often old styles mashed together, or ingredients used differently to create the same thing. Where’s the ‘new’?

If I sound disillusioned, it’s because I am. If we are in a beer renaissance, where are our Da Vincis? I’m so, so grateful for all the excellent beer I drink, but is it really the cutting edge? My biggest fear is that someone is about to bring back mead, and that we’re all going to act like it’s a new and exciting thing.

The future. Actually, this would be pretty cool. Unethical, but cool.

I was recently at an excellent beer tasting session at Wilton’s Music Hall, presented by Adnams‘ head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald. Fergus made a unusually frank comparison at the very beginning: like wine, brewers seek to make a liquid from fermented sugars. The key words here, ‘like wine’. are rarely spoken by brewers, either because they cannot confidently compare their beers with wines, or because they see their beers as superior to wine, for one or several of many valid reasons. Fergus wasn’t trying to dredge up the old argument of beer vs wine in food terms. He was simply making a very valid and important point: think of the craft of wine-making in the same way as brewing. With this precedent firmly established, those gathered in the upstairs bar at Wilton’s were expertly guided through the core range of Adnams’ beers, and were generously introduced to a handful of oddities and one-offs, each stronger than the last (one of which, a Belgian yeast-driven Double IPA, was actually called Innovation).

This made me think that the ‘innovation’ we seek in beer should in fact be an innovation in thinking. The biggest change that will have the biggest effect on the brewing industry is changing the way it is perceived. Example: canned beer. Instead of making better cans, far more canned beer would be sold by changing the way we think about it. “Good beer in a can is good beer,” Fergus pointed out. “Crap cans of beer have crap beer in them.”

I think, like BrewDog say in their hopaganda, that the beer industry in the UK is sick. However, I think it’s a sickness that has symptoms undetectable to the subjects infected with it. We all think that the beer industry needs new, exciting things, but what we really need is new, exciting thinking. If you have the faintest idea what I mean (I barely do), please let me know in the comments.

Craft By Design

The Beer House in Waterloo station.

A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk?’. So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. So he kicks over the garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’, and I say ‘No that’s trendy! – Billie Joe Armstrong

A clumsy comparison, you’re already thinking, but bear with me. Whatever ‘craft’ beer is, it is generally agreed that whilst it’s hard to define, you know it when you see it. The same applies to modern ‘craft’ beer bars and pubs. They can be very traditional looking, like the Southampton Arms. They can be bare-brick-and-granite hipster magnets like BrewDog Camden. Whatever the decor or the theme might be, you know it when you see it. Admittedly, this is normally because there are 40 taps crammed onto the bar, but the point stands.

There’s an increasing number high-end beer venues in the UK, especially in London. They stand apart from well-established real ale havens that have ten or more ales on, even though they might share the same patrons. They are identifiably ‘a thing’ as popular vernacular would term it (‘Oh, is this a thing now?’ ‘Yes, definitely a thing’). So we have not only a boom in specialist beer, but also in specialist beer outlets.

As Boak and Bailey recently blogged, there are a number of signs when a boom is about to peak, and ultimately, decline. The most damning and certain sign is when the niche thing in question is adopted whole-heartedly, and replicated perfectly, by larger, wealthier, mainstream competitors. Have we already reached that point with craft beer? Definitely. It’s been happening in the USA for years, as the recent ‘Craft vs Crafty’ debate has proven. Even in the UK, bigger brewers are starting to place value in ale brands that only a few years ago were seen as dead weight. So what about the outlets – the places where we all drink and experience this wonderful beer?

Will mainstream pub companies attempt to replicate the success of BrewDog’s bars?

I recently found myself with half an hour to kill in Waterloo station, and happened across the promising-sounding Beer House, which also has branches in Charing Cross and Paddington. After descending a couple of flights of stairs, I found myself in a well-appointed, pubby sort of bar that was quite large but still definitely part of a train station. The wood panelling, leather-cushioned benches, chalkboard beer menus and random spray of manufactured ‘vintage’ art all said ‘modern pub’. The beer selection was spread across several chilled T-bar fonts and four different handpulls. The chilled fonts had a couple of token mainstream lagers, but most were beers like Erdinger Dunkelweisse, BrewDog 5am Saint, and Flying Dog Doggie Style. The food menu boasted deals on classic Americana; hot dogs, burgers etc. alongside pubbier fare. Prices were Train Station x London + Craft, but this was to be expected.

Given all of that, it still had all the necessary ingredients to make a pub that I would like. So what perturbed me about this place? It was the way they were put together: a case of the Uncanny Valley, where advanced robotics creates something disturbing because it is close-to-but-not-quite human, applied to a pub. Here was a venue owned and operated by SSP, Compass, or one of the other catering companies that run the franchises in train stations, but created to mimic our modern idea of a high-end beer venue. There was a palpable synthetic quality to everything, not helped by the fact it was in a generic, train station unit. The deliberate way in which ‘fun’ was injected into the chalkboard writing, the barmaid’s look of confusion when I asked for one of the heavily-advertised paddles of tasting thirds, the fact that the staff were clearly from one of those Pumpkin Cafes; these all created little glitches in the Matrix until I found myself questioning everything about it. It’s hard to explain myself without sounding like a weird pedant, but that’s what it was like. That sudden certainty that everything has been deliberately chosen to replicate something you like, that if you punch a hole in the wall you might see a lab of men in white coats ticking boxes of clipboards.

Is this the future? Should I have a problem with it? There wasn’t anything in particular about that place that I disliked, but I worry about the long-term consequences. We are used to paying higher prices for beer that costs more to make, by people that have higher overheads and smaller workforces. If more mainstream chains of craft beer bars spring up, will smaller chains of outlets get priced out of the game? Will brewers that cannot provide the quantities (that born-again bigger brewers  of ‘craft beer’ can) face decline and eventual closure? Am I making too much of this? I certainly hope so.

Gentlemen, to Science™!

I enjoyed a recent post from Boak and Bailey, which asked whether brewing should be termed as a science, art, or something else entirely. The comments prompted all sorts of thoughts in my head about how you can measure the artistic or scientific nature of brewing. Yet again, I find myself pondering the notion of ‘craft beer’. Wait! Don’t leave! I’m not about to try and define it. I think we’ve all wasted enough of our lives doing that.

What I mean is, art is a highly subjective field. Science™, however, whether it’s a child in a classroom or a theoretical physicist in a billion-pound laboratory, is defined by measurable results. Surely then, our hazy, multi-faceted, ever-changing notions of craft beer better fit into the category of art.

On the other hand, brewing (at least at a professional level) requires an intimate knowledge of microbiology, and processes that are designed to produce, and reproduce, a liquid to a specific set of characteristics with a very fine margin of error. If not an ‘exact science’, is brewing not then at least some sort of science? Definitely.

But then, do we consider the humble layman homebrewer a scientist, or indeed the industrial brewer an artist? Should brewing be considered by the scale at which it is being done? We could have the same discussion about chefs and their ‘art’. Surely the Michelin-star-boasting chef would not tolerate the chip fryer at a greasy spoon to be deemed an artist. Is creativity a factor here?

There is an argument for a different term entirely. Consider this:

“alchemy (countable and uncountable; plural alchemies)

  1. (uncountable) The ancient search for a universal panacea, and of the philosopher’s stone, that eventually developed into chemistry.
  2. (countable) The causing of any sort of mysterious sudden transmutation.
  3. (computing, slang, countable) Any elaborate transformation process or algorithm.” – Wiktionary.
What you’ll see if you put some IPA under a microscope

I would certainly argue that beer is the universal panacea, at any rate. We know that brewing was once thought to have involved divine intervention. Before people worked out what yeast was and how it worked, some called the process of fermentation godisgood. That might be an old beer wive’s tale (most “beer facts” seem to be, sadly) but consider the ‘mysterious sudden transmutation’ that was associated with alchemy. The transformation of liquor (water), hops (or it’s predecessor, grist) and malt into an intoxicating beverage that brought with mirth and merriment must have seemed alchemical, if not magical. Fermentation and conditioning may not be ‘sudden’, but they can certainly be mysterious processes.

Maybe we are better off with something less abstract, like skill, which at least covers the ability and craftmanship of the brewer, if not entirely recognising the stranger, weirder aspects of brewing. That old marketing buzz word artisan might be a better fit, but again, can all brewers be artisans?

Is the correct, proper, accurate and fairest term for brewing just brewing? Perhaps it can be set apart from definitions as something special and unique. What do you think?

Dog Eat Dog World

Copyright Ralph Steadman

Collaborations in the brewing world, especially between microbreweries, have become part of the loving, warm-hearted soul of this industry. It’s a curious thing really, for businesses in the food and beverage industry to collaborate in this way. We might expect it of celebrity chefs, or niche, independent delis and producers, but it hardly occurs elsewhere in food and drink.

In the arts, you can’t move for collaborations between musicians, artists and authors. Sometimes, beer and art cross over. Rapper Professor Green launched his own beer (brewed by Titanic) called Professor Green’s Remedy, and Beck’s have been using artfully-inspired labels created by artists and bands for a few years now. Even Elbow have released a ‘build a rocket boys!’ beer with the helps of Robinsons.

It’s a question that is barely worth asking, really. Why beer? Beer promotes collaboration because it’s one of the great social levellers, the great equaliser between ages, cultures and ideologies that promotes understanding and friendship (although, past a certain point, some people become progressively less understandable and friendly).

Sharing, caring and so on are all very well and good, but how about a little competition to spice things up?

Copyright Johanna Basford

On Monday, I attended the climactic final part of the recent International Arms Race between BrewDog and Flying Dog to create a winning Zero IBU IPA using no hops. It was a fascinating concept, and one that was wisely chosen. After all, instructing two hop-loving breweries to create a superior IPA would simply result in each producing a nuclear-hopped, scorched-earth-bitterness monster, which either could easily do any day of the week. Specifying that no hops could be used levelled the playing field and instead encouraged innovation. After agreeing on a set list of ingredients used to create spicy bitterness instead of hops (including bay leaves, ginger, rosemary and all sorts of herbs and spices), each brewer went off to create very different beers.

I will review each of them properly in a future issue of Rum and Reviews Magazine (once I have received some bottled versions), but the beers couldn’t have been more different, and the event held at BrewDog Camden was a great evening of beery nerdiness. It may have been a ‘Combative Collaboration’ and a competitive one, but both brewers gained from it, and had a lot of fun doing it. The competitive element intrigued me, because we are so used to the likes of Mikkeller simply co-authoring something with every brewery under the sun. Bloggers, writers, anyone can get involved, and that’s great. However, I think the competitive element adds something exciting. It encourages creativity and pushing boundaries, and I think a lot could be done in this regard with food.

Imagine, instead of trying to make the best Beer X, why not try to make the best beer to go with Food X?

The ultimate steak, BBQ or burger beer. The ultimate curry beer. The ultimate dessert beer. A famous chef could define and create the exact dish that the beer must match to, and then brewers could be invited to compete for the accolade of having the best beer to go with it. It’s something that drinkers and bloggers give their opinion on all the time (“for me, if I’m having a curry, I absolutely must have a … to go with it,”) and it would force brewers to put their pride on the line, instead of just idly suggesting an easy food match on the back of the bottle.

What do you think? Are collaborations a Good Thing? Would you like to see more competitions? I’d like to know your thoughts.

"It’s all just a bit of harmless fun."

Melissa Cole wrote a great blog (an open letter, really) a week ago about the use of this sort of thing:
(Images courtesy of the excellent watchdog for dodgy beer marketing Pumpclip Parade)

As this is a real pet hate of mine, I have to add my own feelings on this matter, not a ‘male perspective’ exactly, but hopefully one that is shared by other men.

When I see a one of these beers on the bar, I get angry and embarrassed in equal amounts. I get angry because this is exactly why some people think cask beer is for sad old men. I get embarrassed because, even if I order a completely different ale from the bar, people will think ‘Ah, this chap obviously shares the same sense of humour as the sad, dirty old man that designed the label for that other beer. That’s what cask ale drinkers are like.’
However, when people use the phrase “it’s all just a bit harmless fun”, I don’t get embarrassed. I just get angry. For the sake of argument (and my spleen), let’s put that sentence under the microscope, shall we?
“It’s all just a bit of harmless fun.”
First, it isn’t all just a bit of harmless fun, because not all breweries see fit to market their beer in this way. And amongst those that do, not all of them use the kind of bawdy, seaside-postcard-from-a-time-land-forgot type of humour that we are apparently supposed to celebrate and cherish as part of our innate, cultural backwardness. Some of them, see above, are terrifying glimpses into the psyches of deranged and possibly quite dangerous individuals. The man who drew that Randy Otter one should be sectioned.
Secondly, it isn’t all just a bit of harmless fun, because it extends beyond the pump clips to the grubby, pathetic, middle-aged-boys that think this is ‘funny’, or worse still, sexually arousing. It simply exacerbates a tired old stereotype of a man going to the pub to ‘get away’ from his wife, drink beer, and stare at crudely-drawn pictures of women, otters, figures from folklore, whatever floats their boat.
Thirdly, it is not harmless, because it harms my eyes, my intelligence, and the idea of being ‘a good lad’ or ‘nice bloke’ or ‘gentleman’ that is instilled in most men by their fathers from a young age. If people want to look at pornographic images, that is absolutely fine. If people want to make silly names for things, be my guest. If people want to degrade themselves, the pub, and the beer they are drinking by needing to buy an ale called ‘Top Totty’ and leering at a child’s drawing of a woman in her underwear, they can FFFFUUU-ind themselves somewhere else to do so.
Finally, it is not fun, or at least any kind of measure of fun that I am aware of. This boils down to – and I’m sorry if I’m repeating myself, but it really does seem to be the core issue here – people enjoying looking at crappy, cartoon images of ‘rude things’. If pubs aren’t permitted to sell alcohol to those under the age of 18, they may wish to consider extending this to those whose mental age is below 18 as well.
Let’s all just move on, and embrace the British beer renaissance. Every day people are trying out cask ale and craft beer, and the last thing we want is for someone to think that the guy who designed ‘Rodger the Goblin’ represents the bulk of people who enjoy good beer. 
What really gets to me is how stupid it is, and how it must drive away so many people from trying what may possibly be a good beer. Cynical as I am, I simply assume they are trying to sell off a bad batch of bitter by putting ‘a bit of blue’ on the pump clip. However, I’ve heard that some of these beers are all right. This is even more depressing, because it means they have been effectively reserved for those with the sense of humour of some kind of fist-testicle hybrid.
I am not saying BAN THIS FILTH because, frankly, we shouldn’t need to ban it, should we? We should simply be capable of rising above it. We’re British for heaven’s sake. We should be capable of a bit of class.

Yes We Can


It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks for me, and I imagine, for many of you too. The Olympics of course, plus some outrageously hot weather, the Great British Beer Festival, and all sorts of warm-weather based shenanigans to empty your wallet for. My GBBF coverage will find its way to Rum and Reviews Magazine shortly, but I thought I would share another recent and significant beer experience.
Having finally joined the British Guild of Beer Writers(mainly to further my own ambitions, but also because I have always wanted to be part of a Guild), I was invited to a pre-GBBF event at the marvellous Porterhouse in Covent Garden (reviewed by The Gentleman Drinker here) to try out a wide selection of American craft beer in *DUN DUN DUNNNN* cans. The beer was excellent, and it got me thinking about beer’s relationship with aluminium, and what the future could hold.
The humble can of beer has served us all tirelessly without complaint for decades, and yet, it has a serious image problem. We don’t see the can for what it is, we see it for what it isn’t.
“I said where’s the BEER aisle not the insipid, corporate, industrial…” James Watt  hated going to Tesco.
The 440ml or 500ml can is the default beer SKU in the ever-growing off-trade, and pallets of them dominate aisles of supermarkets across the land. However, despite its ubiquity, or perhaps because of it, people don’t see cans of beer as quality items. There is always a perceived cheapness to them. The industry has come a long way from having tinny-tasting tinnies, but the association somehow lingers on. Bottled beer has perceived class, quality and tradition. Then of course there is bottle-conditioned beer, one of beer’s most important expressions. Secondary fermentation creates fuller flavours, natural carbonation and opens up the wonderful world of aged beer. Even CAMRA will occasionally reach down from Olympus and deign to label bottle-conditioned ale with their logo, designating ‘properness’.
How are cans going to compete with that? In the UK’s current beer renaissance, how can the humble can share space with Kernel, BrewDog and Mikkeller in the hearts of beer geeks? Well, BrewDog have already bought into canning their beer, not in a big way, but both Punk IPA and 77 Lager are available. Surely, I hear you cry, that was just BrewDog doing one of their ‘clever ideas’ wasn’t it? Were we supposed to take them seriously?
Not a joke.
Well, BrewDog were simply emulating the American craft beer scene that they so desperately want to recreate here in the UK. American microbreweries (or rather, what they would call microbreweries) have been pioneering the idea of quality beer in cans for years, and I think it could be the way forward in the UK too.
Why? Well, for one thing there’s the benefits to the brewer. Cans are cheaper, easier to produce, and easier to store and deliver. That could theoretically mean that smaller brewers find it easier to get their beer to more pubs and shops.  
There is also the fact that consumers would enjoy a lower price for their beer, and that it’s easier for them to carry home too. More importantly, they could carry home more of it. As we all know, beer in cans gets colder quicker than beer in glass bottles, and there is absolutely no risk of UV light damage or ‘skunking’. Aluminium cans are arguably easier to recycle, and they are generally more practical and functional than glass bottles. As an example, recall how many times you have had to have sadface-inducing mainstream keg lager in a plastic cup at gigs and festivals because they can’t sell decent bottles of beer? Now imagine being at a gig or festival, strolling up to the bar and seeing some of these beauties:
 As I mentioned earlier, I was lucky enough to sample a selection of canned American craft beer recently, and on the basis of what I tasted, an aluminium-coated future does not frighten me in the least.
I got to taste everything from the big-hitting mainstays like Sierra Nevada to smaller, kookier outfits such as 21stAmendment, Maui Brewing and Caldera. Of course, in American there’s no such thing as small, but these producers give us an idea of how smaller brewers have bought into the idea of canned craft beer, and they’re doing it well.
Something slightly random but important that stuck with me afterwards is that cans have the better ‘opening noise’ than bottles. That sharp percussive crack and hiss flicks a switch in your brain that gets your mouth watering. What’s that about? 
As you can see above, with a change in packaging comes a change in labelling. With cans, the label ismost of the packaging, and most canned US craft beers have really eye-catching labels. There’s garish, gaudy colour schemes that remind you of vintage 60’s music festival posters, star-spangled red-white-and-blue palettes, or stark contrasting colour schemes with stencilled lettering and surreal art. They’re striking, they capture the eccentricity of the beer and its brewers, and most of all, they look good.
  
Sometimes they look a little too good. A few, including Caldera IPA (above) resemble some kind of tropical fruit drink more than a strong beer.
It all comes back to quality. If the quality of the beer can be assured, then eventually beer connoisseurs will be won over. It doesn’t mean an end to bottles by any means. Rather, bottled beer, and bottle-conditioned beer in particular, will become even more special, even more rare and even more desirable. Cans will become the ‘norm’; beer of good quality to be enjoyed without fuss. Bottles will become valued possessions, encouraging more people to age their beer, and encouraging brewers to create beers that are designed to be aged.
Imagine a world where this could be even more amazing than it already is.
Ultimately, true beer nerds connoisseurs will pour the beer into a glass before drinking it, whatever the original vessel. The quality is not an issue – the beer tastes really, really good. The packaging is sharp and exciting, and I think it moves beer away from hefty, masculine pints and big bottles. I think cans make unusual beer like Coconut Porter, Black IPA and the like more accessible and less exclusive.
What do you think? Can you see yourself drinking beers like those above? Is this inevitable, and what place will cask ale and bottle-conditioned beer have in such a future? I’d like to know your thoughts.

Promotion Sickness 2012

Every now and then, I suffer from an immensely irritating condition called promotion sickness. It interferes with my daily life, interrupting an otherwise standard journey from one place to another with intense feelings of nausea, confusion and despair. It is usually caused by seeing an advertisement which has crossed the line which divides promoting a product, to creating a situation that doesn’t exist, and that product being the ideal choice for someone in that non-existent situation. This cracks my perception of reality (but… why WOULD a man be naked, smiling, wearing expensive designer glasses? Specialist nudist eye test? Superglue accident that he sees the funny side of?) and I feel violent convulsions.

Much has been written already about the mind-numbing corporate domination of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and even today Dave Bailey of Hardknott has written about how small business have been affected. I’m going to hone in on a specific example, in fact, a particular advertisement. In London Liverpool Street rail station, there’s a large video screen of rolling adverts, news and so on, which periodically displays information about events taking place that day, sponsored by Heineken. As we all know, Heineken is the official alcohol provider for an international festival where people, who as part of their training are forced to avoid drinking alcohol, perform physical feats for the entertainment of people who do drink alcohol. It instructs viewers to… oh no here it comes… to go and watch the coverage… oh this is going be a bad one… to watch the coverage in… mmhbbbhmmm…. ‘Your Local Heineken Pub’.
Not the first time Heineken has made me sick.
Sorry, I think that’s most of it gone now. The advert (I couldn’t take picture of it – promotion sickness ruins my hand-eye co-ordination and gets vomit on my phone) is sponsored by Heineken in the same way that the sky is sponsored by the colour blue. I mean, it couldn’t be more green, or have more red stars on it, or more uses of the word ‘Heineken’. Clearly all efforts have already been made to make sure that we associate ‘watching the Olympic Games’ and ‘having a beer’ with Heineken. Mission accomplished.
First, I would like to congratulate Heineken on behalf of every person who has ever used the phrase ‘local pub’. We’ve just been milling around, using the phrase for years, without ever once thinking that it could be improved just by subtly crowbarring the word Heineken into it. Well, thanks guys, we are sure to use the new and improved version immediately, and we certainly don’t feel offended by a corporation trying to change an existing phrase for their own ends for a few weeks. It isn’t weird or sickening at all. I was just vomiting about how amazing it is. 
Anyway, this advert raises a few questions, mainly: what was wrong with just saying ‘your local pub’, given that the advert is basically a collage of Heineken logos with tiny glimpses of athletes, grass, sky and things that aren’t Heineken? What is a local… H-word pub? What have you done with the others?
Well, as I am sure any Heineken marketeer would tell you, any pub in London that doesn’t sell Heineken during the Games obviously doesn’t have a very big interest in sports coverage. I mean, these supposed intelligent human beings, have got themselves into a situation where they own or pay rent on a large building that regularly has lots of people it, they have an extortionately expensive Sky Sports package because they are a pub, expensive televisions to show it, and a whole range of drinks to meet the expectations of their customer base, and THEY DON’T HAVE HEINEKEN. Pity should be reserved for those who deserve it, not these knuckle-dragging, slow-witted sub-humans, who probably struggle to use rudimentary tools.
Sports bar owner Dean Smith, whose locals allegedly ‘prefer Staropramen’, if such a thing can be believed.
These people CERTAINLY won’t have received the full corporate pub-vajazzaling (you can correct me on the spelling but I understand it means something to do with interior decoration) from the Heineken salesforce, who have basically rebranded 150 London pubs earlier this month. Perhaps this is what a Local H******** Pub is. Perhaps we are all supposed to flock to these places, and quaff Heineken by the keg-load as physically superior people jump and run and so on in the way that they do.
*opens his cynicism valve*
Aaaaaaah….
Look, I understand why they chose Heineken. From a completely practical point of view, to be the omni-brewer for an event like the Olympics, you need to have enormous brewing capacity and a solid, reliable supply chain to ensure that loads and loads of beer can be in all kinds of places at any moment. You need a competent sales force and account team who know the stadia market inside out, and can accommodate their requirements. You also need to be provide a beer that is acceptable, NOT special or remarkable, but just about acceptable to most people. These are the established rules.
But you know what, it would have been really, really amazing if LOCOG had thought to do things a little bit differently. Here we have a city with not just brewing tradition or history, but a city that actually defined beer styles that travelled the world and influenced brewers everywhere, and were high valued commodities that defined what beer actually is. Here we have a city that is undergoing a beer renaissance, with dozens of microbreweries starting up on a monthly basis. Here we have a city that is producing some of the best beer in the world, and the best cuisine, and maybe, just maybe there was something that could have been done to truly elevate beer’s standing.
Beer could have been parachuted in, or a brewery in the Industrial revolution section…
Wait, what the hell has beer got to do with the Olympics anyway Chris, didn’t you already have a pop at the connection in your second paragraph? Well spotted, and I stand by the point that beer has absolutely nothing to do with participating in sport (after participating is another matter entirely). However, sport is one of everybody’s ‘beer moments’, and this is a cultural Olympiad as well as a sporting one. Perhaps if LOCOG had approached, I don’t know, the London Brewers Alliance, and maybe they could have contacted the Society of Independent Brewers, and brewers based near where other events are taking place in the UK, and discussed and planned out a way of supplying dozens of different beers, from conventional to exceptional, for an event that is intended to highlight the very best of the country it takes place in. I seem to recall Great Britain being rather better at beer that it is at a lot of other things. Well, except rowing and sailing, but then how else would we have got IPA?
Ah well, at least we have a reassuringly passionless, common-denominator corporate brand to enjoy. Isn’t that what the Olympics is all about?

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.