Category Archives: beer advertising

“More Bad News for Beer” is Actually Good News for Beer

My colleague and friend, Jack Robertiello, recently wrote a story for Nightclub & Bar Magazine entitled “More Bad News for Beer.” I was intrigued and surfed over to the website to read it, and then walked away smiling. Here’s why.

The “bad news” that Jack reports is almost exclusively about the big name, mass-produced convenience beers that we all know and probably don’t love all that much. You know the ones I’m referring to, those that distinguish themselves from the competition by how cold they are, how long they’ve been around or how “innovative” their bottle may be. (Amusingly, the side panel ad that appeared when I loaded the online version of the story promoted the “new bottle” for Miller Lite.) And yes, for such brands the news truly is bad.

At the heart of Jack’s story is a recently published consumer survey reporting declines in the overall popularity of beer and the numbers are indeed, on the surface, at least, bleak. Two percent fewer adults of legal drinking age were identifying beer as their “go to” beverage compared to the same time period in 2012; 21 to 27 year olds were deserting beer in significant volumes, with 33 percent saying it was their favourite alcoholic beverage as compared to 39 percent a year earlier; and three percent fewer men were siding with beer than did in 2012.

Thing is, though, those sad numbers are almost exclusively about big beer. How do I know? Well, check this out: “The major reason given by 21-27 year olds when asked why they are consuming less beer – 39 percent said they are ‘getting tired of the taste of beer.’” Sounds more like comment about a Bud Light or Coors Light than it does a Dogfish 60 Minute IPA or New Belgium Ranger, doesn’t it? And about craft beer, this is about the most negative thing Jack has to report: “…and crafts, while increasing dramatically, offer a wild and ever changing array of selections that can make the average consumer’s head spin.”

Too much selection and variety in craft beer may be an issue down the road, but judging from the bar owners and operators, and consumers, I’ve been speaking with over the last year — not all of them by any means beer aficionados or craft specialists — it isn’t now.

In fact, where bars and restaurants are concerned, variety in craft beer appears to be a big selling point, since people generally go out for experiences they can’t otherwise get at home, ie: new varieties of draught beer. But don’t believe me, believe the Adult Beverage Insights Group of the research firm Technomic, who report that when only bar and restaurant sales are accounted for, craft beer’s overall market share skyrockets from about 6.5 percent to an impressive 15 percent of total beer sales.

So yes, this really is a good news story.

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More New Zealand Notes

As I flip through my notebook post-New Zealand, a few things stand out, such as:

Best Beer Name: Pernicious Weed by Garage Project

Best Beer Story: Red Zone Enigma by Twisted Hop — The Twisted Hop brewery was located within what is now the infamous “Red Zone” in Christchurch, which meant that a conditioning batch of their Enigma barley wine was necessarily left to mature from February, when the earthquake struck, to August, when the owners were finally allowed in to extract it and bottle it up! I didn’t have a chance to try it, but it is by all accounts very good indeed. (And I heard good news from Twisted Hop, too! Seems they’ll be reopening in not just one, but as many as three locations in Christchurch.)

Most Ridiculous Idea (That Actually Worked): The madmen behind Yeastie Boys thought it would be a wise idea to brew a beer with 100% peated malt, thus producing Rex Attitude, which strikes me as what Ardbeg might make if it were a brewery rather than a distillery. If that wasn’t foolishness enough, they then decided to up the alcohol content to 10% in an even bigger, peatier beer, Rex, which oddly enough seems more balanced and approachable than the 7% original.

Best Use of Non-Hop Local Ingredients: The Captain Cooker Manuka Beer from the Mussel Inn is flavoured with tips plucked from the manuka tree. The result is one of the most intriguing spice characters I have ever encountered in a beer.

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Arrow Brewing’s Hop in a Bottle, which, yes, actually contains a whole hop cone. One which flakes apart when the bottle is even slightly agitated, leaving significant flotsam floating in your glass.

Best Marketing Slogan: Moa Brewing’s “Dark and acceptable to all palates. The Will Smith of beers.”

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10 Words NOT to Use When Writing or Talking About Beer, Pt. II

6. “Lovingly”: As a youthful scribe, I once wrote that a beer’s foam “clings lovingly to the side of the glass.” I still cringe when I think of it. (And as an aside, this applies equally to label and press release copy. I’ve seen bottling lines of all shapes and sizes in action and I am quite certain that no bottle of ale or lager ever released has truly been “lovingly” bottled.)

7. “Suds”: Is it soap? No, it’s beer. There is therefore nothing sudsy about it.

8. “Hoppy” (without further qualification): Forget that a generous proportion of the beer drinking public still doesn’t understand what “hoppy” means, to use it without adding a sense of what is meant delivers no information to the recipient. I had a “hoppy” beer on the weekend that was spicy and nutty bitterness wrapped in a comforting blanket of caramelly and mildly fruity malt, and another that was a citrusy, piney assault. Both were “hoppy,” but they could scarcely have been more different.

9. “Pretty Good for a…” (with further qualification): Good beer is good beer, period. If it’s only “pretty good for a big brewery beer/brewpub beer/beer from X country,” then maybe it’s not really all that good. (And yes, I know that technically this entry means that I have listed 13 words not to use, rather than 10. Call it creative licence.)

10. “Quad”: Where to begin? That it’s a diminutive referring to a beer that is presumed to be big, malty and alcoholic? That it derives from an ale first brewed in the 1990’s and is now used retroactively to describe beers developed decades before? Or that it’s simply a lazy shorthand with no real meaning? Okay, I’ll take all three!

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10 Words NOT to Use When Writing or Talking About Beer, Pt. I

1. “Authentic”: Means next to nothing. Is it a real beer, of “undisputed origin” according to the dictionary? Fine, it’s authentic, and so is every other beer not claiming to be something else.

2. “Genuine”: See above. (Ironically, the one place where this word is most widely used, by Miller for its brand commonly known now as MGD, its use is bogus, since there is little doubt that bottled beer cannot be “genuine” draft.)

3. “Traditional”: There is a brewery in Toronto where barley and hops are grown, wort is air cooled and all fermentation takes place in wooden barrels. THAT is traditional. The ale made on a gleaming stainless steel, computerized brew kit? Not so much.

4. “Cold”: Yeah, like that’s an achievement.

5. “Drinkable”: You know what’s really drinkable? Water! I drink it all the time, but that doesn’t mean I want my beer to taste the same way.

Pt. II will arrive early next week.   

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Sh*t Beer Marketers Do (But Shouldn’t)

1. “Smooth drinkability”

2. “Pairs with foods of all sorts”

3. “Fresh, crisp flavor”

4. “Uniquely refreshing”

5. “Cold”

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Thinking Hard About Miller Lite

Why, you might wonder, would I be thinking hard about Miller Lite? It is not, after all, a beer I sample with any sort of regularity – the last one I tasted probably belonged to the last century – and neither is it a brand I see as having any sort of defining presence in the marketplace. (The introduction in 2010 of the “vortex” bottle provided but a single upward blip in what has been the beer’s more-or-less steady decline over the past few years.)

But Lite popped up on my radar recently thanks to none other than Stan Hieronymus, he of Appellation Beer, who put not one, but two links to this ad into his blog. It took me a while to get to actually watching it, but once I did, an eyebrow was raised. Go watch it for yourself and see if you can guess what made my eyebrow twitchy.

No, it wasn’t that Lite has won the World Beer Cup gold for American-Style Light (Low Calorie) Lager four times. (The category is tailor made for such beers, so that comes as no surprise.) It wasn’t the caricature of beer judges as bizarrely facially haired gents and sour-puss ladies. (That part is kind of true, at least for the men, although few in the judge’s room would be so nattily attired.) And it certainly wasn’t the notion that Lite is hopped three times. (Hell, hop it a dozen times if you want, just don’t try to tell me it has any significant hop character.)

What got my attention was this line: “…and never watered down.” Taken at face value, this means that unlike the majority of convenience beers on the market today – and again, thanks Tim Webb for that great way to describe mass-market lagers – Miller Lite is not high-gravity brewed, or in other words, brewed to a higher alcohol content band then watered to the desired strength at the packaging line.

More than the cost of the hops, more than the price of malt and whatever adjuncts they may or may not use, and more even, I suspect, than the price of the vortex bottle, not high gravity brewing Lite would add extraordinarily to the cost of the beer’s production. And that is what i found this revelation to be, well, rather extraordinary.

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Kronenbourg Goes Mad(ness)

A while back, Heineken launched an ad campaign in the UK for Kronenbourg 1664 which featured Motorhead performing a slowed-down version of their classic, “Ace of Spades.” Although I’m not a huge fan of the beer — any more, since they loweed the alcohol content and märzen-esque malty appeal of the beer I recall from trips on France’s TGV in the late 1990’s — even I, a furious critic of superficial beer advertising, had to admit it was pretty clever.

(And apt, too. As I explained only recently during a presentation in Buenos Aires, the French are notoriously slow drinkers where beer is concerned.)

The reason I mention this now, other than as an excuse to post the above clip, is because Heineken just announced what their next slowed-down ad will be, namely “Baggy Trousers” by Madness. If you’re not familiar with the song, which was more a hit in the UK than it was in North America, check it out here. You can also see pre-production clips at Kronenbourg’s YouTube page.

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