Three styles good?

At the end of last year the blog hoster, Posterous, was consumed by Twitter and users of the service, myself included, needed to make other plans.  Much pain & grinding of teeth was involved and just last week normality felt like it was being restored when I reconnected with one of my original ‘Follows’ in the beer blogosphere, Malt Jerry.  He’d posted a piece on Fuller’s ‘Frontier Craft Lager’. Jerry writes thoughtful pieces with interesting angles on topics. In this case the bait that hooked the fish was the wriggling worm of a web forum where the question was asked if Fuller’s should brew lager. Responses included, “Why in the world … would they choose to brew an inferior type of beer?” and, “No. Leave the chemical beers to chemical brewers.”

Elsewhere, there will be voices that are pro lager. What the comments underlined was how, once perceptions are built, they are difficult to shake.  To summarise a whole category with a headline like ‘lager = chemicals’ is patently wrong, but it only takes one turd in the swimming pool to stop you swimming, as an old boss of mine liked to say.   And we seem to be in a critical period now when ale is both rebuilding its reputation but also becoming anchored to associations that may in time, prove to make its growth more difficult.

Which is where we find ourselves today, a category classified broadly threefold:  a ‘everyday’ (bitter? Pale Ale?), an ‘IPA’ and a ‘golden’ – and brewers following the money. I find myself pondering whether a category defined by these three styles – at a drinker level not a beer connoisseur level – is an advantage or a disadvantage.  Commercially, it’s a good thing.  Too often, small brewers fragment their range to such a level that they end up with un-commercial brew lengths and stock issues, write-offs and a declining spiral around beer quality.  Reputationally, it’s a worry. If ale is to continue to grow – both in scale and in renown, then it needs to be a broad, encompassing school – catering to those who ‘know what they like’ and happy to drink in depth across those styles, and those who continue to experiment and discover, who we must ensure are not put off by the conventions being established today. ‘Black IPA’ is a case in point:  the for : against debate centreing on the apparent contradiction of whether a ‘pale’ beer can be ‘black’.  Rather, the debate should be on how we can establish this new exciting beer style into the lexicon of ale and help it be part of its continued growth – and more to the point, protects its reputation from future assessments similar to ‘chemical beer’.

©Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013

Mad (wo)Men

Women and beer: always something that’s topical nowadays – and rightly so when only 15% of the majority of our population drink beer. In the craft scene there’s a wealth of activities, great female beer bloggers, celebrity female chefs endorsing beer, brewsters and brewster collaborations and a broad mindedness from all, open to the possibilities and welcoming to the idea of women leading the beer agenda. This effort is worthwhile: if you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘The Tipping Point’ you’ll know how a confluence of interest, memes, epidemics and mavens can drive a point of inflection*, a strap on turbo booster to the awareness or usage of your product or service.  This craft beer originated push is critical – it’s the sign of a healthy category – and will make a difference in the long term to the acceptance and engagement in beer amongst women.

Of course, it can be accelerated, and the biggest potential accelerator is if those with the real marketing muscle right now – of brand, of distribution, of financial clout – put their shoulder in to push too.  Which may be an odd thing to say – surely the craft brewers are largely pressuring against the big boys?  Well, yes and no. There are just some elephant-sized tasks that need to be supported by all – and engaging women with beer is a stand out topic.   Commerically, it’s not the most important – getting young adult men to enter or stay in the sector when they reach legal drinking age is a huge prize as they are likely to consume beer as their main alcoholic beverage throughout their adult life. But perceptually, getting women to …well, at least be interested in beer and occasionally consume it, is Job One.

The history of beer across most mature beer markets in the last 30 years is littered with mistakes in this area.  Cack-handed attempts to actively target women – brands such as ‘Brunette’, ‘Eve’ (was this beer?) and more recently ‘Animée’ now make up beer’s back catalogue.  But lessons are being learned – a case in point is Peroni Nastro Azzurro’s new advert – take a look:

Nastro screen shot
Peroni: Una Storia Di Isparazione

Of course, judging advertising is as subjective as judging a beer, but in this instance a small straw poll backs up my hypothesis.  Here’s why it works:

  1. Respect. The interactions between the characters display warmth, respect, flirtatiousness and a little longing.  Yes, there’s the rather outdated male boss / female typing pool dynamic – but the idea here is the growing up; the liberation & empowerment of women throughout the course of the advert.
  2. BelievableIn ‘Let There Be Beer’ there is a bespectacled female office worker knocking back a pint of frothy brown stuff in a bar, almost necking it, engaged in the banter and probably pinching blokes’ bottoms.  Here, the social setting is urbane, is cool and is real – not typical, but believable and attainable.
  3. It’s an advert. It’s an advert for a beer, one that exists already. Not a beer for women.  And that’s the critical point.
  4. Men. Men find it appealing too. Men appreciate the men in the advert. Men appreciate (and OK, ogle at) the women in the advert. Men appreciate the beer in the advert.  Job done – and women recognise that men appreciate these things this too.
  5. Beauty.  Whoever made the advert had a big budget and knew how to use it.  It’s a consistent theme in alcohol advertising – particularly in spirits and brands such as Guinness and Stella Artois – the communication is part of the visceral feel of the brand.  If it looks and feels sophisticated, high quality and beautiful, then those same values become reflected on your brand without the need to say it.  And the fact that it feels like a scene from Mad Men can’t fail to help, even if it is slightly ironic.

Turns out, it’s not that hard.  I wonder who else will copy?

* Malcolm Gladwell, ‘The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference‘, Abacus, 2000

©Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013

The Session #77: IPA: What’s the big deal?

the session beer blogging fridayThe craft beer movement is gaining momentum – in the U.S., U.K, Italy, Scandinavia, Australasia – drinkers in these traditional and mature beer markets are broadening their repertoires, hearing the voice of craft brewers and slowly opening up to a new philosophy – of difference, of experimentation and of expectation of choice.   And India Pale Ale, or IPA, is the poster boy of the movement – in its well structured, challenging yet rewarding, countenance – it stands for everything that large scale manufactured pale beer is not.  Yet it is in those pale, ‘lagery’ seeds of why IPA is a big deal.

According to the latest studies from the Neolithic Cerevisial-Archaeology Unit in Portland, Oregon* beer started as a bready, mushed up foodstuff, mixed with water in ceramic pots and left to stand whilst the Godisgood worked it’s magic and turned it into a hearty, safe, nutritious drug. And although brewed significantly better – beer remained a dark, chewy, opaque food replacement until the nineteenth century. No wonder people enveloped lagered beer so in a revolutionary embrace.  It was easier to drink, eminently refreshing and visually appealing – a beguiling, magical, experience – almost incomprehensible given everything they had drunk up to that point – it would be like having KFC Chicken Nuggets that actually contained chicken.  After two years of pretty much exclusively drinking pale ales and IPAs for the last two years, I lived through something of this experience when I recently cracked open a bottle of four of Pilsner Urquell (see

And then, a few days later, I reverentially removed a bottle Sierra Nevada Torpedo from the beer fridge, an ‘Extra IPA’, 7.2%, one of Chico’s finest.  Just levering off the crown led to an attack of citrus fruit aromas, then on pouring, a billowing, off-white head, beautifully constructed and lacing down the glass sides with each sip like tree rings showing their annual growth throughout the heartwood. The maltiness had a walnut bready character, biscuit but with some nuttiness – Hob Nobs maybe?  Yet despite its considerable punch, it was a refreshing, drinkable beer – all the things that I had experienced a couple of weeks prior but with a well brewed lager.

So I think the ‘deal’ is this:  Pale Ale represents two things. Like lager it is a base: a base for challenge, for experimentation, for moving beer on, for saying, ‘Oh, I like this, but I think I can do better’.  Pale Ale becomes IPA, IPA becomes Double IPA, Double becomes Extra, becomes Black, becomes Cascadian, becomes Indies, becomes Pacific.  It’s a becoming sort of beer.  Unlike lager though which over the last 40 years, has got progressively lighter in alcohol, less bitter and paler in colour, IPA turned left at the lights, not right, and we see some of the beers that writers fret, fete and fight over today.

And then there’s adoption.  It’s a simple human trait – we want to prove how we’re different. How we’re our ‘own man’, how we’re independent.  IPA is not my Dad’s beer, blimey, it’s not even my older brother’s beer…it’s mine…. but most of all, IPA isn’t everything else. It isn’t mass brewed, it’s revolted against its Burton on Trent, Imperial roots and become a tattooed punk with multiple piercings through places too tender to speak of;  a banner waving revolutionary demanding the end of the old order.

And we all have a bit of the revolutionary in us, don’t we?

*If only.

©Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013