News just in. Optimists trying to raise funds for a GF (only?) brewery. Good for them, I say. I'm all for optimism.
We all bandy around the term USP like we know what we're talking about, but let's examine this one.
UK's First Gluten Free Brewery. Well, bless them, they wouldn't be. Of course. There's lot's of breweries making GF beer. Ah, perhaps they mean that they would be the first brewery making nothing but GF beer. If you ignore the tiny brewery that's already doing it. And if they raise the funding to, you know, actually open a brewery. So, their (not quite unique) proposition is something like:
Buy our GF beer. At some point in the future we will make only GF beer. Unlike pretty much everyone else, we think.
Fine, but is this a selling proposition? Only time will tell of course, but I suspect most of their customers will be focusing on product rather than brand attributes. i.e. the gluten-freeness of the beer, not the brewery. Unless, as was pointed out to me on the twitter, "even tiny contamination could be an issue". Is that a real issue? Or is it just FUD? Or bullshit, even?
Course, nowadays the whole USP idea is old hat. In a dynamic market, differentiating yourself by "uniqueness" is problematic. Unless you've got well-protected intellectual property what's to stop someone doing the same thing? And if no-one does do the same thing, doesn't this imply they don't think it's much of a selling proposition?
I suppose the question becomes: Is a beer easier to sell by virtue of being made in a facility that only makes GF products? Or is it better to have GF products as part of a wider, established portfolio? Which plan would you lend money on?
Lots of people chucking coriander in beer at the moment. Gose(s) (Gosen?), Wits, whatever.
There's a bit of a gotcha associated with this spice. You see, there are two main varieties. A small seeded one and the other one. Mainly grown in tropical and sub-tropical parts, the large-seeded has low levels of the essential oils you want in brewing.
Your small-seeded variety is the temperate plant. Pretty much. This is the one you want. Unless you can see what you're buying, look for a country of origin that isn't, say, Morocco, India or Australia. Check a map if your geography is a bit weak. There's some good small stuff grown in the Caucasus. Confusingly, there's a large-seeded variety grown in Canada (on the praries). More confusingly, there's a lot of variation in the large one. If you're interested you can weigh the seeds. Simply take a thousand seeds and weigh them. You probably want this to come out less than 8g. If it's only 5g it's deffo small. And you should get a life.
You'll find you need to use much less and the aroma will be finer.
You probably don't want to buy ready ground coriander. You don't know which one you're getting (but it's almost certainly the wrong one), how much of it is twigs, grasshopper heads, etc, or how old it is.
You might have noticed some of the chuntering about the recent launch of the "There's a beer for that" campaign. I can't work out exactly what the problem that people like Matthew Curtis, Chris Hall or (for that matter) HardknottDave are having with this thing.
They seem either to be saying it won't sell more beer, or if it does, it'll be the wrong kind of beer. Allegations of being gagged by the man. There's also a hint of whining about having their brains picked while soaking up free beer at some corporately funded bloggerfest.* Which seems, well, ungrateful. And really, really, naive.
Whatever, it's maybe a good time to have a look back at some other beer industry campaigns...
Over the last few years we've acquired a few examples of the delightfully dated "Beer belongs" thing, the famous ad campaign by the United States Brewers Foundation that ran from 1945-1956.
It's an interesting campaign, aimed (I'd say) at the newly affluent, those with home refrigerators. No sad old men drinking in crummy bars.
I don't know if you're familiar with Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit". It's required reading round here. Indeed, we have a copy available in the single occupancy employee lounge (you may refer to this as toilet reading). If you haven't read it, you should. Then you'll know that the expression "marketing bullshit" is a tautology.
The point Frankfurt makes is that bullshit is not the same thing as a lie. To call someone a bullshitter is not to call them a liar. A piece of bullshit may (or may not) be true. A lie is known to be false (by the liar) and is intended to make us believe it to be true. The key observation is that the bullshitter doesn't really care about the truth value of the statement, it's chiefly (only?) the effect that interests them.
Thus any marketing language is highly likely to be pretty much pure bullshit. And this is the first step of calibrating the Bullshit Detector (which we assume you were issued with). We have what you might call a high a priori probability of bullshit in any marketing message. That dialed in, we then proceed to scan for other bullshit signals...
An aside: We don't make a moral judgement here. You're entitled to bullshit if you wish. You may consider that it's your job. It doesn't make you a bad person. I'd suggest that there may be better ways of persuading people.
So, right, back to it. Unsupported or unverifiable assertions: If I say (for instance) "My beer is best", that's a strong bullshit signal. If I cared about the truth of this statement, I'd give you what you need to evaluate that. How would you even start? Drink all the beer in the world and then some of mine to check? Only "fonefan" has even tried. And besides, it's so subjective. Now, if I say "My beer is award-winning", there's a whiff of bullshit, but at least it's objective, and you could investigate for yourself. I may indeed care that this is true, it may be a key part of my message that it istrue and if so, not bullshit.
An aside: Pretty much all breweries are "award winning". So to assert "My brewery is award winning", while probably true, doesn't convey any actual information. This is a special case of not caring whether something is true or not. Hence bullshit.
Update: I saw this gem just now, "The fact is we make the best beer in the best way and deliver it in perfect condition". 100% weapons grade bullshit.
Undefined terms: I say, "I am a craft brewer". You say, "Oho! Define 'craft'". I say "Hey man , don't be so square, we're not going down that blind alley, we all know what craft means. I'm it. Those guys aren't". Clearly, if I'm not going to define it, you're not going to be able to tell if it's true or not, and I'm obviously happy with that. Hence bullshit. (N.B. also works for "innovative").
Anonymous sources, attribution of motives to nameless entities (not something out of the Cthulu mythos, you know what I mean, like "them", but not: "The Man" - we all know what that means.)
"Talk is cheap" Is it, in fact, cheap? Blogs are cheap. Newspapers and books are more expensive. Did my lawyers look over what I wrote? Low cost text may imply low value, high bullshit nonsense.
Common fallacies. Double points for red herrings. Anyone putting together a piece of persuasive text must know that these will be spotted. But they don't care. Hence bullshit.
Of course, there are other signals, and it may amuse you to adjust your settings accordingly. But this covers the essential steps of Bullshit Detector Calibration.
"I gather there's been a lot of blathering about cask beer quality", the Professor said, dragging us into his workroom.
We knew what he was talking about, so didn't even attempt to interrupt his flow.
"All kinds of explanations have been offered - lack of traditional cellar skills, rubbish little micros, not enough people drinking the stuff to give the throughput, the failure of CAMRA and, for that matter, Cask Marque to adequately signpost good beer - all true to an extent. But see here!"
He waved a small device at us.
"Oh no, Prof", we groaned, "Not another hopelessly infeasible invention?".
"No indeed!", he chuckled, "It's a thermometer!"
"You see", he continued, "much cask beer is simply too warm."
"See, 18% of accredited pubs were selling bad, or at least not good, beer, and 49% of the others also".
We must have looked surprised, and he continued "Yes, only 82% of Cask Marque pints were really fit to drink in the summer of 2013. Brave of them to hold their hand up if you ask me. And of the other pubs, you stand about an evens chance of getting a decent pint. And of the 'not good' beers 'virtually all were at least in part due' to being too warm! Too warm before it gets to the pub, and finings will fail. To warm in the cellar and the beer will almost certainly be flat, if not actually spoiled. Too warm in the glass and it just plain won't be nice!"
"What's to be done? you ask, Stringers."
We hadn't, as he hadn't given us chance, but nodded anyway.
"Brewers and distributors can make sure that beer doesn't get too warm in the supply chain - I'm sure most of them are on top of this. Don't leave beer sitting outside in the summer. Look to your cellar, python and (if you've got it) cylinder cooling. Don't serve it in hot glasses. Get a thermometer! Check the temperature of the beer!"
We were edging towards the door as the Prof waved his thermometer around wildly. He noticed, smiled and drew a breath, "Also, Stringers, you might want to have a look into Cask Breathers".
"So, here's someone who's actually done some measurements on what you get out of your hops in a model dry-hopping procedure. It's most educational. Now, Stringers, what sort of efficiency of extraction would you expect to be getting?"
We weren't quite sure what the Prof meant, and said so.
"Well", he continued, slowly, "If you were adding 10 kilos of smelly hops into a tank, how smelly would your beer end up?"
We supposed that would depend on how much smelly stuff from the hops got into the beer.
"Precisely!", said the Professor, "What percentage of the smelly chemicals added via the hops will be found in the finished beer."
He went on, "Of course, this will depend to a large extent on the solubility of the compound in water - beer's mainly water - as well as the detail of how the hop material is dispersed in the beer. So it's no surprise to see that, according to this piece of work, linalool is extracted with around 100% efficiency. It's an alcohol after all, with a reasonable solubility in water. Whereas other important smelly chemicals, myrcene for instance, are pretty much insoluble in water, so you'll not be surprised to see that less than 1% of what you put in makes it into the finished beer. The same thing seems to hold for caryophyllene, and humulene."
We were unsure, "But Prof, if we don't get much of these things out of dry-hopping, but we all love the dry-hopped beers, surely it's because we don't miss them?"
The Prof nodded, "For sure Stringers, these poorly extracted chemicals have some much more soluble relatives, either naturally occurring in the hop, or produced in the brewing process, or as a result of yeast metabolism. But it seems to me that if you want, say, myrcene, in your beer, dry-hopping is a terribly inefficient way of going about it.
"And with hops the price they are, to say nothing of the environmental impacts of growing and transporting them, I wonder if it's something you should be giving more thought to?"
This is Jon's personal "blog" - I work at an independent microbrewery (a small-scale, artisanal producer of “real ale” and other beery treats), based in the Furness area in Cumbria (or N. Lancs if you'd rather). Or a "Craft Brewer", if you like. We're known as "Stringers", or "Stringers Beer". I don't just make beer - I also sound-off in half-informed rants on a variety of subjects. Like here.