Monday, November 17, 2014

Beer belongs

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 was going to write at length about it, but it's been done really rather well by one in "All about Beer" magazine in Nov 2009. You can read the article here.  There's additional material by the same author here.  With lots of images. (Scroll down if you're not a reader).


* Not Dave, the other chaps.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bullshit Detector Calibration

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 is true 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.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Craft blog clickbait

Blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG blah blah blah CRAFT blah blah blah CAMRA blah blah blah KEG CRAFT CAMRA.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cask Quality. A modest proposal.

"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."

We wondered if it could really be so simple.

"In many cases, for sure. Yes.", He gestured at a recent blog post on the Cask Marque site.

"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".


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waste of hops.

"Here, Stringers", said the Professor, "You'll be interested in this."

He waved at the far wall of his workroom, currently the target of the blinding glare of his triple laser digital projector.

"Say again, Professor?", It was rather difficult to hear over the whine and whirr of the motors which whirled the mirrors of the projector.

"Ah, yes, sorry about that", He threw a knifeswitch, and as the mirrors slowed and stopped, and our eyes readjusted to normal illumination, we could see that  he was holding out some papers.

"Yes", he continued, "I printed this out for you. It's a jolly interesting presentation on dry-hopping."

"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?"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What we did on our holidays.

It's been a funny couple of weeks, right enough, but we pressed ahead with our trip to Berlin.

It was the occasion of the (snappily named) Global Association of Craft Beer Brewers inaugural Festival and Competition, so we got a party together (us, the boy, our friend Claire, and her boy) and piled onto the easyjet bound for Schönefeld. Once past the hours of chaos which is security at Manchester, things settled down rather.

It's not my first visit to Berlin, last time I was there the wall was in bits, but there were still technically two Germanys. So quite a lot of changes. I always liked the place; Berlin's now the largest city by extent in Europe, but the population density is practically half that of London. So, lots of green space and water, and not so very crowded. Always ranks highly in quality of life surveys. Jolly good transit system. Lots of English spoken - and this is important to me since my command of German extends to "bitte", "dankeschön", and a lot of pointing and smiling.

We were staying in an apartment a spit away from the Brandenberg gate, handy for sight-seeing - which is what the rest of our party did while Becky and I went to the thing.
Not covered in marzipan

Anyhoo, the "Globals" (as we'll now call them), had staked out an excellent compact venue at the Alte Börse Marzahn. Now, I read that Marzahn had "got a name for itself" back in the day. I didn't get to see what has happened (if anything) to any ghastly blocks of flats plonked down around windswept wastelands. But there's a fair bit of regeneration going on, at least where we were: "home to a community of artists, chefs and other creative engineers". Two breweries within 25m of each other, one a brewpub (Marzahner Bier), the other not (Bierfabrik) Decent little conference space, nice big room for tasting, all arranged around an open-air market space.

The first day was mainly judging (for me) and listening to presentations (Becky). All good. I was tasting "Belgian-style Wits" and a whole load of "Pale Ales". The wits? One was a pretty good Weissebier rather than a Wit, so we couldn't score that one very well. One of the actual wits clearly better than the others (I thought), but the standard was pretty blinking good.

The "Pale Ales" were hop-forward and in the modern style - of course. And again, the standard was very good. You can see the results here. After tasting 22 beers, I went out to sit in the sun, just in time for the rain to start. Which carried on until the evening when the awards were presented. This is why we're looking so damp (but happy) in the awards photos.

Next day (with much better weather, hot and sunny) was more presentations - I gave one on "Sustainability" - and the public festival.  The Globals ran the main bar, and brewers ran little satellite stalls selling their wares to an enthusiastic and well mixed crowd.

Overall? Well, we won awards*, so of course I'm going to say it was great.  But you know, it was great. Hundreds of beers from 20-odd countries.  Nice spot. Great beer. Lovely people.  If you were there, you know what I mean. If you weren't, why not?

*Awards? Yes indeed, best Fruit (or veg) "Damson", best Belgian-Style Dubbel or Triple "Furness Abbey", a bronze for the "Dry Stout" And a special trophy (that's the bottle thing) for judges favourite or something (again, "Furness Abbey", I think).



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pay to play?

This is an awkward one for me. Let's say I heard a story - that incentives are being sought by some pubs supplied through SIBA's DDS scheme.  Now, it's acceptable for a brewer to supply a pub with marketing materials, glassware even, to support the brewer's products which the pub has sourced through DDS.  But worryingly, I've heard (and I really can't say more than that) that some pubs are soliciting "off the books" contributions from the brewers as a condition for making orders through DDS.  These incentives may be anything from a contribution to items normally considered part of the pub's costs (over and above marketing support), to an extra cask or two delivered gratis. 

If this is truly happening - I'm appalled. Of course, I appal easily. I should really save my outrage  for more serious matters, but there you go.

If any SIBA brewers have come across this kind of thing, I'd hope that they would think very hard about reporting it officially. This kind of shit is exactly what we don't want.  DDS would become another way where larger1 businesses (who might be able to afford this kind of promotion) can deny market access to smaller2 ones (who, I guess, can't).  Anyone involved in this kind of deal should consider if there isn't a whiff of the old Bribery and Corruption about it. (note: IANAL)

You might wonder why I'm going on about this here, rather than raising the matter privately, inside SIBA.  At this point, I'm mainly interested in other people's experience. Ever heard of this? Come across it yourself? Think it's bollocks?

If anyone wants to comment in confidence, my office door is always open. (Well, it would be if the circ pump in the big chiller wasn't making such a racket)

1. or unscrupulous
2. or large, scrupulous ones