Saturday, January 10, 2015

What is (not "was") the difference between a stout and a porter?

Roast barley, earlier.
A while ago the mighty zythophile was able to clarify: "historically, to say roast barley is a differentiator between porter and stout is wrong".

Of course, "historically" there's a great deal of truth in that.  Naturally, it depends what you mean by "historically", but we'll let that stand. But what about non-historically? Or, as we might say, "now".
It occurred to me that I had an interesting reference staring at me from a bookshelf in the office. To wit; CAMRA's "Good Bottled Beer Guide" (Update: Jeff Evans's, I should say).  This doesn't list every stout and porter currently brewed (or even at the time of publication), and of course it's only British beers, but I feel it's an interesting selection.  What's particularly valuable is that it lists ingredients for most of the beers it covers.

How many beers are there that we can be sure the brewers are calling stouts and list their ingredients?
Let's have a quick look...
29 stouts, 21 with roast barley.
Also...
15 imperial stouts, 13 with roast barley.

And the "porters"?
Er...
23, 5 with roast barley.

There's a handful where it's hard to tell if they're being thought of as a stout or a porter. And a couple explicitly referred to as sort of hybrids (both contain roast barley, FWIW).

So let's consider the incidence of roast barley in stouts v. porters.

Imperial Stouts: 87%
Other Stouts: 72%

All stouts: 77%

Porters: 22%

So, you pick up a bottle conditioned stout, it's more than three times as likely to have been made with roast barley than a random porter.  That's to say, the majority of stouts are made with it (based on this selection), while the majority of porters exclude roast barley.

Now you might argue, as does Mr Cornell, that this distinction has no "historic validity", and you'd have a good point. You might even choose to stress that here we have "beers being called porter" rather than the true descendants of historical porters.  But you know, history tells us mostly about change. And clearly, now isn't entirely like then was.

diachronic approach to the "porter" / roast barley question?  Or a synchronic one? As someone who brews beer nowadays, it's quite clear:

What's the difference between most modern, British stouts and porters? Well for one thing, and much more often than not, the use of roast barley.



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Not a list.

Best thing about this year?  The end of it. Getting through it.

Anyone who has had as bad a year (or worse) than us, cheer up.  The next one will be better.
Or not, in which case -  at least we're in practice.


I should say that business-wise, and in spite of everything, it's been an excellent year. Well done you customers.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Unique? Selling? Proposition?

http://www.scotlandfoodanddrink.org/news/article-info/5560/uks-first-gluten-free-brewery-to-set-up-in-scotland.aspx
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?







Friday, December 05, 2014

Coriander

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.

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).

Enjoy.

* 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

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