Social Media Buttons

Description

WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

What's new?

What's new?
New events added including Stoke Newington Literary Festival
I had a big piece in the Guardian this week about why publicans are unhappy
Click here to hear me talking about craft beer on this week's radio 4 Food Programme!
>

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Tokyo* Fever

RESPONSE TO BREWDOG TOKYO* STORY, by Richard Dinwoodie

How could I call myself a beer blogger if I didn't weigh in to this particular ding dong?

Ordered my stash of Tokyo* the other day and I can't wait for it to arrive. When it does, I'll be sharing one bottle with Mrs PBBB and laying most of it down for those times you have friends round and it gets late and you say, "You know what? Have a try of this and see what you think," and I'll get wine glasses and split a bottle four or six ways. In other words, I'll treat it exactly like the vintage wines and port I also have in my cellar (I don't have many vintage wines - just a few - Christ, that makes me sound like a snob, doesn't it?)

When I ordered the beer, the fact that people might be alarmed by the ABV never crossed my mind. When the storm broke I did one of those incredulous, disbelieving little laughs, then got very depressed indeed as the coverage piled up. By yesterday afternoon, I wanted to twist off my own head and urinate down my neck hole in frustration.

We all know it's utter, utter nonsense to link a beer like this with binge drinking. No point in repeating the arguments here.

But two things prey on my mind.

The first is that, though the neo-prohibitionist attack is 90% alarmist bluster, I think there's a kernel of genuine concern behind it. This is not Brew Dog's fault, but the thing is, the beer is released in 330ml bottles. The vast majority of beer drinkers take a 330ml beer bottle and swig the contents straight from the neck. They shouldn't of course, but that's the culture. So when someone sees a press shot of a 330ml bottle, they can just about be forgiven for thinking that this is how it's going to be drunk. I know that not a single person who forks out for Tokyo* would ever consider drinking it this way, but that's not the point. Beer conventions are deeply entrenched, and products like this need to challenge them.

Which brings me on to the second point. Brew Dog court controversy. It gets them masses of free PR and will ensure that this beer, like many others, sells out in mere days. They're rapidly becoming one of the most high profile brewers in the country. But this needs to be handled so carefully. Anything James and Martin say will be pored over by the press with a forensic level of analysis, and will be twisted and warped wherever possible. And having worked in marketing for longer than I care to admit, please believe me that the adage about "all publicity is good publicity" is utter tosh.

My criticism of Tokyo* is the pic above, and all pics I've seen of the beer so far. It shows more than one bottle. People buy bottles in four packs, to be consumed in quick succession. The above pic reminds people how 330ml bottles of beer are normally consumed, and subliminally suggests this might be consumed in the same way. It's easy to add the link to the ABV and create an alarmist story.

By contrast, think of Sam Adams Utopias:


I think the bottle is dreadful and tacky, and the beer is amazing. But every single publicity shot I've seen of it has a single bottle with some of the beer sitting in a brandy balloon alongside. Anyone who sees it can tell that you're not meant to drink this like a normal beer, and it makes the neo-prohibitionist case so much more difficult to establish.

It's a small thing, but pictures are powerful. If Brew Dog showed more graphically how their beers were in fact consumed responsibly, there'd be far less controversy.

Question is, is that what the guys want?

18 comments:

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Do you not think that your average binge-drinker if vaguely seduced by the image of four 330ml bottles of what seems like supreme head-banging, pant-wetting beer juice would quickly put the pack down when he or she notes the price? Surely the kind of people who put a tenner down for a slab of corn-fed lager are not going to fork out forty quid for something they don’t know.

Once A Sheep said...

Ah the voice of reason, excellent analysis. But the question does indeed remain do they genuinely want to share an excellent beer with the public or is it all about volume and profit, sadly I suspect the latter.

The Beer Nut said...

Cheers Pete. I've been making that point to anyone who'll listen: that this will give the lazy commentariat an opportunity to auto-write that same old stupid piece about strong beers being headwreckers, without needing to bother puttting in the sensible bit about drinks that are stronger, cheaper and come in bigger bottles.

On the IrishCraftBrewer website we got an email from a radio station looking for someone to come on a show yesterday "to make the point that brewing beer is a craft - it's not about cramming it with as much alcohol content as possible". Fortunately, we were able to provide someone who pointed out that this isn't what BrewDog are about. But how many other outlets are going to have people on hand to say this?

An own goal by BrewDog, I think.

Barm said...

Since the time I found myself halfway down a bottle of BrewDog's Coffee Stout and struggling to finish it because it was so thick and rich, I've thought the 330ml bottle is too much for these very strong beers. I'd like to see the nip bottle (180ml or whatever it is) make a comeback. I don't know whether it's practical or financially viable on their particular bottling line, though.

Anonymous said...

Whoa ... blame a photograph for irresponsible drinking? See a photo of four bottles and think "hmmm let me slam down a few of these bad boys"? I don't think so. Did I miss the same concern for Dogfish Head 120? What percent of market share does Tokyo represent? It's so tiny you'll need several zeros after the decimal point ... must have been a slow blogging news day.

-Doug

Woolpack Dave said...

Barm, yes you've made that point before. Unfortunately I think a nip bottle might not be much cheaper than a 330ml due to the cost of the bottle, label and plant time being more than the value of the beer. Share it with a friend like Pete suggests.

Conversely, perhaps an 18.5% beer will overcome the economies I explain.

Are BrewDog really getting it wrong? They seem to be doing all right as far as I can see. The controversy works for them because there is no way they are targeting the people who might believe the binge drinking thing. They are targeting us and we understand that it's about something different.

Fatman said...

Keenly observed Pete. However, with any luck, these chaps are cracking the wall of perception they're so happy to batter against. We can find fault with some of their tactics but could we do any better in their position?

eddy said...

Quite a lot of the Brewdog beers are suited to splitting - for the strength and price of a Paradox I'll always split it between two or more friends. They should be treated much like vintage wine or a particularly special bottle of whisky.

The problem is, a lot of the Brewdog image seems to come from the bottles being standard. Unlike most brewers there are no 500ml or 568ml bottles, and their marketing and packaging is all standard. Repackaging a strong beer doesn't seem very Brewdog, especially given the ethos of "Good beer and F*** the Portman group"

Pete said...

I'm a fan, don't get me wrong. And I truly believe that anyone who wants to get wankered will never, ever choose to do so on beers like this. I think the media are talking horse shit, as they usually do on beer. My point is, come out in the wrong way,give them the ammo they need, and we help them build a case against all beer. I follow media coverage of beer incredibly closely and am aghast at how negative the coverage is. I just think we should all be doing everything we can to challenge it - and certainly not doing anything to feed it. It's not about the beer - it's about how you promote it.

Alan said...

But who are "we" in that case? I can't go about gormlessly accepting every question against craft brewing as a reason for a fight. We need to admit there is a drinking issue everywhere as there always has been - but differentiate mass beer with thoughtful beer and even mass with thoughtful consumption. I think BrewDog is right that exploring what beer can be will teach what it shouldn't be.

And, for me, the photo is fine as long as it gets the right caption. I'd say it should read "Warning": any more than one and things will soon get out of focus!"

Stephen Beaumont said...

Not knowing the people behind BrewDog personally, but having some knowledge of their history, I would think that they at least welcome, if not exactly court the controversy. As you said, Pete, it's great for exposure.

As to the nature of the controversy, I recall years ago leading a couple of younger lads to bottles of Samichlaus, explaining to them that it was (at the time) the strongest beer in the world. They were after alcohol, and I figured they'd either be disgusted by the stuff and perhaps learn a mini lesson about buying beer for strength, or discover that beer can have flavour beyond that which they already knew.

Personally, though, I am still hopeful of trying in in London next week. And yes, Peter, you should take that as a hint.

Mark said...

Really interesting point about the pictures, I hadn't thought of that. The size of the bottle is definitely important. I wonder how the reaction would've been if it were presented in 250ml or 750ml bottles. The 250ml suggests moderation (even if it's just a little bit smaller) while the 750ml suggests it's for sharing.

It's reactionary xenophobia which acts as a scapegoat for the real problems. It's working for BrewDog though; they know exactly what they are doing.

I'm looking forward to next year when the next Tokyo comes out and they get in MORE trouble for selling a 23% beer!

Sid Boggle said...

As I understand it, this will be available from fewer than half a dozen outlets. I suppose the 'furore' is a sign of our times - when Safeway was importing Dogfish Head beers all those years ago, including 18%-ish WorldWide Stout, nobody could care less.

I'm quite looking forward to trying some...

BLTP said...

One thing to add I heard about this story first via twitter which as we know isn't great at subtlety. This sort of story has to exist in this world.

Zak said...

Tacky it may be, but you seem pretty happy to be sat next to a bottle in this pic: http://www.flickr.com/photos/79605023@N00/2764172059/

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

re:worldwide stout, the media did get in a furore and Safeway’s beer buyer at the time, Glenn Payne, had to field a right load of old media cod about the strength of the beer encouraging deprivation, drunkenness, broken homes and people selling their children all due to this evil partnership of DFH’s Sam Caligone and Payne. It was retailing for £7.99 or thereabouts if I remember rightly. The great media roundabout indeed.

beermatt said...

Pete - Chuck Hahn is one of Australia's best known brewers, responsible for the Malt Shovel beers and he agrees with you about flavoursome beers. He has recently been quoted as saying "With richer tasting beer you don’t drink as much." Unfortunately this was in an article in which he was justifying brewers adding up to 30% cane sugar to their brews to make them more drinkable and "to make the beer thinner and more thirst quenching."
"It's more refreshing on a hot day than German beers — it's brewed for our climate."
Unfortunately when even good brewers who trumpet the "Drink Responsibly" message on their website take the view that thin beer is better because you can drink more of it, the neo-probs just get more fuel for their arguments - and the brewers who make great and very unsessionable beers at higher ABVs get the bad press.
Full story here: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/805435/aussie-brewer-disputes-bavarian-beer-law

Laurent Mousson said...

Not been overly impressed by Sam Adams Utopias when I tasted it (that is, not compared to Baladin Xyauyu, which goes very much in the same direction, and packs a deeper, more complex profile in only half the alcohol, i.e. 13 vs. 27% ABV), and I thinks the stoneware & plastic bottle is one of the uglies things I've ever seen on a shelf.

But the point is valid : standard longneck 330ml will be perceived by Joe Public and his mate lazy Journo as something in the same class as premium lager.
But then having a different shape and or size of bottle manufactured at a realistic cost (not to mention minimum orders) is not an easy thing, so most breweries just have to stick to standard styles and sizes. But indeed a square-shouldered nip bottle for very strong stuff would be a great sight.