An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ponderings upon a twissup

This post comes from a discussion I was having on the twissup with blogging legend Tandleman over a pint of pong. It isn’t a recounting of the conversation as I was half cut at the time, but an attempt to more articulately express my point of view having thought about it a bit more. It fits in with a post written by Hardnott Dave here and 2 subsequent postings, here & here, from a blog which I hope is going to be renamed shortly to “cooking lager talk’s bollocks”. Please, I’d love it, and be honoured.

It is difficult to remember the details of a conversation when slightly half cut from an afternoon of irresponsible pub based binge drinking, but the gist of my opinion was that I accepted the pongy cask conditioned ale I had been drinking all afternoon was both a quality product and an enjoyable one. However that did not mean I was incapable of enjoying a can of Stella. I cannot really remember whether Tandy was agreeing with me or not. He can speak for himself, but I suspect it might be either “partly” or “not at all”.

Here, oop north, There are a number of regional breweries alongside micros, and in my view both the micros & regionals do not represent any form of brand. A brand is important not because I wish to buy into a lifestyle or want a logo on my clothes, a brand is the trust and liking I place in a particular product. Anything I buy has different manufacturers competing for my custom and brand value is no more than my preference for one over the other based on quality & price.

In the case of micros it is for the simple reason I have never heard of them and have no idea what their beer is like. In the case of regional’s I have experienced poor quality from them. I understand, I think, the mentality of the beer enthusiast in seeking out information on small scale producers and what are the better pubs to drink from the regional’s are, but I personally simply do not possess the desire to do so myself. I do not consider myself unusual in this. In fact I think most people are like me. On the rare occasion I go into a pub it’s because it’s near work, near home or I’m on a night out and not because I’m seeking out a particular beer.

There are a number of regionals within the area of “oop north” I reside, Hydes, Holts, Robinsons, & Lees are all I can think of and their pub estate represents quite a motley bag. If I leave my office with my work mates and head left the first pub we encounter is a tied pub of a regional brewer. For the cask ale drinker there is a choice of 3, mild, bitter, strong bitter. All are pretty decent and within the pub these 3 cask ales are cheaper than the Carling, Stella or Guinness.

If however I head right I encounter a string of pubs from the same brewer and the cask beer can only be described as varying between piss poor and rank with a wince inducing gag reflex free with every pint. It’s the same beer with the same pump clip and the same brand. Can you blame me or my work mates for not thinking that brand of beer represents quality? Do you really expect us to be beer geeks and buy a book off CAMRA to hunt out the recommended establishments to drink this brewer’s grog or do you expect us to simply make a judgement as we find it and decide the Carling is a safe bet?

The Carling is a safe bet. One of the first things said to me on the twissup was “you’re an ale man, really, aren’t you?”, to which the reply was “no, I’m just a beer drinker” I could have added I am a beer drinker that believes price is as important as quality in a purchase decision and I am a consumer and drinker and not a supporter of brewers, pubs, beer or even supermarkets. I really do just want a glass of something neckable that is also cheap. But that would have been a long winded answer.

For me a pint of Carling represents not the adverts of mates together or any image Coors wish to create, it represents a drinkable pint of 4% grog that isn’t going to make me wince, whether at home or in any of the pubs that flog it. It may be the Big Mac of beer, but Big Mac’s are also quite nice. I like Carling and I like Big Macs.

As for the regional beer, I get all the arguments about localism, tradition and the beer being potentially nice but basically each and every one of them cannot guarantee me that. I could take the gamble and complain when they serve me rot, but there are pubs in the regional estates that only serve rot. An actual campaign for ale wouldn’t worry about the price of cheap lager; it would worry about the quality of the beer it is campaigning for. Rather than support a regional brewer and promote its better pubs it would give a critical assessment of the dumps and tell the regional brewer it is damaging its own brand value by continuing to sell pongy rubbish cask beer in places where the beer stinks. It would celebrate a crap pub dropping cask beer and serving smooth flow keg because regular drinkers would not then suffer crap cask beer and be put off it. It would place consistency above the importance of guest or seasonal beers because it is the crap beer that is damaging the brand. If campaigning for beer is something you want to do, then the experiences of regular drinkers matter more than your own personal boozing or pushing a message, because we educate ourselves by our own experience. The interesting seasonal beer may be of interest to beer geeks but for me it represents another step into the unknown of not knowing what you are going to get when you part with your cash or whether you are even going to like it.

This leads on to micro brewers. Rather than possess the negative brand value of regional brewers they possess little or no brand value. I have never heard of the brewer or beer, it could be dark it could be pale, it could be bitter, it could be sweet. All I know from the pump clip is that it is 4.2 % and has a daft name. Fancy a gamble? If I take the gamble and like it I may remember either the brewer or beer name depending on what is most prominent on the clip. If I see it again I might have another go of it. If it tastes different next time I drink it I will either still like it or change my mind. I am not going to think of it as trustworthy though. I am going to wonder what it is I’m throwing down my neck, and why it’s different from last time.

Oh and please don’t think that I need educating about cask beer. That I need to appreciate that you cannot give me reliability and consistency and I should just accept that and learn to love it anyway. I just want a pint of something decent. If I step into a pub it’s not for the beer, it’s because I got dragged there by mates to watch the game, out with workmates or taking a break from an afternoon of shopping with the squeeze. My criterion is a pint of something I will like that doesn’t require a second mortgage, because I am conditioned to think a pint is manly and a glass of red wine would make me a ponce. Oh and whether you are educating and informing people through a blog or within the articles of newspaper or magazine know this. I only read a fraction of any newspaper I may buy if I bother to buy one rather than gander at the internet. Especially at the weekend. Half the supplements get thrown in the recycle bin unread. If I read an article on beer I already have an interest in it. You are reaching nobody that doesn’t already have a pre interest in the subject.

I’ll finish on this. There are 2 car manufacturers. One produces decent reliable cars. The other produces excellent cars but only half of them end up decent by the time they are delivered to customers. You’d buy a car off the first and laugh at the notion that you need to be educated to better understand and appreciate the traditional methods of production and distribution of the second, you need to take the rough with the smooth and accept you will occasionally buy a duff car. You'd laugh and buy the car that doesn't break down.


Curmudgeon said...

I seem to remember making a post myself which referred to the relative merits of Toyotas and Alfa Romeos. However, beer, unlike most other consumer products, isn't in any sense a necessity, so perhaps it is more acceptable to take a bit of rough with the smooth (as it were) in the pursuit of top quality.

I think, actually, that there is more recognition than you think that poor and inconsistent quality is the Achilles heel of cask beer both as a generic product and in terms of the products of particular breweries. Oliver Robinson certainly wouldn't disagree with that proposition.

Cooking Lager said...

I'd agree, Mudge, in so far as a £10k car is a more significant purchase and therefore bigger possible mistake than a £3 pint of pong.

This post is more about pub drinking, than home drinking but when it comes down to home drinking, ale in the supermarket is consistent. The personal taste of the consumer isn't the arbiter of quality, as I see quality as an adopted standard rather than yardstick, but perceived quality is as much a factor as price.

I think a can of Carling is a quality product at a bargain price. The fact that you prefer to pay more for pong doesn't mean we disagree, if to you the pong represents a quality product at a bargain price.

Where we would disagree is if you think I should use the pound in my pocket to support pubs or brewers rather than obtain value for myself. I tend to disagree with altruistic consumers and consider them mugs whilst raising a glass to the selfish consumer.

Velky Al said...

This may be utter heresy in the UK but here goes.

At the pub I go to here in Charlottesville, Virginia the cheapest beer is Pabst Blue Ribbon at $3 an imperial pint. It is consistently awful. Most beers I drink in said pub are microbrews which are kegged, as such they are generally more consistent than cask ale.

Should British microbrews invest more heavily then in quality kegged beer in order to strengthen their brand, especially if they continue to be cheaper than the likes of Carling in the pub?

To put it another way, the likes of Lovibonds are ahead of the game.

Cooking Lager said...

I think the only reason it is heresy in the UK, Velky, is that kegged ale in blighty is quite poor. Mudge may disagree with me on the merits of Carling but I suspect we would both turn our noses up at a pint of John Smiths Smooth. However, most drinkers are not CAMRA members and judge a beer on its merits and not a 1970's doctrine.

Sid Boggle said...

Once good brewers ('brand' or no 'brand') start to send good quality keg beer to market, beer drinkers will drink it. But then you need to agree who are the 'beer drinkers'. So far, by and large it's the same people as the pongy ale beardie-weirdies.

But the basic point about quality is true. Unless pubs take more care of cask, they may as well not bother selling it. And that goes for shithole pubs and 'premiumised' ones.

Velky Al said...

I have to admit that I am in no position to judge the quality or otherwise of kegged ale in the UK, seeing as though the last pint of kegged beer I had in Blighty probably Caffreys, some 12 years ago.

Cooking Lager said...

I actually think you're wrong Boggle. There is no such thing as a no brand. Everything has a brand, it's just that some companies manage their brand and some don't. Some brands therefore have value, some don't and some have negative value.

As for the same beardie weirdies, well me and my work mates are not beer geeks. But also we are not uneducated or undiscerning. We have all drank the local bitter and to a man deemed it shite. I accept it's not shite everywhere.

My point was that if you wanted to get more people drinking ale, understand branding and understand its relationship to quality and consistency. I'm not sure why you would want to do that, lout is perfectly acceptable, but if you did.

More weird and varied pong of variable quality only keeps the ale market niche.

Eddie86 said...

So should brewers get behind an initiative like Cask Marque? Use that as a brand, so wherever you see it you know the ale will be well kept?

Cooking Lager said...

The pong drinkers of the blogosphere are better qualified than me to comment on the value of the cask marque brand Eddie. Does it mean anything to you? Is it a stamp of quality?

My opinion is that if I were a brewer flogging my beer through either my own pubs or the free trade and I needed a third party stamp of quality to assure punters my beer wasn't shit, then I have failed to manage my brand. By brand I mean my products reputation for quality and assurance of consistent quality.

From a personal perspective, cask marque means nothing to me.

The mysterious Professor Pie-Tin ! said...

Heh,heh,heh - they've got you by the balls Cookie and you're squealing like a stuck pig.
You drink shit.
You know you drink shit.
And you know they know you drink shit.
And now they know you.
The spell is broken.
The mystery is gone.
You're fucked old cock.

Cooking Lager said...

I've been blogger scum Montague, Whurst, Sausage, Pie Tin, since the first post and I see your blog has started up again so there's a mirror, mate. How about another track with those lyrics?

Tandleman said...

Can't disagree with much at all there (whatever said on Saturday). Quality of the product over the bar has and always will be the Achilles Heel of cask beer. That's why I bang on about poor quality so often, as to keep it well is actually rather simple!

Oh and Monty, the legend that is Cookie rises above anonymity (which is actually preserved). It's a British thing.

The real Professor Pie-Tin said...

Who are these Montague, Whurst and Sausage fellows of which you speak ?

The Prof is intrigued.

However, the assertion that someone drinks shit beer because they can't be arsed to seek out better stuff and then spends a great deal of their precious time writing about not being arsed seems a strange concept.

Quite Northern and very Yorkshire.

Yorkshire people, of course, are like the Scots but with all the goodwill squeezed out of them.

You can tell someone is from Yorkshire because they always tell you that within three seconds of meeting them.

Yorkshire, miserable and proud of it.

Although I accept you may not be from Yorkshire.

Drive on.

Montague said...

Bullshit Tandleman. I'm on the horn now talking to someone across the pond. The Cookster's identity will be revealed. You bet your Scotch ass!!

Meer For Beer said...

Does it actually matter who Cookie is Monty?

Professor Pie-Tin,happen said...

All I want to know about Cookie is if he really is Northern scum.
Does he have that whey-faced, long-term unemployed look about him ?
Does he carry a bag of McCain curly fries on each shoulder ?
Does he love his squeeze but worships his pigeons ?
Does he interfere with himself while watching Coronation Street ?
If so how can he really not like pongey ale ?

Sid Boggle said...

Too late. I already outed him on that site which featured his blog. To save you looking it up, I can reveal Cooking Lager is, in fact, none other than Malcolm Gluck, the wine ponce.

Meer For Beer said...

Does he have a whippet, is the one question you are missing Pie-Tie

Rob said...

I really need to get myself to one of these teissups. Maybe next year.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

@Meer For Beer.
Whippets are so last century, love.
They've moved on 'oop north, ever since they got colour telly in early 2004.

Meer For Beer said...

If Essex still has it's white stilettos then 'oop north must have it's whippets otherwise there is no cosmic balance.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

But then you're dealing in generalisations.
In much the same way as our dear friend Cookie does.

Meer For Beer said...

And you haven't? :)

Eddie86 said...

Considering your checked once, maybe twice a year, no, cask marque doesn't mean a lot to me.

The plan for my beer, when I eventually get round to it, will be to only supply pubs I know can look after ale well. That way my brand (the brewery's name) will always be linked to good beer. As long as I brew good beer in the first place, of course

Montague said...

@Meer For Beer...Yes, it matters. I'm making a movie next summer and it's vital that I know his identity. It's obvious he's not northern by his dialect. He's either Bell or David Hastings.

Cooking Lager said...

Play nicely, Monty.

On the keg front, it's the future by all accounts.

Paul Bailey said...

A very interesting and well-written post Cookie. I can't disagree with what you say on quality and consistency, and like others have already commented, a poor, or in-different pint going over the bar surely is the Achilles Heel of cask beer.

Price is also another important factor for me, which is why I do much of my drinking at home these days. The money I save goes towards trips abroad, where I enjoy sampling new and interesting beers. The majority of these don't suffer from oxidation, lack of condition or sourness which we all know can affect cask ale when not looked after properly, but when I'm in a pub back here cask still remains my drink of choice.

Flagon of Ale said...

Quite the controversy. Personally, I can't stand listening to people talk about "brand". This marketing/business lingo that seeps into the public vocabulary is disheartening. One of the largest appeal for micros, to me, is the very lack of slick branding and shameless marketing. I want my breweries to be idiosyncratic and maybe even a little unpredictable. Isn't it a little like wine, where one bottle may be just so so and another from the same batch is outstanding? Thrill of the chase, I guess.

I mostly agree with you though. Local beer is nice, but it's no substitute for good beer. Small, local brewers who can't maintain a stock of good beer should be ashamed. On the other hand, buying a pint is not the same as buying a car in any way. A pint costs a few dollars (and a good pint is usually not much more than a shitty lager). Even if it sucks, it still gives you a nice buzz. So the question is, when you're 'gambling' with a $1 price difference, would you like something that's consistently crappy and bland, or something that might be outstanding?

Curmudgeon said...

As soon as you choose to buy a beer, because you've had the same beer, or one from the same brewery, before, a "brand" has been established. It is simply a feeling of confidence about quality that comes from familiarity with the name.

Mark, said...

Hear hear Cookie. The safe bet option shouldn't be underrated as part oft he decision making process at the bar. Although when it comes to special beers I would argue that they are important as diversity in beer is very important.

@Boggle: beer drinkers are the same as cask drinkers? Nope, definitely not!

Cooking Lager said...

All interest points. My point really wasn't about kegging; it was more an explanation of, if you like, my own "beer education" as coming from the direct experience of drinking. I enjoyed all the beer I drank on the twissup but this isn't representative of my whole drinking experience. That if you wanted to better educate me and others; make my experiences of cask ale better. That the variable quality affects not only my view of cask beer but the brands it’s sold under. I, like a lot of drinkers will have tried pretty much all the beers on the bar from keg ales, lagers, Guinness to cask ales and the choices made are based on experience, not on a lack of discernment or a susceptibility to a television commercial.

In answer to Flagon, I’d say your choice is based on branding. You prefer the branding choices of the micros maybe for the intrinsic beer but from what you say it represents something to you based on the fact they don’t advertise and create an image. The image is therefore created by customers and it’s an image you like. The beer is branded and represents a range of brands you trust and have confidence in.

I agree with your last point Mudge, and as for your point, Mark, I was in the company of beer enthusiasts on the twissup. All nice people but I’m a beer drinker rather than geek. A new beer from a new micro doesn’t get me all a tingle. I’m not against it but I do like to stress the point that just wanting a decent product at a fair price doesn’t make me or others undiscerning. It’s a reoccurring theme, alongside appreciating the quality of what some consider crap and considering the importance of price.

StringersBeer said...

Excellent. While it's nice to think that we're not "buy[ing] into a lifestyle or want[ing] a logo ..." and that we're using the brand to help us make a rational purchasing choice, we all know that's bollocks.

Choosing to be a slave is not the same as being free.

Cooking Lager said...

If you think you're free, there's no escape possible. ~Ram Dass

StringersBeer said...


Flagon of Ale said...

"You prefer the branding choices of the micros maybe for the intrinsic beer but from what you say it represents something to you based on the fact they don’t advertise and create an image."

Is that sort of like how Jesus loves me even if he doesn't exist?

A lack of marketing sheen is something I mentioned as a small part of the equation. I'm also happy to buy very heavily marketed beer if it's good. I also have no problem buying beer from breweries who are inconsistent. Great Lakes Brewing here in the states occasionally turns out beer too quickly that's loaded with diacetyl, unbalanced in hops or bitterness etc. So some batches are outstanding, some not so much. I'm comfortable taking the risk because I like them, and the batches that are good make the ones which aren't worth the expense to me. That's my point.
I'm sure you would laugh at me for not clinging to my extra sense for dear life, but then, I've never really met anyone who does that AND seems happy.


Flagon of Ale said...

Cents, sense. You get the idea.

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