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

Monday, 19 September 2011

If the cap fits

How beer used to be served

When I started this nonsense I was inspired primarily by challenging a few opinions that had become established truths among beer geeks through mere repetition. Namely that cheap booze was a great evil and standard regular products were rubbish only the undiscerning drank. You might spot the obvious logical flaw in this. Firstly cheap is relative. Even if you set a minimum price that within time becomes cheap. Whatever floor you set becomes the bottom. Secondly if the great British public were to abandon mainstream products and adopt any niche product en mass, then that product by default becomes mainstream and those seeking a smug sense of self satisfaction and superiority will have to go find something else to champion.

In truth mainstream products are okay. They may not be the finest product on Gods Earth but they are of a standard enough people consider acceptable at a price that people consider to be worth it.

However reading this is the guardian prompted me to question some of the offers currently doing the rounds, cheap beer wise. When this rubbish started off 3 boxes of 18 for £20 were pretty common. I lamented when the offers reduced to boxes of 15. Of late the offers have been on boxes of 12. Currently Tesco are flogging boxes of 12 for 2 for £16. It strikes me as quite poor. Working out the price of a pint of Carling your getting 18 pints (for that is 24 440ml cans) for £16 or 89p a pint. For the 5% beers like Carlsberg Export you’re looking at £1.33 a pint (24 half pint bottles for £16). The grog is getting pricier or the offers are not really about at the moment. Maybe it will improve by Xmas but by comparison I worked out the price per pint of a premium "authentic" beer.

My choice of what constitutes this may not be yours. Bitburger German Lager may be just as industrially produced a lout as any, but in the UK it markets at a premium on the single bottles with all the other “premium” beers. This is running at 3 pint size bottles (okay half litre but I can’t be arsed quibbling) for £4, or £1.33 a pint. The same price as the cooking lager. Plenty of the premium ales are priced 3 for £4 and are in or around the 5% abv mark.

Whoaa, what’s going on? As a cooking lager enthusiast my basic principle is to get a few beers down me as cheaply as possible. I’ve nothing against premium authentic beer, it’s just that I don’t mind the standard brands and flogged cheaply they hit the spot. But when they are not flogged cheaply, what’s a cooking lager enthusiast to do? It’s all in the price. Just as the posh beers are really not as great as the beards would have you believe and the lout not as bad as they make out, I’ve nothing against necking the posh beers. There ain’t no brand loyalty, just loyalty to your own pocket and hard earned wedge. If cheap enough, cheers. Shop around, do the maths. Currently the premium posh stuff isn’t retailing at a premium over the standard stuff and worth a sniff.

I'll be turning into a beer geek if this carries on.

How beer is served now
Things get better.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Popular Peoples Front of Judea

This lady has nothing to do with this at all

A couple of developments in beer worth noting and deriding. It appears the People’s Front of Judea has inspired the creation of the Judean Peoples Front & the Popular Peoples Front. Namely CAMRA are not the only beer club to dismiss and deride anymore. Now there is CAMRGB & Craft Beer UK to have a pop at on the blogosphere. Now when having a pop at the “beards and sandals brigade” I shall have to define which popular people’s front these odd balls are associated with rather than just assume. Zak Avery has beaten me to blogging about this exciting development. But I thought a little cynicism and scorn of my own wouldn’t go amiss.

Firstly CAMRGB offers the cooking lager enthusiast possibly the best reason to put twitter on your Smartphone. Simply because you can tweet “DRINK FOSTER’S LAGER” with a #CAMRGB hash tag and it ends up on their website. Who doesn’t want to spend all day doing that? As for the aims and objectives, I’ll let you decide whether you agree with it or think it amusing but harmless rubbish. It’s free to join, by all accounts, making it better than CAMRA but you don’t get anything like Spoons tokens so maybe it’s not as good. Who knows? I guess it’s up to you.

One amusing aspect is the “Donate” using PayPal button. Yup they are after your quid. They’ve not said much about what they are going to do with your quid but they want it. I missed a trick there with CAMCL. I should have begged for donations and offered no clear idea as to what I was going to do with those donations and just bought cheap lager for myself. In terms of actual campaigning for “really good beer” first impressions are they do the sum total of buggar all. The beer festivals highlighted are run by others but heh, their position is clear and it’s free. For now. They might do something if you join and suggest it.

Time will tell if it amounts to anything. Here’s hoping that if it does they have more common sense than to want to kybosh cheap supermarket grog and they all get in the habit of buying packets of razors. I don’t hold much hope. Exchanging a few pleasantries on twitter with the chap running the shebang (I think he’s called Simon) informed me it isn’t just a really good beer club; it’s a socialist really good beer club for the beer comrades. That should be fun then.

As for Craft Beer UK, it appears a producer club rather than beer drinkers club. Just what the industry needs, another trade organisation. If you have a brewery is it worth joining? You have to decide for yourself. Is there a benefit to pooling resources to promote the sector in general or are you better of promoting your own brand on your own? Don’t ask me. What does appear pretty clear is that the membership criterion appears a bit in flux. Yesterday it appeared only open to small brewers making beer the existing members liked. Today it’s a public vote. I guess they have some thinking to do. If I had a brewery I wouldn’t want to join a club that defined “craft” beer as anything that would impede my future business. I might want to build a bigger brewery, expand my market and export at some point. I might rue the day I joined, funded & helped a bunch of upstarts define craft beer in a manner than eventually chucked me out and no longer let my beer be officially “craft” I might see the sense in keeping the definition of the term nicely loose to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean.

Of course, though, whilst Cooking Lager enthusiasts may deride these organisations we can take a sense of pride that we are too busy necking cheap lout to get on with the business of formulating CAMCL into anything other than a vague spiritual notion. To join CAMCL all you have to do is neck a 4 pack of Carlsberg whilst sat on the couch, scratching your ball sack (or whatever if you’re a girl) and belching “Ooo Laa Laa Ga Ga”. Do that and you’re in.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Campaign

The Campaign for Cooking Lager (CAMCL) has always been a bit of a piss take. That however does not appear to stop us from winning. See this here. Supermarkets offering high value cheap grog appear to be winning. Pubs offering poor value expensive grog appear to be losing.

Some will shed a tear. I won't. Instead I offer a picture of the lovely Hayden Panettiere drinking some lovely lout to cheer you up.

When it comes to pubs I saw a sign outside my local Wetherspoons. The sign showed 2 popular brands of beer alongside prices significantly cheaper than any nearby boozer. The tagline? "Why pay more?"

I can't think of an answer. I can't think of a reason to pay more. Spoons it is then. If you can think of an answer, maybe you know how to save the boozers and can explain why the Spoons was the only gaff with any punters in.

The best bit of the article?

"The GMB has calculated that the average price of a pint of lager cost 93p at a pub in 1987. If it had risen in line with the Retail Prices Index measure of inflation it would now be £2.18, but in fact it has climbed to £3.09, making it unaffordable as a daily staple for many consumers, already hit by rising utility bills, petrol prices and salaries which have been frozen."

It's all in the price.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Carling Chrome

After trying Foster’s Gold I was actually quite keen to try the other mainstream lager brand extension, Carling Chrome, however as all cooking lager enthusiasts I have a reluctance to paying full whack and knew it would have to wait until I spotted it on discount. I didn’t have to wait long. A 4 pack for £3 in Sainsbury’s and bob’s your aunty so to speak, cheap enough to try though not neck regularly.

I could mull over the naming of these extensions. Is Gold more desirable than Chrome or vice versa? Do these names exude the very essence of quality and desirability? Then concluded I didn’t really know. For me it’s all about the lout, the neck ability and the cheapness.

The cheapness is the issue with brand extensions qualifying as cooking lager. The purpose of them is clearly to command a premium price and lout enthusiasts like me don’t do premium prices. The early discount being more a strategy to get punters to try the product rather than an indication the product is heading for regular discount. When the beer geeks got all excited about Punk IPA appearing in cans and on the shelves of supermarkets it was initially discounted in an attempt to kick start a market among regular mainstream shoppers. Beer is no different to cheese or Pot Noodles.

I doubt either Carling Chrome or Foster’s Gold will regularly discount as it isn’t the point of the exercise. The regular brands are suffering declining sales forcing regular deep discounting and in some respects a decline in brand value as punters get used to a 40 or 50p can of lager and rather than see it as a fantastic bargain and question the value of the product when it isn’t discounted and when it is sold as a premium in the on trade. Cooking lager enthusiast like the decline because it means discounting and cheap grog, a perspective quite different from beer geeks that are desperate to pay more for their pint of pongy vinegar.

I’m not sure how many times Carling have tried to extent the brand. I remember Carling Premier as a stronger lager sold in a can with a widget to give it the “smooth” effect of some canned ales. I have a mate who given the chance will drone on at length about how great Carling Premier was and that they should bring it back. It never did much for me, but I’m not fond of “smooth” beers whether it is done to an ale or a lager. I guess if it was that great it would still be in the shops and we will see if Chrome is that great if it is still in the shops this time next year.

At the risk of repeating the last blog posting I am uncertain why regular mainstream brands attempt to premiumize themselves. A premium brand releasing a standard product affords the opportunity for the authenticity to rub off slightly. I’m not sure it quite works the other way. Coors, who make Carling, already have a strongish light lager that commands a premium price and is rarely discounted in Coors Light. My observation is that beer more strongly appeals to a female customer, whilst Carling is very much a product of the lads but I suspect bringing regular Coors Lager to market would afford a strong premium brand to rival Budweiser. After all Coors is the beer of Smokey and the Bandit. Budweiser is only the beer at the start of Smokey and the Bandit 2. You would transport a truck of Coors across America; you would only get pissed up on Bud prior to transporting an Elephant.

But anyways, here we are with posher more sophisticated Carling. Similar to Foster’s Gold it is a lighter tasting lager with more alcohol. Is more closely resembles a “Lite” beer, whilst Foster’s Gold tasted much more like the “ice” beers that hit the market a few years back. The beer is smooth with a sweetish aftertaste and arguably has more going for it than Foster’s Gold. I found it a nicer drink than the previous one. Neither really would appeal to the drinker looking for beery flavour but both are nice easy going bottles of cold beer to get pissed up on. I’d neck it any day of the week. I’m often perplexed when I read more scathing reviews of light lager among beer geeks. Sure beer geeks are looking for more by way of beery taste, but there is nothing wrong or unpleasant about necking lighter beer.

Whilst arguably not unpleasant and quite nice I would question whether there is a strong market for lighter beer in the UK. It took off big style in America but numerous attempts to hawk it in the UK failed.

The thing about beer is that it gets written about by beer geeks so if you were to read the story of American beer you would get reams on craft beer and buggar all on the far bigger story of the success of light beer. My suspicion as to why it never took off in Europe was confusion as to the term “lite”. Is it diet beer? Light in Alcohol? Light tasting? Either way the European drinker decided that was for girls and didn’t drink it. Will light beer take off with sexier names like Gold and Chrome? God knows. If it does, a couple of mainstream brewers have found a product they can sell at a higher price and save established brands from decline. If it doesn’t we await with anticipation for the name of next light lager sold at a premium. Would I win a prize for suggesting “Carling Posh”?

If I was being facetious I’d make the following mild suggestion? Carling and Foster’s are great. Worth every penny of the 50p a can. I love the stuff and would only drink something else if it was 40p a can or even 30p. If you want to sell grog for more why not look at the grog that does sell for more quite regularly. The shelves are full of premium priced Ales & Lager’s that even when discounted go for 2 bottles for £3. These tend to a bit more flavourful and authentic. It’s only an observation, like. There appears to be a market among people that want to pay more and think of themselves as more discerning piss heads than the common rabble, and it’s clear what they are after.