Tag Archives: Ale

An Open Letter To All Breweries About Branding

This is a letter from the wonderful Melissa Cole to all those in the beer industry.

Dear Brewers, Brewsters, Marketing People and Art Departments,

I love our industry, I really do. I feel blessed every day to work in, what is undoubtedly, the warmest, most welcoming and fun business in the known cosmos.

But I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with you… in fact, I’ve got a whole skeleton’s worth… and it’s about the sexist imagery some of you use to promote your beers.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, in the last few days there’s been a bit of a furore about the issue of rape, some bloke called Julian, a mahoosively ill-informed American politician and some loud-mouthed idiot who has remarkably managed to manipulate a whole section of society into voting for him.

I’m not, for a single moment, saying that pump clips or bottle labels incite rape – that would be equally bone-headed – but you only have to look at the enormous backlash such idiotic comments have evoked to see that sexism has no place in modern society – so why do you still indulge in it?

As business people can you honestly not see that it does PRECISELY NOTHING to encourage intelligent people into drinking beer? And I’m not just speaking for women here, a brief comment on Twitter, and the resulting responses, shows that many men find it equally disturbing.

And just in case you’re wondering whether this is merely an intellectual objection, I’d like to give you an example of why branding and sexism is a real issue. At the Great British Beer Festival this year I was happily minding my own business, waiting for a mate to return to the bar, when I was approached by a man who asked me what I thought of the pump clip next to me.

It was a nonsense ‘slap & tickle’ style image and I said I thought it was stupid. Cue said ‘gentleman’ launching into a full-scale rant at me that started with: ‘Yeah, I know who you are. You’re that joyless cow who complains about this all the bloody time. It’s harmless fun, what’s your f*cking problem.’

And much as I enjoy a spirited debate from time to time (for those of you who know me, feel free to snigger), I walked away. Why? Well, as a wise man once said to me: “Don’t argue with idiots, they’ve had way more practice.”

But I was targeted, in a very aggressive manner, by someone who wanted to use my stance on sexist marketing as a big stick to beat me with for being a woman in the beer industry – is this something you want to encourage or that you want your brand associated with?

And if that one anecdote, and sadly I have a number of them, doesn’t do it for you, perhaps I could draw your attention to the fact that research by Molson Coors shows that 42% of women are put off beer by the macho marketing…

From a professional standpoint I also get more than a bit ticked off when I seek to engage with you about this issues quietly and politely in the background (I’m looking at YOU Marstons) ignoring my efforts is pretty rude to be honest, so I’m going to say it publicly instead!

Some of your range of seasonal pump clips for the Wychwood and Jennings brands are depressing at best and, at worst, simply puerile. Are you honestly proud that your products have joined the beer equivalent of the rogue’s gallery over at Pumpclip Parade? (BTW, kudos to Jeff Pickthall for running this site.)

If smaller companies like Hart Brewing, which has previously been a particularly bad offender, has recognised that it needs to change its ways, how come one of the largest regional brewers in the country seems incapable of doing so?

And can we just take a moment to look at the Slater’s range and the frankly pathetic out-dated, out-moded and tragic pump clip for the equally tragically-named Top Totty that hit the headlines earlier in the year after being banned from the Strangers Bar in the House of Commons?

All else aside, from a purely aesthetic point of view, how can a successful and genuinely good brewery not see how appalling cheap, nasty and tacky it looks against the rest of the brands?

These are sadly just a small selection of the awful dross out there which is damaging our industry’s image and making life difficult for women to get into beer, let alone those of us who are already in, what I’ve said before and will say again, is a truly wonderful business.

You may think I’m making a fuss about nothing but, I’m a firm believer that any aspect of society that fosters intolerance is created of thousands of elements, none of which are too small to challenge, and this element should, most certainly, be called time on.

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Good Beer, we have to declare our love

Do you know what Green King IPA tastes like? How about Abbot Ale? 6x? If you have ever drunk an ale before, the chance are you are familiar with these house hold names.  How about Stroud Brewery’s Woolpack, or Uley’s Pig Ear, or the Old Rock from Nailsworth brewery? Probably not all three if any of them.  Therefore, this blog entry is to encourage the residents of these valleys that I so love (Gloucestershire) to get out there and drink some of the fine nectar that is produced here.  If you are a lager drinker skip to the last sentence.

It is easy to take for granted the great pubs and breweries we have in Gloucestershire, but it must be noted that not too long ago this wide choice did not exist.  Gloucestershire experienced a “collapse” in its brewing heritage.  Thirty years ago you would of had a choice of Whitbread or Whitbread as they dominated the beer industry here in our fair valleys.  Although we have a long history of brewing in Gloucestershire, until fairly recently, this had all but disappeared.  It wasn’t until the collapse of Whitbread and the birth of Uley brewery in the mid-1980’s that brewing started to have fresh life blown into it’s sales. Today we have a choice of a wide-range of breweries offering a good selection of fine local ales.

Today, this is still celebrated through the collection of “Gloucestershire’s Craft Brewers“.  It has to be noted however; a minority of the public appreciates this.  Most people, even you beer lovers out there, do not know about the microbreweries on your own doorstep, let alone appreciate the process in which beer is made. It is my belief that if people saw with there own eyes the process being undertaken in their local town and villages they would be much more likely to consume these beers in the future (thus strengthening local economies).  Personally, I am extremely proud to have good quality local brews that represent local culture and history.  This will only last however, if there is demanded for it over the taps…this bits up top you – the drinker.

My suggestion to you therefore, would be to start frequenting pubs that offer you an interesting selection of beer (so yes, I am afraid that means avoiding the Green King tied houses), and start sampling what they have to offer.  If the free house (or tied house with guest beers) does not have anything you like, tell them about a beer you have had recently and ask if they can get it in.

Equally, local ale does not have to be kept to the pubs.  Most breweries’ sell directly to the public.  Stroud Brewery for example, will sell you bottled conditioned ale all the time, and you can put in orders the week before (to pick up on a Friday) for anything from 2.5 litters right up to a firkin (72 pints).  If you are going to a party, why buy a 12 pack (9 pints ish) from Tesco’s for 14.99 when you can get 5 litres (9 pints ish) of local organic ale for £15?

Lastly, I strongly recommend you go and have a look round a microbrewery.  Most of the people you find working in places like this are people who are in there for the love (believe me you do not make your millions by brewing, nor do you get critical acclaim).  If you asked them, I am sure they would be more than happy to talk you through how it all works.  By the time you get your head round the whole process you might think that £3 a pint actually represents a bargain.

If you want to know where to drink in Gloucestshire have a look at here for a list of pubs who have committed to stocking at least one local beer (in Gloucestershire) or pick up the latest copy of the Good beer guide.  If you trust me, leave your postcode in the comments box and I’ll try and respond with some pubs that I think are ace with say 10 miles of where your based (as long as your from Gloucestershire).

If you are a lager drinker, don’t feel left out…you can try tasty lagers such as Cotswolds larger.

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Filed under Beer, Gloucestershire

Copenhagen and the 2 degree guard-rail, the wrong goal missed

We are constantly told that if we want to avoid “serious” climate change then we have to stick to below two degrees. Have you ever wondered though where this mysterious 2 degree figure came from or who came up with it? In the next couple of weeks at Copenhagen anyone with any grasp on climate change will be trying to beg, borrow and steal their way to an agreement that would result in us (humans) limiting the average global temperatures to below 2 degrees from 1990 levels. Anything above this and we are doomed! It is thus slightly important to explain why even this target is wholly inadequate.

In 2001 the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) came up with the 2 degrees figure using a very sensible method. Simply, they looked at the bad stuff that was likely to happen because of climate change (species extinction through to run-away climate change – this is when tipping points cause further tipping points (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkUaAltxUpg) and worked out how likely at different temperatures it was to happen. At 2 degrees they figured there was very little chance of runaway climate change occurring. There was however still a significant chance of species extinction (there were then events in between that varied in their likelihood of occurring). They considered this to be a “safe” level to aim for.

This all seems very sensible (what’s a few species in the grand scheme of things?). In the run-up to Copenhagen however, the University of Copenhagen produced a report (http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/press-releases/files/synthesis-report-web.pdf) authored by many of the original IPCC authors highlighting why, in the light of the latest science since 2001, this 2 degree guardrail is wholly insufficient. Essentially they were saying that they had underestimated the temperature at which these reactions to temperature rise would occur. This is hugely problematic.

According to their latest estimates, sticking to 2 degrees would leave us with a moderate chance of experiencing run-away climate change. I cannot emphasize how scary this is. A moderate chance of plunging our entire species into starvation, mass migration, probable war and potential extinction! Why are we not in a state of emergency? Why have I been blogging about the death of the local pub, when soon we will not be able to grow the crops needed for brewing (let alone to feed ourselves)?

This is IF we meet our 2 degree target. What do you think…will our leaders unite together to make the sort of agreement that is needed to make lasting cuts in carbon emissions? I suggest not. Will our leaders buckle to economic and political pressure rather than scientific reality? I suspect so. What does this mean for us as a species…as a civilized society…a community…a family or even as an individuals?

It means that we are facing very very tough times ahead. How tough depends on how we (as a species) act now! How prepared we are for these tough times depends more on how we act as a community, family and individuals. To tackle this issue we need a collective effort like never before (think WW2 and multiply it…the enemy we face now is far scarier than the threat fascism ever posed to humanity…the millions that Hitler wiped out might look like small numbers if we do not act on climate change).

Think of climate change though not as something that is either happening or not happening but as something that is on a scale. I have no doubt that we will witness the extinction of many more species, but how far down this scale towards run-away climate change we slip is really up to us.

British Green MEP Caroline Lucas recently summed the situation up by stating that if we meet the EU’s most ambitious targets then we will leave ourselves a 50:50 chance of experiencing the worst consequences of climate change.  These are odds I am not willing to accept.

We can act now to limit to the consequences of climate change or we can go down in history as the only species that monitored itself into extinction.

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Filed under Climate Change, EU politics

Gloucestershire Ale Trail

For those of you who have expressed an interest. I would like to draw your attention to the Gloucestershire Ale Trail web-site (http://www.glosaletrail.org.uk/). Apart from telling you where your nearest micro-brewery is, it also tells you where you can enjoy their beers!

Or, you can check out CAMRA’s initative of locAle.  This accredits any pub that stocks beer that is brewed within a 25 mile radius. http://www.camra.org.uk/page.aspx?o=281521

Enjoy!

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The dark side of real ale

This is a matter close to my heart.  The slow death of the local pub and the real ale drinking that goes hand-in-hand with this.  In the UK around half of our 60,000 pubs are owned by just 10 operators.  This is not a healthy situation to be in.  39 pubs are closing every week!  The names of Green King and Fullers are becoming household names and yet micro-breweries are reliant on government subsidies to survive.  Meanwhile medium sized breweries such as Harvey’s in Lewes have neither the government support nor the operational capacity to compete with the giants at Green King. 

We can see from the Lewes Arms controversy how Green King is willing to put profit above consumer demand.  It is only after petitions and a strong campaign did the pub revert to stocking the local beer (Harveys).  This example however, also highlights what real grass-roots pressure can do.  If you are sick and tired of being offered the same old generic beers then do something about it!

The British beer culture (different to the drinking culture in general) is something that we should all be very proud of.  We produce some of the best quality beers in the world.  I currently have the pleasure of living in Belgian and people often ask me what I think of the beers here. The simple answer is that they often rely on crass flavours and offer none of the depth and subtlety that some English ale holds.  It is only when you don’t have something do you really miss it!

If you are like me and enjoy spending a considerable period of time (and money) in your local then choose wisely.  Follow my golden rules:

1) Choose a free house.  Green King especially is in danger of creating a monopoly over the pub industry. This has negative repercussions for the diversity of real ale that is being produced (and consumed).  If a pub has a big green sign hanging outside of it stay well away!

2) Choose a pub that stocks its beer from a local micro-brewery.  You might think this is hard to find, but increasingly micro-breweries are popping up left right and centre.  If your local free house is not stocking the local breweries then ask why!

For those of you based in Gloucestershire (my beloved shire) here are a few ideas for you to check out if you haven’t already!

  • The Woolpack in Slad (Stocks Stroud Brewery and Uley)
  • The Blackhorse in Amberley (Stroud Brewery and changing guest ales)
  • The Prince Albert in Stroud (Stroud Brewery)

For more information check out the good beer guide or the CAMRA web-site (http://www.camra.org.uk/home.aspx)

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