Tag Archives: Beer

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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Filed under Beer, Food and Drink

Booze Britain – The new Beer Barron!

When did it end up like this? Thanks to Bistrosavage (flickr)

Today the Barron’s report on how to tackle the UK’s drinking problem (which one?) was released with much media fanfare. Kevin Barron (the Chair of the Health select committee) proposes in this report two main policy idea’s on how to tackle “Booze Britain”. Idea Number One, he suggests a minimum charge of a 50p per unit of alcohol. Idea Number 2, he suggests a reversal of the 24 hour licensing that came into effect in 2003.

Firstly, let’s get it on the record, that I, steve4319 think that Britain has a serious alcohol problem. We can see hundreds of drink drive related deaths per year, billions of pounds spent annually by the NHS on alcohol related illnesses and this is without mentioning the personal horror stories that many have witnessed from alcohol abuse and dependency (note they are two separate things but are often confused). Something has to be done. Yet, this piece of social policy seems about as sensible as downing a tequila slammer just after “bottle rocketing” some stellar (believe me it doesn’t end well).

Let’s take the proposed 50p minimum charge for a unit of alcohol. This would mean that you could still get 1 pound pints, 50p shots of vodka and (if so wished) a 50p shot put into the top of a pint of larger (yes this is common practice in Weatherspoons up and down the country). Essentially, it would not tackle those slightly disgusting scenes of fully grown men vomiting on each other’s shoes in the early hours in town centers. It would not stop the cat fights that break out between inebriated girls. Most importantly, it would not put a dent in the business plan of J.D Weatherspoons of “buy cheap, sell cheap”.

What it would do is hit the supermarket drunks. It would hit those who buy bottles of wine (it would mean each bottle would be at least 4-5 pounds), those who buy crates of beer (your looking about 24 quid a case) and the bottles of spirits (for a 70 cl bottle expect to pay at least 14 pounds) – assuming I have done my math’s right! When I use the phrase supermarket drunks, you imagine a homeless guy with a can of special brew…think again. The supermarkets are being hit by a respectable wave of middle classes consuming incredible amounts of alcohol. It is a hidden face of alcohol abuse in the UK. Your doctor, your teacher and the nice man in the bank are probably going home every other evening and consuming a bottle of wine (each). OK, they do not end up urinating on war memorials but they are still doing serious damage to themselves.

So, I hear you cry…surely if this 50p a unit idea helps tackle this, it must be a good idea. I will explain why it is not on two levels. Firstly, this catch all policy disadvantages the majority to help the minority. As a rule of thumb that is not a good piece of social policy. It depends though, how much it disadvantages some in relation to helping others. In this case, due to the middle class nature of those it intends to help, it would not significantly help those it is aimed at. On the other-hand, it will hit the poorest section of our society that spends literally a few pounds a week on alcohol. It will not affect all you who appreciate a good 2001 Rioja, but it will affect those who appreciate the 2.99 specials!

Secondly, I wish to question whether it is up to the state to moderate self-harming practices (which is different to public issues such as town centers on Friday nights). Most ordinary people would not advocate complete prohibition (enjoy it in moderation blah blah), but feel as though alcohol can, and should be enjoyed in moderation. In a free society should this balance not be left to the individual to reach? While 3 pints of beer is considered (including by Her Majesty’s government) to be “binge drinking”, I would personally consider it a good night down the pub! On the other-hand we can see that 3 pints would leave some people on the floor. I think that alcohol consumption should be like other aspects of adult life where we learn (through experience and advice) how to live as functioning people. In the past I have drunk too much too often, now I only occasionally drink too much – job done. This however, has to be accompanied by sufficient support mechanisms (provided by the state) to help those in need with serious problems (that represent the minority). This idea of the state trying to force people to drink less through economic sanctions is surely mislead.

There is then the issue of the reversing of the 24 hour licensing law! I still feel that one of the main problems with drinking is the associated problems (the vomiting on each other’s shoes scenario, the street fights etc). The staging of club dispensing is a good thing in terms of public order. There is nothing more terrifying than looking down a high street (sober enough to remember it) at 2-3 AM on a Saturday morning. It makes the police lives easier if they can focus on a hand-full of establishments at a time. Equally, the strict licensing times do not tackle the core of the problem, why people are drinking themselves unconscious every Friday and Saturday night (and causing all the health implications).

The idea of not being thrown out of a pub at 11 is a great idea. We no longer live in an era when we have our supper at 6:30 and are in bed by 11. I think by opening later, the bars and clubs are simply reflecting this. To suggest that by limiting the amount of time people have to drink that they will drink less is ludicrous. We can see the real problems starting when people are restricted in the amount of time they have to drink (the “downing culture”). Indeed, we can see through examples across Europe, that it is not the opening hours that are the issue; it’s the “way” we drink.

I am not pretending to hold a solution to this one. Our drinking culture is a complex one. I will however, state that I can see alcohol as part of a functioning society. The idea of going down the pub with your mates is a healthy one that should be supported. We have been enjoying a good tipple for centuries. I do not want to see this being disadvantaged because of an over-zealous government trying (but failing) to help the minority. Here are some initial observations that might highlight why we have such a problem in this country…feel free to add any I have missed:

 • The round system – our stingy nature means that if you buy one drink, you basically commit yourself to four (or five or six) to get your “money’s worth”. Also, the rounds get purchased at the rate of the fastest drinker. Due to the Brits inability just to chat, we have to have a distraction (a drink to slurp). The moment your glass is empty you have to utter those magic words “another drink anyone”. If you say no – you lose!
 • The pint culture – by the very nature of drinking 568 ml of beer in a sitting (compared to the 250 or 330 norms in most of Europe).
 • The 7:30 culture – we start a lot earlier than most of Europe, and now we no longer stop much earlier. We are effectively drinking for 7-10 hours often!
• The strange green thing on the top shelf moment – thanks to advertising and a serious commitment to getting off our faces we regularly think it is a good thing to buy a “round” of those bright green things that taste like a strange mixture of toothpaste and apples.

The Brits are famous for it…we always have been. But how do we try and enjoy it rather than abuse it?

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Filed under Beer, Far-right politics

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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