Monday, August 9, 2010

Developing Beer Marketing Branding is Hard

Let’s face it, marketing craft beer is big business.  Breweries of all sizes spend considerable effort to market their beer, as their brand determines their success.  These efforts focus on a variety of different sources, from labels to print media to television commercials to social media campaigns.  These efforts take considerable effort, in my limited experience, but more on that later.  Yet for all the time and money spent on these efforts, many craft beer aficionados and homebrewers disdain the resulting “marketing speak.” 

While the branding and imagery can be interesting when looked at from a pure visual art or graphic design standpoint (as is the case over at the Pour Curator, a blog Jeff I and both follow and appreciate), many people I have spoken to view these efforts as a distraction and provided little if any value to the beer itself. Take, for example, the back label for Stone’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale, which I happen to be drinking right now. The label manages to fit 348 words (by my count) that tell me nothing about the contents of the bottle, other than it was made with barley, it is aggressively hopped, and it was aged on oak. While I learned about Stone’s aggressive-minded philosophy and their need to pursue new things, the marketing language contains little to no content about the beer itself.

While I generally dislike to being marketed to and the typical marketing language that is thrown at me as a result, I myself am guilty of developing my own “marketing speak.” In a strange “devil’s advocate” attitude, once a year I force myself to write marketing materials about beers I brew for a friend’s party. Every summer, my good friend throws a seafood party and I brew several batches of beer to be served at the gathering. Usually a story is formulated about each of the beers and we post brewmaster notes near the taps for the enjoyment of the attendees. While I dislike subliminal sales pitches, I must admit that creating these messages is very difficult. This could be caused by my lack of talent in marketing or that it really is hard to come up with such language. At least once a year, I consider that perhaps I should grant the marketing departments more respect for their work. But then again, perhaps not.

Regardless, if nothing more than for the reader’s enjoyment, I’ve listed a copy of the marketing language generated for this year’s beers at the party. Hopefully, it provides some useful information, along with the floral language.



Hippy Hawk Bohemian Pilsner – Bohemian pilsners are more malty and rounded than their dry German cousins, while still retaining the crisp and sharp hop edge that defines the pilsner style. This characteristic roundness is emphasized by lower mineral content water that provides a softer body, which helps bring the malt body in balance with the Czech Saaz hops. The Hippy Hawk Bohemian Pilsner features the same name as last year, given that it is a repeat recipe. The name originally came from a hawk that was circling over the deck on brew day, as well as the Bohemian quality of the beer that will leave you wanting more and more of this beer. Groovy, man . . .
ABV: 5.1% IBU: 39 OG: 1.060 FG: 1.020

Tornado Warning India Pale Ale – The India Pale Ale, or IPA, has garnered a lot of attention during the recent American Craft Beer movement’s focus on hop-forward flavors. The IPA was originally developed for practical reasons. Its higher alcohol strength and increased hopping rate and bitterness helped the beer survive the long voyage from England to its colony in India. The style had all but died out in Britain when American brewers adapted it to our country’s citrus hops. Our example is definitely American, with a full citrus flavor and aroma from Centennial hops, along with a complex malt character for added depth of flavor. The beer’s name came from the uncharacteristic high-wind storms that Charlottesville has recently experienced. The IPA’s tornado of hop flavor should help it pair excellently with John’s meal of shellfish and grilled meats.
ABV: 5.1% IBU: 48 OG: 1.050 FG: 1.010

Double Down Scottish 80/~ – Scottish ales are characterized by a massive, complex malty body that finishes slightly dry to make them drinkable in quantity. The ales are meant to be session beers, where their relatively low alcohol concentration enables someone to have several pints in a “session” at the pub. Our version is a bit stronger than most, but the slightly increased alcohol concentration should help the beer go well with John’s full-flavored menu. Scottish ales are named for the number of shillings of tax the brewer had to pay on each barrel at some point in long forgotten history. This beer is an 80 shilling, designated by use of the symbol “80/~”. This recipe is our other repeat beer from last year. It was originally named for the two kettle boil overs I had when I first made this recipe, which created quite a mess.
ABV: 5.1% IBU: 15 OG: 1.059 FG: 1.019

Three Course Breakfast – Three Course Breakfast is an oatmeal stout with an interesting treatment – aging with dark chocolate. Oatmeal stouts are derived from dry Irish stouts, and the addition of oatmeal in the grist provides a rounder and less edgy finish. Many people describe this flavor as a “slick” feeling on the palate. Oatmeal stouts have long been a favorite beer style of mine and we have had a version on tap ever since I started brewing for John’s party several years ago. This year, we decided to deepen the recipe’s flavor profile by aging the beer on cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted, cracked and de-shelled, but have yet to be finished into chocolate. They have a rougher, complex flavor than brewing with chocolate or cocoa powder. As in previous years, the beer will be served on John’s stout tap, which uses a nitrogen/CO2 gas mix for carbonation. This provides a rich and velvety finish to the stout and gives it a dense foamy head. The stout’s oatmeal and inherent coffee characteristics, along with the chocolate overtones, make this a perfect Three Course Breakfast.
ABC: 5.9% IBU: 36 OG: 1.059 FG: 1.013

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