Heavens to Marketroid


One of the most refreshing aspects about craft beer for me is the lack of … there’s no polite way to say it … marketing bullshit. I’ve never heard a craft brewer claim their beer was “brewed 33% longer”, or any such ludicrous statement. I’ve always taken it as a sign that craft brewers think their market is too smart to fall for that silliness. Craft brewers, in general, simply describe their beer, the ingredients from which it was made, and some of the flavours one might expect to taste upon drinking it.

Until now.

There’s a brewery I like very much who make excellent quality beer. The consistency is outstanding among their peers. The beers are clean, subtle, flavoursome, and approachable. The brewer is a cool person, and the sales people are fun too. but something has happened. What started as a joking exchange on Twitter seems to have revealed a bit of “big guy” style marketing. The new thing to do seems to be to go on a lot about how the brewery in question brews with “pure water” and nobody else does. They’ve started referring to fellow craft brewers’ products as “tap water beers”. I think this is a bit much, and it feels ugly.

The claim itself is, of course, marketing nonsense of the highest order. What is “pure water”? H2O? You certainly can’t brew with that. Without sending everyone to sleep, the chemistry involved in brewing beer requires certain amounts of minerals which have all sorts of effects on the pH and flavour profile of the beer – it has an impact on everything from clarity, to flavour, to perceived bitterness, and even to shelf life.

It is possible to brew beer with very soft water – that is, water lacking in much mineral content, but it’s only suited to certain styles of beer, and even then, you still need some mineral content. As a result, every brewery does one of two things: Work with whatever local water supply they have access to (spring, city supply, whatever) and brew beers which suit that water, or they start with a “base” known water profile (could be pure deionised water, or the local source) and treat it to add the mineral profile they require. The end result could be chemically identical (or near as makes no odds) to the brewery claiming to use “pure” water. Just because brewer A gets his water from a mountain stream and brewster B gets hers from the municipal supply, de-chlorinates and filters it, then adds some salts to achieve the exact chemical profile required, doesn’t make either more or less “pure”. Judge the finished beer on flavour, not on perceived quality of ingredients.

In competitions, beer is judged blind. There’s a very good reason for this. Leave the silly marketing tricks to the peddlers of flavourless industrial beer, and please realise that your market is a lot smarter than that.

To the person who inspired this post – no hard feelings, I still love ya man! I just thought it needed to be said.


13 thoughts on “Heavens to Marketroid

  • Scott

    Absolutely agreed. I watched the conversation today with a mixture of amusement and disbelief.

    Promoting your brand as something unique and special is absolutely fine, however this went way beyond that. Maybe it was all meant in jest, but it certainly didn’t come off as such. I hate to say it, but this is _not_ how you do social marketing.

    Every NZ craft brewer I follow on twitter is eager to praise the work of other fellow craft brewers. Building this sense of community, even when technically each craft brewer is in competition with one another is essential if the NZ craft beer scene is to be taken seriously. Insulting other craft brewer’s hard work with cheap shots that sound like they’ve come out of a Steinlager Pure ad doesn’t help the craft beer scene one bit, nor does it help the reputation of the brewer in question.

  • jaysen

    Hi mate,
    No offence taken, you have some valid points and i am glad you have put them across constructively. My message is a little deeper than where we started. Beer is one of my loves and in New Zealand we now are begining to get quite spoilt for choice, it is great to see new outlets where we can enjoy wide selections.
    Now let me take you to my train of thought. I love food, wine and beverages of all kinds. When i go to a restaurant and have an excellent meal it is awesome, no different when i taste a new great beer or wine. Maybe i have it arse about face, but if i like the restaurant or product i generally take a second look and try to find out a bit more, what they cook with, free range, barn laid, fresh, frozen, cage, organic, fair trade. . . and depending on the answers i may not go back regardless of if it tasted good.
    This then leads me to thinking about other products such as. . . Bottled water to soft drinks (what is the connection here), pies, sandwiches in cafes, what are we eating and drinking that we just dont know or understand about. I am a bit tired of not knowing that when i drink milk, it may have renet (my spelling is bad) in it, or a wine that has egg in it or a lollie at a shop that i brought for my kids that have some other animal product in it.
    I am not talking about home chefs or brewers that are making product for themselves, that is totally different than commercial manufacture. If i buy a steak i Don’t want any fish in it anymore and i DONT want to read the FINE PRINT to make sure.

  • greig Post author

    Hey Jaysen,

    Thanks for responding. I didn’t want to “out” you, but glad you’ve chosen to reply! :)

    I agree with you 100% on what you’ve said here. We all have our reasons for choosing anything – restaurant, hotel, chinese takeaway meal, whatever. Our reasons will always be individual, and remain our own opinion. That’s a good thing!

    Where I start to see it get bad is where claims are made about quality based on a buzzword, or unscientific/irrational concept. Other than the water example, imagine if someone claims something is organic. What does “organic” actually mean? It certainly doesn’t denote quality. In fact, not using one pesticide or other may allow an otherwise preventable fungal infection to take hold, it goes unnoticed and BAM! You’re dead. :) Silly, over-the-top example, I know, but as you point out, the key is always to look deeper – past the buzzwords and marketing, down to what the product actually *is*.

    Cheers,

    Greig.

  • jaysen

    Great that you brought Organics into the conversation. I USED to be an avid support of buying organic produce when possible and thought i was buying much better quality and helping myself, my children and the environment . In realitly i was purchasing a brand without really understanding anything about the concept and what it was about. When i found time to conduct my own research i uncovered something that really got my skin. If i look to purchase a product whether it be a grown raw material (ie a cereal or tomato )or added value product that is costing me extra because of its so called purity or concern for natural systems and processes “I” would expect that “all” the ingredients that go into the make up of that product to be extremely important. My own research into this has caused me some alarm because i found that i could go to an Organic Shop purchase Organic Baby Food that is made from that same city council “Potable” TAP water that “I” personally would not have given my baby to drink or even at times when it is so bad not drink myself. So, I found out that I could pay more for, Better Quality Food and peace of mind, which in all reality is not correct.

    The above is FACT and “not” buzz-words or marketing. If you dont believe me you should get a copy of the organic standards in New Zealand for manufactured goods and learn whom is really fooling you.

  • greig Post author

    Yep, we were having this exact conversation around at a friend’s house last night. It’s why I don’t bother buying anything based on a label, and go solely on flavour or quality – different criteria to you, but it works for me. :)

  • Stu

    Certainly a worthwhile discussion.

    I was not privy to the conversation, so I’m not sure how serious it all got… BUT… every brewery, big or small, has something that they perceive as their unique quality (or that they at least want you to think is their unique thing).

    Epic is all about the hops.
    Emerson’s verbal brand (less so the bottles and posters, at the moment) is all about local raw ingredients.
    Tuatara pushes the history of beer styles, as does Three Boys to an extent.
    Mike’s (Urenui) is all about organic.
    I’m not sure what Yeastie Boys is about, we’ve still not really figured it out ourselves!… hopefully that’ll stop us being pigeon-holed… it could be experimentation, the homebrew spirit, beer+music matching, the longest hair in brewing, the best pants!? I’d like to think it is excellent, interesting beer (for excellent, interesting people!).

    So a particular brand is all about their purity of water. So what? Water is the main ingredient in all beer afterall and, as you say, the proof is in the drinking. Clean, consistent, subtle beers certainly goes well with that idea (and I’ve never had a bad beer from that particular brewery – ever!). It’s all part of a great wider picture to sell your beer on. Remember who that message is for… not yourself, myself or any of the people we generally drink with.

    None of these “brand” things make a beer better than another – they just paint a part of the overall picture. Hell, a million awards don’t either. Value for money and quality product, that suits the consumer, is all it really comes down to.

    And, so they say that other breweries just use tap water. Well, that’s ok too. Most people drinking craft beer – and certainly the ones I’d want drinking our beer – wouldn’t care if anyone calls a certain beer tap water… it doesn’t take much tasting to realise that. It might put off a very small percentage of people but these people are too fickle to understand great beer anyway.

    I celebrate beers from all good breweries because I understand that people drinking our beer love to drink other beers as well (so do I!!!)… We have so much scope in moving more and more outlets from marketing beer into craft beer dominated outlets. But as we do this, more and more of the little guys will need to beat their own drum a little bit louder.

    Stu

  • Lewis

    Stu’s right, as usual. :)

    The one thing I don’t like/get is the whole “WE use Pure water, unlike every other brewer [ie, they suck and we're better because we use PURE water]“

  • greig Post author

    Oi! Furryboy! Two things…

    1. Stu’s opinion is always wrong. Always. Stop brownnosing.
    2. Shouldn’t you be working, and not trolling blogs?

    ;)

  • greig Post author

    Stu – I hear you, but I don’t agree. Branding is useful, so are points of difference. I think it’s important to call bullshit on dodgy uses of them though. I see it as part of the mission to educate.

    Yeastie’s point of difference… hrm… everything? ;) Oh, I know… FRESH IS NOT BEST! Be the first craft brewer to use that.

  • Graeme

    What is ‘pure’ water…is your ‘mountain stream’ or ’10M year old water from a bore’ as clean as you say it is? Has it been tested? Is it regularly tested? Does it contain lead, copper, manganese, arsenic, nitrates, nitrites, e-coli, giardia, etc below WHO standards? I know mine is as it comes from a ‘tap’;-) Oh, and all ‘water’ is heated/boiled in a brewery so I suspect the ‘structure’ of any water will change anyway…

    Stu – what about ‘the most carbon miles in any NZ beer’ angle? It comes from Invercargill doesnt it – and thats along way from Hamilton ;-)

  • greig Post author

    Stu – that’s two good reasons to buy Yeastie beers! An antidote to all the greenwash! I think I’ll grab some PKB on the way home now. IN MY CAR. ;)

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