Monday, 12 October 2009

Beer news: Quality will out

New economic realities and improving beer quality have between them signalled a change a in beer consumption that’s worth noting:

  1. DB head managing director Brian Blake estimated overall beer consumption declined 4-5% in the year to September, compared with the previous year.
    "It's been a huge category shift and I've never seen that sort of momentum before in the market," Blake said
  2. On the other hand, the Real Beer Blog reports the Brewers Guild of New Zealand has done a craft beer survey showing that for the first six months of the year craft beer bottled sales  increase 10%.

Sure, the craft beer market represents only around two percent or so of the total beer market, so that ten percent growth is from a small base, but d’you think there’s a message there for the Brian Blakes of the world?


  1. PC

    I'd be interested to see you put your name to a blind taste test competition to rank beers according to their boutique prestige.

    I wager that you'll not be able to tell a Steinlager from a fancy pants cinamon spiced lager from the mountains of switzerland... or whatever it is that fancy beer drinkers consume these days.

    I'd love to be proved wrong.

    I'm one of those savages who struggles to differentiate a bottle of table wine from a $40 award winner.

  2. Willie, I'm almost certain a blind taste test among "boutique beers" would determine no difference. A a blind taste test among "craft beers" however would determine huge differences.

    And therein lies Mr Brian Blake's problem.

    He and his industry colleagues have invested enormous sums to market their boutique beers on the basis of differences in labels, and very little in taste (not to say, very little taste).

    On the other hand, the craft brewers have spent almost nothing on advertising (see for instance this account of Epic Brewing) and everything on the taste of their different beers (not to say the very different tastes)-- differences that would be apparent even to a braindead blind man in a darkened room.

    But don't just trust me, or anyone else. Check out some of the top beers on sites like RateBeer.Com, track them down in your neck of the woods, and taste them for yourself -- with and without a blindfold.

    If you can't tell the difference between a boutique beer and a real beer, I'll pay for your first half-dozen myself.

  3. I'll put my hand up for that taste off Willie.
    When Steinlager Pure came out I was involved in a taste-off between the old school and the new school... I sniffed the glasses and picked the old school one to be the one i could smell hops in. I've still never tasted "Pure"... smells like a (NZ-brewed) Heineken clone to me - and that beer is INSIPID!
    I'm sure I could pick Emerson's Pilsner from Monteith's Pilsner too ;-)
    Slainte mhath

  4. Me too yalnikim. I've actually done blind tastings against the mainstream stuff, and it's bloody hard graft. I can always pick Corona (the blandest) and usually Export Gold (the sweetest), but the others really don't differ much except in degrees of caramel. I usually score reasonably well, but it's more process of elimination than "oh, I know that taste, it's X".

    PC - I see an opportunity for a fun blog event here. Blind tastings at GB? Just make it a weekend please! ;) And preferably one where Stu is up.

  5. Willie said,

    I wager that you'll not be able to tell a Steinlager from a fancy pants cinamon spiced lager from the mountains of switzerland... or whatever it is that fancy beer drinkers consume these days.

    Amen to that Willie. I have debated with PC a number of times about this issue. I drink lion-red, export, steinlager, ranfurly, tui and anything that is drinkable (with alcohol content in it) and he always put me down by telling me that I drink shit stuff, low quality beer, unsophisticated and cheap, etc, etc,... My main aim of having a drink is to get wasted (enjoyment), irrelevant of what alcohol that I consume.

    I think that it is un-objectivist for PC to be prejudice against other beers, simply because he thinks so (or may be correctly, others or the market agree with him - herding effect in economic terms so to speak), which is subjective.

    Objectively, alcohol makes people drunk if taken in considerable amount (irrelevant if it costs $1000 or $20) and that's fact. Subjectively, some drink alcohol that costs $1000 and feel important about it, but that is subjective, ie, herding effect because they claim that so and so (stars) like to drink it and it is also expensive therefore it must be objectively good, right ? WRONG! That is subjective and not objective, since subjecting drinkers to a blind test, would expose their subjective biases in their abilities to tell which is which and I agree with Willie that if PC is subjected to a drink blind test, then his bias and elitism will disappear, ie, he won't be able to tell which is which, and that is an objective fact.

    Alcohol drink subjectivity is no difference to Copenhagen Interpretation (CI) in physics which objectivists do fiercely criticize. CI is subjective in which the observer is the one that creates reality. In PC's world view of alcohol drink, he is adopting a CI mentality ie, primary of consciousness ( in which his bias & predisposition to only like certain drinks while dismissing others as inferior simply because of prior experience) rather than primary of existence, ie, reality is there with or without an alcohol expert to tell us that these drinks are good and those ones are bad. After all, reality is the end result, you will get drunk regardless if you drink from a bottle of $1000 or from a $15 bottle.

    PS : I am not an objectivist, I simply repeat (primary of consciousness) what I often hear from them discussing all the time during parties.

  6. @FF, sounds like you've been drinking already this morning. Beer and the Copenhagen Interpretation? Sheesh already. :-)

    "...he always put me down by telling me that I drink shit stuff..."

    No I don't. I just tell you you're not drinking beer. ;^)

    @Greig, yes I'd be into that. Pick your w/end. (But do we really have to pay bar prices for the Ranfurly Draught and Corona just to prove a point!?)

  7. FF - a couple of things there which I'd take issue with.

    My main aim of having a drink is to get wasted (enjoyment), irrelevant of what alcohol that I consume.

    Your main aim and my main aim are different. I drink for flavour, and getting wasted is a side effect. Sometimes it's an enjoyable one, other times, an irritating one, and others (usually realised the next morning) an extremely unwelcome one. So long as I (or PC) doesn't deny you your freedom to pursue any goal you wish by whichever means you wish, where's the problem? Is it wrong for him to try to persuade you to drink craft beer in an effort to swell the market for that beer, thus increasing its availability and lowering the price? Simple rational self interest. It's why I and others formed SOBA. We just want to be able to easily enjoy "better" (my values) beer without having to hunt high and low for a pub not tied to Lion Nathan or DB. We hope to bring this about by increasing awareness, desire, and thus demand. If we need to sometimes take cheap potshots at mass produced and fairly bland beer, we're not above that, but it's not the aim, just part of the fun! ;)

    Objectivism doesn't account for preference, except in saying that you should be free to pursue yours. There are attempts at objectively rating the quality of beer (BJCP classes, beer competitions etc.) but at the end of the day, flavour will always be subjective. All we (craft beer lovers) can do is keep trying to grow awareness, and hope people will choose "better" beer.

    Anecdotally, most people I have offered a good craft beer to pretty much renounce the mass produced beers on the spot. Those who carry on drinking the mainstream stuff usually cite budget as a reason, but they almost always still say "if I could afford it, I'd drink craft beer". I've only met a couple of exceptions, and they've been very died-in-the-wool "my dad drank Lion Red, it's a working man's beer, and I'll drink it until I die" types.

    Neil Miller often uses a quote from Stephen Beaumont to illustrate the absurdity of brand loyalty in beer:

    Beer drinkers have been duped by mass marketing into the belief that it makes sense to drink only one brand of beer. In truth, brand loyalty in beer makes no more sense than 'vegetable loyalty' in food. Can you imagine it? "No thanks, I'll pass on the mashed potatoes, carrots, bread and roast beef. Me, I'm strictly a broccoli man."

    Basically, just taste stuff. If you don't like it fine. If you do like it, and you'd rather keep drinking the mainstream stuff for reasons of economics, that's fine too. What makes no sense is to blindly stick to one beer without trying the others. Is there anyone left now who will only drink Cold Duck wine, and would turn up their nose at a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or a Central Otago Pinot Noir? That's what the beer market looks like today. Hopefully, with growing awareness, it will look more like the wine market in a few years. In the meantime, people like PC, Neil, Luke from Epic, and myself will always keep trying to persuade people to drink what we consider better beer. I've explained the objective motivations for doing so - pure rational self interest. If we ever physically try to stop you drinking Lion Red, then, I agree, we have a problem! :)

  8. PC - good point. Two rounds then. One, at a location of your choosing. Everyone brings a six pack of a nominated mainstream beer. Two - Galbraiths. Tap and bottled beer taste off across several styles.

    Neil - are you around? You'd be up for this, surely? Up any time soon?

  9. If you do this taste off, please give enough notice, I would love to take up that challenge.

  10. Sounds like we have a plan.

    How about Stage I at over an afternoon session in The Castle garden (aka, where we live, around the corner and along a bit from Galbraith's), and then along to Galbraith's for an evening Stage II tasting session.

    Maybe in a couple of Saturday's time?

  11. 31st? You've conveniently picked the only free Saturday for me left in this month. I'm in.

    greig at hamiltron dot net if you want to coordinate. I'm happy to prepare a tasting schedule if you like, I've done a few of these. :)

  12. Alright. Done.

    "Coordinating" will probably involve little more than you reminding me, I suspect.

    But working out that tasting schedule -- and submitting it to Willie and FF first for their approval, that could take some time. :-)

  13. My suggesting is to pick candidates who are not normally beer drinkers (ie, those who are wine drinkers, etc,...). The reason for doing this is that the test subjects must not have prior bias, ie, that have already made up their mind about certain drinks and the sensation from tasting those drinks are already embedded in their taste reflexes. This is how a statistical test should be conducted. I suggest, perhaps MariaW, AnnieFox, Libertarian Liv, etc... We need 5 or more people. I mean, the test subjects must be those who are still virgin to the taste of beer, ie, those who have not formed opinions about certain types of beer via prior experience.

  14. Oh, are we actually wanting to be scientific about it? I was just going for fun and eye (tastebud) opening. Whichever way you like it.

  15. No, really scientific but just get some beer virgin candidates as test subjects. It should be a fun afternoon. The test is just to show who is more likely to be correct (not 100%). After the test then we can sit down and drink/party for the rest of the day and that will be the fun part, but at least I can feel comfortable in disputing PC's claim/opinion about good or shit beer.

  16. Right, well, I'll come up with a selection of "mainstream" beers for phase I, and a selection of "styles" for Phase II, and we can select something to fit each style from what is available at Galbraiths on the day, as their bottled selection changes regularly.

  17. Erm, I hit enter too soon... I meant to say: and you chaps can ensure we have enough of a virgin selection of candidates. I'm just looking forward to the drinking with all of you whom I've never met! Well, except PC, who I've only met briefly when I happened to run into Neil Miller who was having a drink with him while I was at a wedding reception at Galbraiths! How's that for a strange set of circumstances?

  18. Having just spent an evening with PC et al at a posh beer pub in Christchurch I can assuredly say that you could tell the difference between an Export and a Renaissance Scotch Ale if you had your tongue cut out.

    It's seriously night and day.


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