Tuesday 10 November 2009

I couldn’t think of a title to this one so I thought that ‘branding is not the only god’ sufficed

Are you interested in branding says the PR? Not really I say, not with any conviction one way or the other, because even though it’s not the area of beer I’m really thrilled by I do know how important it is to throw one’s lot in with marketing. After all, it makes beer desirable — one’s soul trills and thrills when a bottle of a supremely dressed beer is glimpsed. Up on the catwalk, as Simple Minds used to sing, the likes of Saison DeLuxe, Bourbon County, Deus and Consecration take their bow and why not. I don’t want a tin can full of malt liquor on my relatively expensive oak table. On the other hand, it’s just that sometimes when beer is all brands, brand consolidation, marketing, etc, I think it all goes a bit awry, especially when you get massive beer ‘brands’ that claim a dubious heritage going back to the middle ages. Let’s think about the beer (or the product as some would say).

How about the four beers in the photograph that have been slumbering in my cellar — would you like to drink them? None of them after all are branded (unless we take a Barthesian view of things and say that the lack of a brand is its very brand). First left is an O’Hanlon’s experimental job that might surprise people next year; secondly is a early prototype of Fuller’s Brewers Reserve I scrounged from John Keeling at the brewery in 2007; third is the excellent and warming chili barley wine from Crown and the fourth is from Sharp’s — it has 4 scratched on the bottle-top and I picked it up at the brewery on the British Guild of Beerwriters trip in January that I covered here. So, are these beers in brown bottles home-brew — chalky, nauseous and flatulent — or are they samples that are godlike, mind improving and thoroughly therapeutic? Let’s move on: I do know that the O’Hanlon’s is continually improving. But the others?

I had beer from another brown bottle the other night — XV was the symbol Dan Brown, sorry I mean Stuart Howe at Sharp’s, had scratched on the top. Guess the strength he said in an email. I let it settle and a couple of days later tried it. It went something like this: ‘Colour: dark chestnut with a tan coloured ring of foam; nose: bubble-gum, herbal, cherry brandy, earthy cellar-like; palate: Bubble-gum, banana, slightly peppery (Challenger?), there’s a big fruit blast at the start before it dries out. Reminiscent of a strong abbey beer?Guess it might be between 8-10% but strength is well masked.’

He came back to me with these words: ‘The ABV was actually 13.8% so it must have been subtle. This was a failed attempt at brewing a 15% beer on a small scale. The yeast I used didn’t quite have the testicles to get it all the way. Mark II is in FV now with a harder yeast. For me it’s a little aggressive in the mouth with a build up of palate-coating flavour from too much late hop. This may lessen with age. I do love the aroma though..’

I guess the point of this post is that you cannot always judge a book by its cover. But more importantly, in a time when there is so much PR some brewers are ceaselessly experimenting without making a big thing about it. We live in an age of PR so maybe it is sometimes good to drink beers without labels.


  1. I'd give 'em a go, but I drink owt.

    I even open mystery unlabelled canned food, if it's free. You get a surprise. You could be eating ravioli, soup, beans or rice pudding.

  2. Remember Repo Man with tins marked ‘food’ and ‘beer’. All very utilitarian.