5 Oct 2008

On some marketing bollocks and a new converts

The other day I had a, not quite, surprise visit from Spain. My almost brother in law and our great friend Fernando (owner of La Barraca, a proper beer pub in Ávila, Spain), came togehter with the Spanish representative for the Pilsner Urquell Bartender of the year competition as guests of the brewery.

They were all accommodated in a posh hotel in the centre of Prague. They were taken on a tour to the world famous and legendary brewery, were fed and given drink until it came out of their ears; in sum, they were very well treated. And, acording to what they told me, the organisation of the whole thing was flawless, as it would be expected from a company like Plzeňský Prazdroj, experts when it comes to marketing and PR.

As they are in the fine art of marketing bollocks. The hotel lobby was dressed in the colours of the brewery. I was waiting for them there while they went to fetch their luggage and check out, when I noticed, written on poster on one of the walls, the claim that Pilner Urquell is still brewed using the same methods as in 1842. Massive lie. Back then CK fermenters didn't exist and open fermenters were used, as they still are by many Czech breweries. Also in 1842 beer was not pasteurised, as the process woudn't be invented for another couple of decades. We can call that progress or evolution, aberration if you ask me, but whatever it is, is not the same as 166 years ago.

But that was not the biggest bull. Fernando told me that, during one of the talks they had with the people of PU, someone asked if the unpasteurised beer tasted different than the pasteurised. The speaker (I don't remember who it was) had the nerve to say that both tasted exactly the same. Can you believe that? They must believe that people are stupid. Anyone who has ever tried a pint of Pilsner Urquell nepasterovaná would have noticed, after the first sip, the humungous dimensions of this lie. When a product, no matter what, goes through pasteurisation its taste will be affected, is inevitable, beer is not an exception. Of course, the people from SAB-Miller don't want to tell their foreign clients that the product they get is not as good as the one that can be enjoyed at many hospody around the Czech Republic, and thus, have no choice but to lie in such a childish way.

Changing the topic and the mood. The other day is stopped by at U Sadu. I hadn't been there for quite some time. That day I had a strong craving for Primátor Weizen and, being nearby, I made a detour to that fine hospoda. Big, and pleasant, was my surprise when I saw that they are now also tapping Svijany, their 11° Máz. I still ordered that Primátor that had brought me there, and sat to read the book I was carrying (a really dodgy Dan Brown rip-off that a client had lent me). A few minutes later two men in their fifties took a table near mine. One of them ordered a nealko and the other, almost automatically, ordered a pint of Pilsner Urquell. However, when the waiter had just turned round, he asked "Co to je to Svijanský Máz?" (what is this Svijany?). The waiter explained that it was a pale lager, unpasteurised, etc, and the patron said he would give it a go. When he got his půl litr and drank the first, pretty long, sip his reaction was instantaneous: "To je dobrý človeče!" (Man, this is good!). And when his mate asked him how he liked his beer, he insisted "je to fakt dobrý!" (it is really good!). The second pint didn't take long to come.

It's worth noticing that U Sady sells Svijanský Máz for 30CZK, more expensive than Gambrinus (25CZK) and the same price as PU. This is another proof that, when given equal opportunities and same conditions, besides being properly promoted (there were posters announcing the news), the regional brewers can give the macros a really good run for their money.

Later that day I stopped at Zlý Časy. They still had the minifestival of Eastern Bohemia and among the beers on tap was Imperial Stout from Anteňaka, Hradec Králove. Very black, with a coffee and molasses nose, tasting like roasted coffee that turns into mild chocolate and leaving a very pleasant roasted aftertaste when finishing the drink. Delicious.

There was as small group of lads in their early 20's, if a day, tasting the different lagers that were being tapped. One of them, when finishing his glass, asked what they could taste now. Honza, the owner, suggested they try the Imperial Stout, telling them that it was something completely different, but still very good. They went for it and I was really glad to see that they liked that beer, partly because it was something new and totally different to everything they had previously drank. And that, in itself, is very important.

I left everybody very satisfied. I had the strong hope that the new beers that the middle aged man at U Sadu and the young kids at Zlý Časy tasted had helped each open their beer horizons. Maybe the will now start looking for more, maybe if they now see something they don't know at a supermarket, they will buy it. Maybe we are not so alone in our beerevangelism mission...

Na Zdraví!

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7 comments:

  1. I get a real buzz out of seeing people enjoying new beer tastes. Even more so if it's something I also really like myself, but even so, seeing someone just realising how tasty beer can be is great fun.

    Here's to new experiences!

    Sláinte!

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  2. Actually, I like Pilsner Urquell very much. I have never tried the unpasteurized version, but the bottled version sold over here is excellent. It is one of the best beers I have ever tried.

    I would love to try Svijany, though. And of course the unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell.

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  3. I've mentioned it before. I believe that for a mass produced beer as PU is (millions of hl a year), it is still really good. Probably, together with Budvar, unmatched in its category. What makes me mad, though, is the above mentioned, and unecessary, marketing bollocks.

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  4. I'd love to try the the different versions of PU, but am certainly satisfied with the bottled format we get here. Works well as an "anytime" beer.

    However, what you stated was essentially in line with my sentiments on Evan's blog regarding the "original" Pilsner Urquell. When you've changed brewing methods, it can impact the flavor. So marketing it as "original" must be taken with a grain of salt by the consumer; even though it's not a complete falsehood.

    Nevertheless, it is bad practice to advertise blatant lies for marketing, as in the instances you described.

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  5. I must admit I've never been taken by Urquell, in any of its forms. Before I was really into my beers, I never found it very memorable; since I started expanding my horizons, I increasingly can't stand the taste of it - especially the bottled version.
    I also tried the unfiltered version when I was in Plzen a couple of weeks ago. Admittedly I was a bit pissed already (I'd just been to the purkmistr-fest), but i didn't really like the unfiltered at all - kind of like a more sickly version of the normal stuff, and not a beer I'd drink again...

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  6. Pilsner Urquell is very fine beer, indeed, but, unfortunately, I haven't had tasted unpasteurised version when I was in Prague, but I'm sure it can only be better than the pasteurised one.

    Back to the marketing bollocks. I really hate it, but many people who don't much about beer are buying it, it is the same with Stella Artois (very bad beer indeed), much popular here in Croatia and its 1366 year on the sign, just to mention another example.

    I don't know why mostly tasteless beers (not counting PU here) alwaya tend to be proud of their "tradition" and "traditional methods" than many much better beers, I guess to try to camouflage the fact that the beer is tasteless and bad. A good beer will emphasise its quality in the marketing. And many people buy it, and many of those people don't want to judge the beer by its taste.

    You can give them extraordinary new beer, which is good, and not so famous, some of them will say: "It's good, but (put some brand name here) is still the best". But, fortunatels, there is a lot of the other people, who appreciate a good beer, even if they don't know much about, and it is always a pleasur to see them enjoying and discovering new tastes.

    P.S. sorry on my english, which is "hit and miss" sometimes.

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  7. debembo,

    What you say happens everywhere. There are many people here that still believe that Gambrinus is a great beer and that there is nothing better than Pilsner Urquell out there, so they don't bother trying anything new, even when you shove it under their noses. Worse still, there are some that even insist that Stella and Heineken are fine beers...
    I respect everyone's tastes, but I believe that most of them are peolpe who buy the brand and not the drink

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