27 Aug 2010

How Innovative!

It seems like Damm didn't have enough with Inèdit and Saaz. They needed in their portfolio another innovative, ground-breaking, revolutionary, one of its kind, 33cl of pure awesomeness in a bottle beer. Behold! Here is Weiss Damm. A Heffe Weizen....

WOW!

In the official description of the product we can see bollocks like: "...brewed according to the original German recipe of the 16th century Bavarian master brewers", which by now should not surprise anyone, really. It is the rest of their marketing that bothers me the most, though.

Weiss Damm is nothing new in the Spanish market. Imported wheat beers have been relatively easy to find for quite some time already.

Well, they are imported. Weiss Damm is Spanish!

OK, but there are several micros that have been brewing wheat beers for longer than you.

Micros, micros. Who drinks those beers? Nobody!

Well, I wouldn't say that. Anyway, what about Cesar Augusta from La Zaragozana?

Hombre! That is not the same. Our beer is brewed according to a recipe from the 16th century and...

Cut it out! Because this beer is as Spanish as Paulaner!

This isn't something Damm has said in the open, but it's well known that this Weiss is brewed in Germany. I couldn't find by whom or if it is "custom made" or something that's been just relabeled, but those things are rather irrelevant, really. The fact is that Weiss Damm isn't even a Spanish product.

Hmmm.... Can it be that what makes this beer so innovative? The first Spanish beer brewed out of Spain?

Ha! Not even here they are innovating! Do you remember Belenos, that "Asturian" beer that was actually brewed in Belgium?. And I could also mention Moritz with a very visible "Barcelona" on the label, even though it's brewed in Zaragoza.

All this, actually, it's not very different to what the macro brands like Heineken, Budweiser, Guinness, etc. have done for a long time; they are brewed locally, but are positioned as something from abroad. The difference is that Moritz, Belenos and Damm appeal to nationalist or regionalist feelings, while the macros appeal to that "imported is better" bollocks many people have in their heads.

And they are not doing half bad. There are still many people here who believe Stella Artois is a Belgian beer and not long ago I saw in some Spanish newspaper the results of a survey that found that the favourite beers there were an American and a Dutch, referring to Budweiser and Heineken, without mentioning that both are brewed locally.

What I'm afraid of is that soon this might not be limited to the multinationals. Stone Brewing Co. have recently announced their plans to set up shop on this side of the Atlantic.

The reasons given by the brewer are more than logic. Their products are gaining popularity in Europe and brewing here makes a lot of financial, commercial and, why not, environmental sense. The question here is what will come out of their European brewery? It think it's safe to assume they will keep the brand, but will they also brew beers like Ruination, Arrogant Bastard, etc.? If so, won't those beers then loose much of their soul, just like it's happened to all those that are brewed under the same brands in different countries?

All this brings up the following question: What defines the origin of a beer? The place where it is brewed or the nationality of the brand? To me the answer is very simple, but it seems that for most people it is always the brand above the drink.

Na Zdraví!

13 comments:

  1. Great post!

    Personally, I have no fear of a craft brewery going multinational. It's not like Budweiser, Stella or Guinness are high-quality beers at home, watered and blandified when made abroad. I've every confidence that a brewery like Stone which is committed to flavour as much as consistency will be well capable of imposing their high standards on a European operation.

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  2. There is no doubt in my mind that Stone will have in Europe (England, most likely) the same commitment to quality they have in the US now. But that's not the point I want to make.

    This is all speculation, of course, but let's assume Stone will be brewing Ruination, etc. There's two ways they can go, either to let the beer have an English character (whatever that might be) or do as Pilsner Urquell in Russia and Poland and try to make it as identical to the original as possible.

    The first option would be the most interesting for us, but what we'll be getting will be a "cover version" and not the real thing. With the second option, is likely we won't be able to distinguish it from the original, but what we'll get will be something without a soul. Either way, and regardless of the quality, we will be sold the brand above the drink.

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  3. The first option would be daft. The best of England's native breweries are the ones that aren't following some sort of received notion of what English beer is supposed to be like. Same in the Czech Republic, no?

    The second option makes the most sense and I don't believe beer (or anything else) has a soul. Have you ever been able to identify soul in a blind tasting?

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  4. Of course not. But this is a more philosophical thing. One of the things what makes the so called "craft beers" different is their strong ties with the place they are brewed (or at least that is what has always been said), by brewing Ruination, etc. in England, Stone will subvert that. Will it matter at the end of the day? I don't think so, but it is still something to think about and, for Stone, it could even backfire marketing wise.

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  5. TBN,

    I would say that the best Czech "craft" brewers are doing exactly the opposite of the British guys, they are making classic Czech lagers, but doing it so damned well - Kout na Sumave as a case in point. Of course the likes of Primator and Kocour are producing things like stout and IPA, but they too make good classic Czech beers.

    One thing I love, and miss, about the Czech beer, and drinking, scene, is just how un-lovey and precious it is. Valuing the native styles, doing them well, and bringing different beer styles to market is pretty much the way to go, rather than throwing the baby out with the Bud Light.

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  6. What defines the origin of a beer is its brewer. You have a good example with Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of Mikkeller fame. Their beers are being brewed in 5 different locations in Denmark, and also in England, Scotland, Norway, Belgium and Holland. The result? A consistent quality across all products driven by a passion to make good beer. That's the secret. Passion, knowledge and top ingredients.

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  7. That's an interesting point. However, and correct me if I'm wrong, Mikkeller brews their "stable" portfolio in Denmark and the ones brewed abroad are collaborations. So, you have a mix of Danish (or at most, Scandinavian) beers with a few "multicultural" ones.

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  8. Actually I didn't mention the collaborations (like the AleSmith/Stone or the Grassroots). Some of the core brews from Mikkeller are brewed elsewhere: Beer Geek Breakfast is brewed by Nøgne Ø in Norway, Black Hole is brewed by De Proef in Belgium and Stateside is brewed by BrewDog in Scotland.

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  9. Aha!!! Then I guess sometimes it is harder to define. Are those Mikkeller's beers brewed outside DK really Danish? Here in CZ we have an American brewer who has recently started to brew commercially, are his beers Czech or American?

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  10. You are getting to my point :-)

    I wrote about misleading beer names and origins some time ago in my blog: http://abasedecerveja.blogspot.com/2010/06/cerveja-pragold-cervejeira-pivovarenniy.html (Portuguese only, sorry).

    My favorite one is Baadog Mongolian Lager. In reality it is a Vienna, whose recipe was developed by a German brewer who moved to Mongolia and thanks to an English businessman is now produced by Celtic Brew in County Meath in Ireland :-)

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  11. Celtic Brew stopped brewing about two years ago.

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  12. You're right. I wrote the post originally in 2008. Nowadays it's brewed somewhere in the UK.

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  13. Barbas,

    It is a good point indeed. I think Mikkeller is an exceptional case case because, well, there is no such thing as a "Mikkeller Brewery", it's "just" a pretty talented bloke brewing at different locations.

    And as for those misleading beer names. I remember now what happened to a friend of mine who owns a small beer shop in Hradec. In Hamburg he bought a bunch of "world beers", from several African Countries, Australia, Asian and Latin American Countries, etc. When I saw them, the first thing I found suspicious was that all of them had the same kind of bottle and then I noticed that most of the labels were very similar in their kitschness. It turned out that they were all invariably German (we were never able to find out who the brewer was) and all invariably crap. Needless to say, he's never bought anything at the wholesaler again.

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