29 Apr 2015

On the latest unfortunate corporate choice of words


I swear to you, I've looked everywhere, I've even asked my neighbours! But I couldn't find a single fuck to give about the latest sexism in beer brouhaha that had some people almost frothing at their virtual mouths a few days ago.

Is not that I don't believe there is sexism in the brewing industry. There is, and there is racism, xenophobia and homophobia, and abuse of power, and greed, and hypocrisy, and cuntness. Just like there is everywhere in our societies, unfortunately.

The thing is that I can't be arsed with this culture of outrage. The way I see it, many, if not most, controversies these days are hashtag driven, blown out of proportion—if not fabricated—by political correctness (that enemy of free speech), the 24-hour news cycle, the internet, and by people who, I suspect, get a kick about being offended. Or not, I don't care. I've got other more important and urgent things to gripe about than the imagery breweries use for their marketing, or what their managers do during a corporate outing. I'm an adult, intelligent enough; and if a company does something I don't approve of, I vote with my wallet.

But that's me, a private person. I can make sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, and worse, jokes with my mates at the pub, or on FB, without fearing any real backlash. Companies, on the other hand, can't afford that luxury.

Companies like ABIB, for example.

I would really, really love speak to the person who thought «The perfect beer for removing “no” from your vocabulary for the night» was a good idea for a slogan and ask him what the fuck was he thinking!

Yeah, yeah. I know they didn't mean it “that way”. That they are very, terribly sorry, and everyone in the organisation is hanging their heads in shame, and all that... But really, what the fuck were they thinking?

Fortunately, this will be all but forgotten as soon our attention is drawn by the outrage caused by the next PR cock-up and poor corporate judgment. Or does anyone remember Mouth Raper?

Na Zdraví!

27 Apr 2015

The King of Gimmicks


Gimmicks. They are a staple of (not only) the brewing industry, at all levels. Macro brewers have their special edition labels/cans, usually in sets, celebrating an event or tied to something they happen to be sponsoring. But it's the smaller breweries who have elevated the gimmick to almost an art form.

They come in all shapes and sizes: there was this beer that tried to profit from an event the brewers opposed; beers that claim to be brewed according to some ancient recipe, even if said recipe isn't much more than a list of ingredients that were probably used to make beer and lot conjecture; beers made with animal parts or with a product that's passed through the digestive tract of an animal—excrement, by another name—and a bunch of other weird ingredients. There are also the collaborations, the manufactured scarcity, the brown paper bag events and anything that claims to be the -est, among others, too numerous to list.

We have also beers that are gimmicks to cosmic levels of stupidity: there've been a couple made with gold flakes, one made with moon dust and another made with yeast that'd been sent to space for reasons that can be best described as attention whoring.

To some extent, you can't really blame the breweries. Gimmicks, after all, have proven to be an effective way to get the name of a brewery “out there”, mentioned by lazy bloggers and writers (and some that should actually know better by now), who celebrate them as if they were the best thing since the invention of malts; or by the media, in pretty much the same fashion as a sex-tape or manufactured controversy of a D-list celebrity do.

Quite often, however, they result in inflated prices without equivalent value in return—other than being able to claim in social media that you've just come from the brown paper bag event with your three-figure IBU, double-figure ABV collaboration brewed with shit that was sent to the moon from a nuclear submarine, that is.

But let's be fair. Like taste, value is the palate of the beholder, and some people will swear that those beers are well worth the price, and hassle, because they can drink them, unlike...

Let me introduce to Mefisto, the king of gimmicks. A beer so special that, according to its maker, you aren't supposed to drink.

Mefisto, by the same people that brought you Faust Gold, is made with colloidal silver, something that quacks like Dr. oz will sell recommend to people afraid of very long words—they must have been invented by Big Pharma and Montsanto—as a cure for everything, including easily preventable diseases.

It's just brilliant! You brew the worst, cheapest sort of crap, add a few drops of what that magic water and sell it for 450CZK. And if it ends up tasting like shit, “We told you not to drink it, didn't we?”.

As I said before, though, value is a matter of perception and there must be people out there who are convinced that Mefisto's beautiful bottle is well worth the price.

Na Zdraví!

19 Apr 2015

Popularity, personal tastes and beer culture


There was a time, a few years years ago, when it seemed that Statorpramen was improving. It was back when the brand from Smíchov had been made the flaghsip of a bunch of Eastern European breweries a Belgian investment fund had bought from ABIB, and named Starbev.

It didn't last too long. In 2012, Starbev was sold to Molson-Coors and those days are now gone. If they existed at all. My impression might have been a product of wishful thinking, or of drinking the beer in one of those where-and-whens that make everything taste good. Whatever. The thing is that today I find myself in agreement with Pivní Recenze's review of Staropramen Světlý.

The closing comment on the other hand. Well...

According to Moro, the author Staropramen je českou dvojkou na trhu – toto dosti vypovídá o pivní kultuře v našem státě. (Staropramen is second on the Czech market – this says enough about the beer culture in our country).

Really?

If Staropramen says that much about Czech beer culture, I wonder what Jupiler, Oettinger Pils and Carling Lager say about the beer cultures of Belgium, Germany and the UK, respectively. That they are the same as the Czech, and everywhere else, for that matter?

This map shows the best selling brands in every country. As far as I can tell, they're all mass produced, Pale Lagers of the sort we may call bland, characterless, if not downright crap; owned by multinational corporations, most, if not all of them. Just like Staropramen. (The only exception, Ireland, provides a distorted picture. According to a comment by the Beer Nut at Stonch's, Pale Lagers outsell Guinness 3-to-1, but the market is split among several brands, all of them big, multinational ones.)

Is this telling us that distinctively local beer cultures do not exist, that they're only a myth; something artificially preserved for tourists and romantics?

Now, that'd be a pretty stupid thing to say, wouldn't it?

Pivovary Staropramen's position as (a distant) second on the Czech market has little, if anything, to do with beer culture. It's due to other factors, the most important of which, in my opinion, are availability and general consumer behaviour.

I don't think there is a single supermarket, samoška, večerka (vietnamská or otherwise), smíšené zboží or nápojka in this country that doesn't sell at least one of the beers of Pivovary Straropramen. This is very important, more so now that 59% of the beer sold in the Czech Republic comes in bottles (PET or glass) and cans. There are people who may prefer another—let's say better—brand, but if they don't find it while Akce! chasing at Kaufland or Albert, they will buy Staropramen, Braník, or something similar, because they're cheap and do the job just fine thankyouverymuch—just like most of the other stuff they have in their shopping cart. Add to this the still more than considerable number of pubs, bars, restaurants, etc. that sell Starorpamen, and the picture will be very clear to anyone willing to look at it.

What do we get from this, then?

a) That unless we're willing to re-examine the concept of “beer culture” as a whole, what Staropramen's popularity says about the Czech beer culture is fuck all.

b) That personal preferences and tastes are hardly ever a good vantage point for broader observations.

Na Zdraví!