Friday, 8 March 2013

Lager ? Only if it splits my head open !

Recent, excellent, nuptial celebrations of a close colleague required me to undertake a brewery tour.  Unfortunately this wasn't great as it might first sound, as it was a real ale micro brewery and I'm very much a lager man. 
In recent years on the Royal Holloway MBA we have been very lucky to work with Jonathan Bennett at SAB Miller (the premium, imported, global number two brewing organisation that has a strong position in many emerging markets) who introduced me to the sophisticated Italian blue stripe Peroni bottle. 

In fact, on the rare ocassion when I hook up with a bunch of high powered middle aged dads, I rejoice in finding a pub that serves Peroni.  Rather embarassingly recently, I lambasted, in a surprisingly direct manner, the barman in one pub when he emptied my Peroni bottle and presented the product (gold, fizzy, crisp) in a clear, straight half pint glass.  I was left, completely naked without any form of branding, even on the glass drinking vessel.  I was horrified.  The point of paying a premium for bottled beer is surely all about flouncing the cool brand credentials under other peoples noses, isn't it ? "I am, or would like to be, a sophisticated Italian." is very much the message I want everyone to buy into around me. 

I am rather intoxicated by lager beer brands. I love Lord Billamoria's rags (well, sort of) to riches UK brand concept pretending to be Indian, known in UK as Cobra.  (less fizz, ideal for curries).  In fact, I have just noticed the latest positioning exercise on the television.  A sign, I think, of Cobra moving into the global brand elite.  Remember please, this is now brewed in UK, was invented by an expat Indian educated at Cambridge, predominantly for the UK market.  Only the first few batches were ever made in India (issues of transportation), scale production took place in Poland.  Poland.  Note the legal disclosure higlighting UK manufacturing. I do love the sophisticated, sexy, edgy, metropolitan, confident, alluring and colourfully Indian personality the 60' Train execution (above) appears to want to put across. 
Actually, after the first few glasses at the Hogs Back, I began to warm up to this real ale stuff.  Let's face it - with a bushy beard and round belly, I totally fit the profile of a bitter drinker.  So in the past couple of weeks I have been actively engaged in learning more about the dark, flat and warm stuff my father-in-law is so passionate about.  I've learnt why American beer is so bland (because the marketing people wanted it so).  And, that micro brewing is on a major up turn, despite the emergence of global lager brands, owned and operated by large international firms, like SAB Miller, able to exploit manufacturing, distributive and marketing economies of scale. 
In my deep and dark searching of the surprisingly useful academic journal search engines we use at Universities, I found the following paper and thought that you might find this title quite provocative ? 
Are full or empty beer bottles sturdier and does their fracture-threshold suffice to break the human skull ?       
I could well imagine the Jeremy Clarkson types out there might be jumping up and down, outraged by another example of ivory tower University research demonstrating wasteful, fringe activity, with insufficient regard to the real needs of our ailing economy.   
Actually, it reminded me of the news story (BBC, 2008) covering Orkney Island's (8.5% by volume) Skullsplitter ale.  It rather benefitted from media coverage that sought to take issue over its aggressive branding in the context of anti-social alcohol consumption.  PR team bonus payment, get in !  Of course, when you see that the aforementioned paper was published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, (Volume 16, Issue 3, April 2009, Pages 138-142 to be precise)  you begin to appreciate that authors  Bolliger, Ross, Oesterhelweg, Thali, and Kneubuehl were probably undertaking the kind of genuinely useful scientific research that will soon be featured in a story line of forensic science TV show "Silent Witness", or if we are in luck,  the next Wallander.

Of course, real ale drinkers, you will know, not only embrace local, small scale, craft manufacturing processes, but also reject the use of (eco friendlier) aluminium cans, because they claim it gives a metallic taste to the beer, so the aforementioned research paper is a bit 'academic' for them.