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What's new?

What's new?
Pledges for my new beer book - Miracle Brew - are now closed. Book is out 1st June and available for pre-order here.
I've been accused of attacking cask ale. Here's what I actually wrote - decide for yourselves.
News about my next books!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Announcement: The Beer Marketing Awards

Older readers will know I came into beer writing via a somewhat unlikely route.

My favourite of all the ads I helped create.  (No, I didn't write it.)

I used to work in advertising, and one day I was appointed to work on the campaigns for Stella Artois and Heineken.  I was responsible for strategy, and this entailed looking at trends and deeper dynamics in society and culture to establish the motivations behind the brand choices people made.  When I had to do this with beer it completely captivated me and ignited an interest that went much deeper than what I had to do for the latest Stella ad.  It ultimately led to me writing my first book, which in turn led to me developing a much broader love for and interest in beer.

When I tell this story at events or readings, it usually gets a good-natured chorus of booing and hissing. There's a suspicion among many beer fans about marketing - in its purest form, the belief is that advertising brainwashes people to drink shit, bland commercial beer instead of interesting, quality beer produced by nice people.  At best, there is at least a suspicion that many people choose beers for style over substance.

And to be fair, there is some truth in that.  Back in the day we used to tell each other that people 'drink the advertising' - but only when the beers themselves were interchangeable and pretty much identical.  Advertising can't really persuade someone to drink standard lager instead of a microbrewed IPA if the standard lager doesn't appeal to their tastebuds, but it can sure make you drink one standard lager instead of another.

Beer ads were the ads that made me want to in advertising in the first place.  The ad below is the one that I talked about in all my interviews, and I still think that it's a pretty perfect beer ad:

Great gags, plays to the obsession of its target audience, brand name in the punchline. Perfect.

But if beer marketing was ever just about TV ads, it isn't now, and won't ever be again.  Back when 'Dambusters' played there were only two commercial TV channels and you could be sure pretty much everyone in the target audience saw it.  And regulations meant you could get away with outlandish claims so long as you were obviously joking about hose claims.  One casualty of our binge drinking paranoia is that advertising regulatory authorities have lost their sense of humour.

Marketing in its broadest sense is, at worst, a necessary evil, and at best a great, positive addition to the experience of choosing and drinking beer.  Whether we like it or not, we are a brand-literate, marketing savvy world these days.  I regularly see great beers stymied by awful label designs.  Branded, shaped glassware is at least as much about marketing as it is about enhancing the flavour of beer.  And with more beers than ever before to choose from, we've got to find out information about them somehow.  If a brewer chooses to impart some of this information themselves rather than rely entirely on crowd-sourced web reviews, that's marketing.  When a brewer chooses a bottle shape, designs a label, launches a website, hosts a meet the brewer event, issues a press release, tweets or blogs or sends a punk dwarf to petition parliament, that's all marketing.

Beer marketers now have to be much smarter.  The tightening regulation and the explosion of different media channels, not least social media, means it's a much more complex game - but the playing field for that game is more level than it was.  Simply having the biggest budget is not enough (if it ever was - remember Watney's Red Barrel?)

This is why I was very excited indeed when two industry acquaintances approached me and asked if I would like to be involved in organising the inaugural Beer Marketing Awards.  We have so, so many awards that celebrate the beer itself - and rightly so.  But marketing should not and canot be ignored, and the best stuff deserves to be equally celebrated.  If it takes off, it might even help raise the standard of the shit stuff.

And the joy of it is, it's about the whole industry.  If you're AB-Inbev, we want to hear about the best TV ad you've made this year.  If you're Heineken, we want to know how proud you are of sponsoring the Olympics.  If you're Brew Dog we want to hear how successful your best PR stunt was.  If you're Magic Rock we want to hear about your Twitter presence.  And if you're Wye Valley, tell us about your label redesign.  Huge or tiny, established or new, every brewer does marketing of some form or another, and there's a category for everyone.  Here's the full list:

Best Advertising Campaign – Print

This category rewards outstanding marketing activity in print media. Designed a standout campaign for national newspapers? Publicised your brand to great effect in glossy magazines? This category’s for you.

Best Advertising Campaign – Broadcast

If you’ve implemented a TV ad campaign that’s really caught the attention of the viewing public, or a series of radio slots that stop people in their tracks, you’ll want to enter this category.

Best use of Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or whatever other social media channel floats your boat – if you’ve devised a campaign that has provoked thousands of comments, likes and follows, get your entry written.

Best Public Relations Campaign

If you’ve generated column inches by the score, captivated journalists with your creative approach, or devised an industry focused thought leadership campaign, use your most persuasive talents to tell us why you should win this category.

Best Branding / Design

Making sure your product stands out on the shelves or behind the bar requires a well-designed and consistent brand. You’ll have a good chance of winning this category if you can demonstrate success in this area.

Best use of Competitions

If you’re into competitions, you’ll no doubt have noted that these awards are a fine example of the genre.  If you’ve created a competition or promotion that has gained a high profile for your brand, submit your entry here.

Best Integrated Campaign

Jack of all trades? Accomplished all rounder? If you’ve created a high quality multi-platform campaign that hits print, broadcast, social media and anything else, add it all together and submit it for this category.

Best Stunt / Guerrilla Marketing

If, like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, your chief weapon is surprise, try and catch us unawares with your specialism for stunts or your gift for guerrilla marketing.

Best Business to Business Campaign

Targeting the trade can be as exciting and innovative as targeting the consumer, so if you’ve concocted a campaign that persuades landlords to serve your beer, or masterminded an approach to the off-trade, here’s your category.

Best Website

HTML, CSS, jQuery, JavaScript, PHP – if these terms make sense to you, think about developing (geddit?) an entry for this category. You’ll need to have created a site that is creative and compelling as well as technically brilliant, mind.

Best use of Sponsorship

Sporting events, celebrities, TV programmes – if you’ve created a sponsorship package that has complemented and benefited from a partnership with any of these, you know what to do.

Best use of Merchandise

From beermats to t-shirts, branded glassware to bottle openers – and beyond. If you’ve branded up complementary merchandise to add to your marketing campaigns, let us know how and why you did it.

Overall Winner

No need to enter this one – we’ll choose the most impressive, innovative and successful campaign from all the above categories and give it a special award. You can bet it will deserve it.

Outstanding Individual Achievement

Again, no need to enter this – if you’ve overachieved, chances are we’ll have heard about you anyway. You’ll need to have created a stunning body of work, either this year or throughout your career. We’ll make sure everyone hears all about it.

We're recruiting a panel of judges from the brewing, pub and creative marketing industries, as well as prominent beer writers and other industry figures.  (Some brewers will doubtless be encouraged to hear that I won't be judging myself - it's incompatible with helping organise the event and encouraging entries.)

There will be a media launch at Craft Beer Co in London on 12th September.  The competition is now open for entries, and you can enter here.  Entries will close on 10th December, and the awards event will take place at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, on March 13th 2013.  More details will be on the BMA website, which will now be updated on a regular basis with chat about beer marketing as well as details about the competition.  If you'd like to sponsor one of the above awards, we'd love to hear from you.

I'm proud to be associated with this great idea.  Whether you're a brewer or drinker, we hope you'll be as excited by it as we are.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

"How many beer bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb?"

"Take my head brewer.  No, seriously, please, take him."

That was the question I asked on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.  

Some people thought I was angry, that I'd been pushed over the edge by one too many pedants at GBBF last week.  Not at all.  I was hacking away at the garden, feeling a bit bored and a little mischievous, and thought it might be a bit of harmless fun - remember that?

I think it's safe to say the replies address the whole spectrum of beer blogging.  Some are very similar and I've grouped those together.  Some are funnier than others, though this may depend on who you are, so I've featured the whole lot below - about half are my own, half other people's.  I've structured some as conversations because they work better that way.

So, how many beer bloggers does it take to change a lightbulb?

“That's not the question. The question is, what is the true definition of a lightbulb?”

“12 - One to change it & 11 to sit around talking about how much they preferred to old one!”

“4 - 1 to rate it on . 1 to video it. 1 to retweet it. 1 to Google an electrician.”

“Don't we all just sit in the dark?”

“None. They just stumble around in the dark and end up peeing in the airing cupboard.”

“We don't change the lightbulb, we just sit in the dark arguing about cask vs keg.”

“It depends. If the lightbulb's in the cellar and there's no beer, then one and all.”

“Why oh why do so many people persist in repeating the unfounded myth that the lightbulb needs to change?"

“A dozen take turns at it whilst pronouncing the old bulb 'boring' & the new one 'awesome'. But nothing actually gets changed.”

“None - as you’re not going to actually find a blogger who can do the thing they want to moan about.”

“They go on at great length about the importance of an 'authentic' light bulb but somehow nobody gets round to it.”

“It all depends who made the lightbulb. If it was mass-produced it was probably shit at giving out light anyway.”

 “I prefer these local, artisanally produced lightbulbs instead of those cheap macroluminiscent excuses for illumination.”

“Is it an artisan produced bulb, or mass produced yellow fizz of light?”

“But how is the electricity made ? I'll sit in the dark if it's not wind power.”
-> “I'm a CAMRA member. I won't conform to this new 'energy saving' rubbish.”

“One to form a bunch of committees. Then another 140,000 to sit around reminiscing about the old days before electricity.”
-> “Tallow, it's the future.”

“I actually preferred the Mk2 lightbulb, which they made for 6 months before they were closed by Mazda.”

“To be real thing, the gas should be vented before turning on the bulb, although obviously it won't last as long, about 3ms.”

“I change my lightbulbs every two minutes. That way I know they aren't sell-outs.”

“No matter how many try, they'll never do it as well as Michael Jackson did.” 

“Why did the proverbial lightbulb die in the first place?”

“Those Americans are doing things with lightbulbs that we Brits can't even begin to imagine.”

“Your old lightbulb was shit. The lightbulb revolution starts here.”

“I think you'll find that there is no direct proof the lightbulb was ever invented.”

“That has nowhere near enough wattage to be classed as a lightbulb.”
-> “It's not the quality of the light, but the provenance of the inert gas within the bulb.”

“WTF? Lightbulbs!? Why aren't you guys talking about halogen striplights?! FFS”
-> “I cannot BELIEVE you people are still talking about 'strip' lights. The correct term is TRACKLIGHTS. JESUS.”
-> “I just bought some AWESOME tracklights!!!! Over a hundred units of brightness. Awesome!!!”
-> “I think you'll find they're called lumens, not units of brightness.”

“I'm keeping the old lightbulb in, to see how it ages.”

Thangyouverymuch, I'm here all week, etc...

Saturday, 11 August 2012

A bit of an update

I'd like to apologise to anyone out there who actually reads this blog for pleasure - if you exist, I've been letting you down of late, with whole months passing between posts.

Thing is, I've been massively busy with stuff, including a lot of other writing - the old-fashioned kind that (just about) pays the mortgage.  At one point a few weeks ago I did my To Do list on Monday morning and realised I had thirteen deadlines all theoretically due that week.

Anyway, I've cleared them all now, so I thought I might do a catch-up post to fill in any remaining readers on the bits of busy-ness you might be interested in.


My new book, Shakespeare's Local, is all done bar the shouting.  It's coming out on 8th November as a selfless, humanitarian gesture to help you or those close to you make some tricky Christmas gift decisions much easier.  With a hardback cover featuring a silver embossed design it certainly looks like a proper present.  I've been trying out a few readings from it at the Latitude and Port Eliot festivals, and I'll be working this into an audio-visual one hour talk that I'll be doing at the Ilkley Literary festival on October 9th, and then a residency at the George Inn in Southwark, with one event a week from launch date till Christmas.  Hopefully there will be many more events around the country too - several are currently in the planning stages.


I wrote here a few weeks ago about how I've been judging beer and cider in broader food and drink competitions, where it sits alongside everything else and is evaluated by people from across the spectrum of food and drink rather than just beer people.

I think there is room for both kinds of competitions - you want to be judged by your peers to establish and reward technical excellence and superior brewing craftsmanship, but these broader competitions allow beer to play on a wider stage and be recognised more broadly.

First up were the Great Taste Awards, which had categories for both bottled beer and bottled cider.  Great Taste was set up as an antidote to supermarket 'Finest' and 'Taste the Difference' ranges, as an independent hallmark of great quality.  Some great beers were recognised in these awards - so much so that the Great Taste people invited me and food writer (and ardent beer fan) Charles Campion to put together a showcase menu at London's swanky Cadogan Hotel. The info on this website is in imminent need of updating, but on Tuesday 14th August our menu using an award-winning beer in every course, created with chef Oliver Lesnik, goes live for a media launch.  I've matched beers with each dish, and there's also going to be a beer and cheese matching menu in the afternoons.  The menu will run in the Cadogan's restaurant, at a very reasonable £28 for three courses, for a couple of months.  I'll write about how the press launch goes - if it goes well...  

Next up is the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards.  I've been asked to judge the drinks category along with wine writer Victoria Moore.  The Beeb want to inject a bit of drama this year by pitching beer and cider against wine.  Interestingly, a brewery has won the drinks category for the last two years, but this year English wine has finally started getting the international recognition it deserves - is it time for wine to strike back?  I've seen the first lot of nominations and the brewers are certainly the most enthusiastic again - if there's a drinks maker of any description you'd like to see entered, find out more at the link above.  But hurry - nominations close on 12th August.  

One of Bill's best cider images
I've been hinting at various adventures in cider over the last year or so, and things have finally come to fruition (sorry) on that score.  The whole Magner's thing has led to revived interest in quality cider, and craft cider around the world at the moment is in a similar place to craft beer twenty years ago.  I'm working on cider with Bill Bradshaw - ace photographer and cider fanatic.  His beautifully shot cider blog is here.  Together, Bill and I are currently hard at work on the Guide to Welsh Perry and Cider, for the Welsh Perry and Cider Society.  This guidebook is going to be published in spring 2013 and maps for the first time the unsung hero of British cider (after Somerset and Herefordshire).  It is ridiculously good fun to research.

Mad Asturian bloke 'throwing' cider
At the same time, we've just signed the deal on the first ever world guide to cider - provisionally entitled World's Best Ciders.  Hugh Johnson did it for wine, then Michel Jackson did it for beer.  We're enormously proud to be doing a smilar job for cider, from the established classic regions like Somerset and Normandy, to the explosion that's now happening in the US, to the ice wines of Canada, the eccentricity and tradition in Asturi├ás, northern Spain, and emerging scenes such as Australia and Japan.  Sadly budget doesn't allow us to travel to every single country, but we've already had various adventures, some of which will be in the book, some of which will emerge elsewhere.

Quite a few people have asked me if there's going to be another Cask Report this year.  The answer is yes, sort of, but not quite.  We're doing something called 'Cask Matters' instead this year, which is a monthly section in the Publican's Morning Advertiser aiming to give more practical hands-on advice to publicans, and allow the flexibility to be topical.  There have been three so far, that can all be downloaded as PDFs from the PMA's website:

We will also be producing a much shorter annual summary report which will detail how cask is doing, who's drinking it, why you should stock it and so on.  This will be launched to coincide with Cask Ale Week at the end of September.

I've also been writing tons of columns and a few pieces for national press.  You can see my regular Publican's Morning Advertiser columns here; my stuff for London Loves Business here, and my stuff for Just Drinks (you  may need a password) here.  And here is a nice piece I got to do for Shortlist Magazine about the rise of craft beer.

Sorry this is such a busy, listy post - I've been meaning to write properly about all these things individually and ended up with a huge pile-up, which this post has now hopefully cleared.  From now on I'll try to post a bit more regularly again.  On top of all the above I've been doing loads of travelling, and have some great stories about getting drunk in Ukraine, visiting hop farms in Slovenia, learning more about lager in Ceske Budejovice, and stacks more, so there's so much to write about if I can find the time!

Thanks for reading.