The black sheep approach to marketing
July 9, 2009

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The guys at brewdog are good at making a beer with a story, and now they want you to do the telling.  They trust the drinker to taste something and to know when enough is enough.  And now, they’re trusting drinkers with their blog.

The Zeitgeist blog is a platform of the drinker, for the drinker, by the drinker, and that drinker is you.

When you buy some beer from the Zeitgeist shop, you get a code that will give you a chance to blog on the site. To make it even more fun, readers of this blog get a massive 70% discount on the lovely black lager.  Just enter SHEEP in the code box at checkout. How cool is that?

Dancing Sparkle in Each Glassful
March 6, 2009

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The Beer Nut has decided on a most compelling theme for this month’s session– lager.

There are lovely lagers out there– Brew Dog’s Zeitgeist being the first that comes to mind.  But I’m more interested in talking about the unlovelies. Homer with his can of Duff.  Billy Beer. Hamm’s Beer Bear– one of the first commercials I remember, and I can still sing the jingle. Marketing beer to children works! But I digress.

In the US I knew lager as simply beer, and I thought there was no other kind.   My mother loved Michelob and would drink it very cold, just one bottle, after her game of tennis. For most of my childhood I thought this was a very sophisticated drink, as my mother was a very polished sort of lady.

The first beer I ever tasted was a Michelob– I was very small and we were on a trip in Florida, lost in the swamps there.  I had to take my tablets and there was no water, only beer, and not cold.  Poison! Suddenly this sophisticated drink didn’t seem so elegant after all.

In college I tried to drink Miller.  I think I liked the sound of the initials, MGD.  But once in a seedy bar in San Francisco my friend handed me a cold bottle of Rolling Rock.  Beer in a green bottle was a revelation!  It seemed colder, happier from the neck of green glass, which is of course how we drank it.  I can still feel the braille of the white and blue printed label and I confess it makes me thirsty just thinking about it.  It wasn’t good beer of course but if I was drinking it, it meant I was with friends, people I loved, and we were having a good time. I’m glad at the time the brand had not yet attempted their hoax marketing gimmick of “moonvertising”, where they claimed to use lazers to project an ad onto the surface of the full moon.  I contemplated a tasting of this beer, knowing it would bring on a bargain-basement of Proustian revelries, but lucky reader, I could not find a bottle of the stuff.

When I moved from San Francisco I just couldn’t drink Rolling Rock anymore.  I flirted briefly with Mickey’s Big Mouth (technically a malt liquor?).  The bottle was green and round, it fit nicely in the hand and the caps featured a picture puzzle on the inside which served as a handy drunkenness test.  But the love didn’t last– I switched to martinis and stuck with those for many years, swearing off all beer.

During my martini phase I was teaching and one of my students worked as a Bud Girl.  One of the writing assignments was to render a formative moment in a few pages.  She wrote about her experience peddling lager to lunkheads and titled her narcissistic ramble, “Beauty and the Beast”, concluding that by the time she was done with the job, Bud would have basically paid for her plastic surgery and she could go on to “real” modeling. The Beast in her story was not the mega brewery and its sexist approach to marketing, but the louts she enticed.

It’s hard for me to see a can of Bud without thinking of her, even now, and how the lager stigma goes beyond just bad beer– it represents advertising’s cartoonish gender divide and the bonehead banalities of our culture.  A Bud Girl doesn’t drink the stuff, she just wears the branded bikini, and the lager lout “beast” has the power to turn your beloved Burberry plaid into trash and your local A&E into a WWF smackdown.

Last night I was with a dear friend and drinking buddy who loves lagers and is not interested in drinking anything else.  I’m not a very good beervangelist– I’ve tried to tempt her to try other styles but she’s having none of it.  Yesterday, as we were putting a few pints away in the Cockpit,  I’d commented that most ladies in the UK seem to drink chardonnay, so what did that make us, drinking pints in a manly place like this?

“Oh, there’s a word– Ladettes,” she joked.  I’d never heard it before, though apparently there have been reality teevee shows based on sending these individuals to finishing school, etc.   I mentioned I would be brewing some beer, you know, probably whilst skipping out on my deportment class.  She said if I could figure out how to brew a lager we would be BFF.  I’ll be calling it Ladette Lager.

Bad Sheep, Good People, Better Beer.
February 28, 2009

BrewDog has done it again, producing a lovely, drinkable beer that still challenges the modern, mass market idea of a lager.  Their black lager, Zeitgeist, was launched on Thursday night to a packed crowd at the Austin Gallery in Bethnal Green.  Congratulations to the staff who were welcoming and well organized, as well as the entire BrewDog posse who were just good people.

Zeitgeist label art by Heather Brennan

Zeitgeist label art by Heather Brennan

The gallery itself is an intimate space with a spirited mix of DIY and polish.  Downstairs Heather Brennan’s silkscreens for the labels were hung with clips, as if the beer and the spooky sheep-masked people had swooped into London, giving the evening the feeling of a Temporary Autonomous Zone. The masked everywomen/men in artwork were a little bit Wickerman, a little bit baphomet.  It’s sly nod to the wolf in sheep’s clothing, an apt metaphor for a reinvented lager, which is a style made yellow and insipid by herd-market brands.  But Zeitgeist is pitch black and full of flavor.  The masks are off!

Drinking this dark-as-night lager throughout the night contributed to this feeling that we were getting away with something.  The beer was one of the prototype brews where James and Martin asked drinkers to vote for the beer they would like to see added to their range. (I was most interested in Bad Pixie, a 4.7% wheat beer brewed with juniper berries and lemon peel).  I’ve been following their video blog with glee– the brewers put forth arguments for different styles and ingredients and let the readers decide.  BrewDog has plans to continue this drinker-participation with their website for the Zeitgeist, where drinkers will be able to upload missives and visual subversions inspired by the beer, thus making even the marketing of the beer a collaboration between the drinkers and brewers.   Portman group, I’d like to see you try to stop this!

What interested me most about the beer is that it seemed to combine my own beery dilemma with elegant balance.  What should I brew next? I love chocolate malt, but then I also love American-style hoppage, so as I was musing on the possibility of brewing another chocolaty mild or a daring American Pale Ale.  Then BrewDog comes along and makes a lager that combines these two beloved notes– chocolate and estery Chinook hops.

The highlight of the evening though was meeting James Watt, the brewer.  Brewers in general are generous people who have a love of life, and James is no exception.  What most impressed me about him was his passion for brewing and his sincerity.  These characteristics carry through in the BrewDog beers which push boundaries while remaining trad.  They’re daring while never underestimating the drinker.   This is what I love about the brave guys at BrewDog: they embrace paradoxes with veracity– no surprise my favourite of their beers goes by the same name.

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