Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Can Can; a wide-ranging rant taking off from the Craft Beer Apocalypse

Forgot to note the arrival of last week's Condé Nast Portfolio column on canning craft beer. Hats off to Dale Katechis and Oskar Blues for really launching the popular movement of canning craft beer. Other craft brewers have done it before, and a growing number since, but none before launched themselves headlong into it, and with such unself-conscious promotion.

And yeah, in this case, "unself-conscious promotion" was a good thing. Cask Brewing Systems, the company that introduced small-scale canning lines, deserves credit for making it possible, but Oskar Blues kicked it over the top by launching the marketing campaign they call the Canned Beer Apocalypse. It pays to recall that Katechis became aware of the new canning technology by reading an advertising brochure from Cask.

We have got to get over the idea that advertising and promotion are bad things. Like other examples in the Craft Beer Revolution (lagers suck, big breweries always make sucky beer), dumping on those who advertise is an overreaction to the deep bias against the Cerberus of macrobrewing, the BudMillCoors Juggernaut. Jim Koch dared to market and was reviled for it.

We, the geekerie, still don't seem to see the need for it. "If you brew it, they will come" is our simple watchword, but it just ain't so. I remember Chris Trogner at Tröegs telling me in 2006 , "We've been here for 9 years, and we still get people in on Saturday tours, people from [the local area], who say "Oh, hey, a new microbrewery! When did you guys open!" They didn't even know we were here." Tröegs is in plenty of local bars, available at all the local beer stores.

People aren't stupid, but neither are businesses that advertise: advertising works, if only to make people aware that you're there. There's good advertising, and there's lies on wheels. It continues to frustrate me to see the geekerie dismayed when they see ads from micros...although given their small slice of the market, you wouldn't think it would matter.

Thing is...the geekerie and their opinions do matter. I have pointed out how small a percentage of craft beer sales come from the dedicated geekerie, I have decried their demands that brewers brew more big/extreme beers as unreasonable, I have questioned the impact of online "reviews" and complaints. I'm right, but I'm wrong, too.

The geekerie do have an impact on craft brewing; it's real, it's constant, and if anything, it's growing. The reason is simple: who owns craft breweries, who runs craft breweries, who makes the craft beer? Geeks. Not all of them, for sure, but mostly, these are people who got into this biz because they love beer in a strongly wacky way. I know I did, and I know that most of the people I interview did.

So when I say that geeks only buy a small percentage of total output, that geeks' opinions are just those of a tiny part of the market... it's correct, but it overlooks the strong influence exerted through moral persuasion. Geeks are the reminder to the brewer of the kinds of beers they should be making to stay true to their passion. They are the voice of conscience, that may, at times, go over the top, but is always there to remind you of what you want to be.

And they appear to like craft beer in a can, so I guess it passes the geek test.

9 comments:

Matt said...

Lew,

I'm all about the cans. Sly Fox's offering, especially Pikeland Pils and the Dunkel Lager(when I can find it), find a regular place in my fridge.

You can't over-emphasize the crossover value either. I have plenty of friends who won't touch a bottled craft beer, but have no problem picking up a 12 pack of Dale's or grabbing a Sly Fox out of my refrigerator.

Lew Bryson said...

Good point on the crossover, Matt, and I really should have picked up on that in the column. People like that Sly Fox Pilsner.

diakron said...

I have plenty of friends who won't touch a bottled craft beer, but have no problem picking up a 12 pack of Dale's or grabbing a Sly Fox out of my refrigerator.

Try as I may, I cannot fathom that. What if you lulled such a friend into a state of complacency and then offered him a glass of Sly Fox beer poured from a bottle? Would s/he reject that?

Lew Bryson said...

diakron,

That's going to be tough: Sly Fox doesn't do their Pils/Pale Ale/Dunkel/Weiss in bottles. It's can only. The bottled beers are bigger ones. I see your point, but I think it's the "friendliness" of the can that's making the issue here. As people kept telling me this week at the Cheers Conference, people drink with their eyes and their head as much as with their mouths.

brendan said...

What I as a sometime marketing guy like best about canned beer is that the entire surface of the vessel can be used to promote your brand, unlike a bottle. Throw in the other advantages of cans and you have a great argument for any brewer looking to grow.

Greg Clow said...

OK, hold on a sec - are there seriously people who have a problem with microbreweries advertising and marketing their products? SERIOUSLY???

I don't think I've ever met anyone who feels that way, but if you have... well, that just makes my head hurt.

Do they also refuse to read All About Beer, Brewing News, Ale Street News, Celebrator, etc. because they contain evil advertising?

Note that I'm actually no big fan of the marketing/advertising industry in general, at least in terms of large corporations who use it to twist truths in an attempt to sell people things that they really don't need. But in terms of small(er) businesses who are just trying to get the word out there that they exist and have an honestly good quality product available, I really can't see how anyone should have a problem with it.

Oh, and I don't have a problem with cans, either.

Jeff Linkous said...

Lew,

Advertising does work, and I fear all those Bud ads during the playoffs featuring Rob Riggle (of The Daily Show fame) will have the unintiated thinking only import beers are dark, that said dark beers are cloudy and that Budweiser is über complicated brew. In short: That those non-Bud beers are somehow flawed by virtue of being deeper in color, fuller in body, oh and that you can actually taste the hops.

The spots, I think, aren't so much as misleading as they actually are dumbed down. Sadly, because of that they have a reach.

It's been forever since I held a Bud (I never liked it when I was drinking Miller or Stroh's or whatever), so I don't know if A-B still makes the rice and corn boast on the label.

Funny that you don't hear funnyman Riggle mention the adjuncts.

(Sorry for preaching to the choir)

roan22 said...

Great topic. These recent threads on BA find the geekerie discussing a lot of these same sentiments Lew.

I make a point to look at the print ads in beer publications, especially those directly from the brewery. Sometimes the simplest are the best..like Dogfish Head's ads which feature black and white photos and the brewery's "off-centered" self-description.

Doing shit your own way, see it work, then touting the hell out of your bad self does not appeal to everyone though in the geekerie, you are right.

Discussion of canned craft crossover appeal here....http://beeradvocate.com/forum/read/1196288#1196906

Haha I am guilty of perpetuating the Craft Beer Revolution [trashing BMC] here...http://beeradvocate.com/forum/read/1212271

Nice observations.

ReDave said...

It's been discussed before, [by smarter and more eloquent people than me, but i find it similar to the indie music scene and success. if you get too successful, then that somehow bad....