The Hottest 100 Australian Craft Beers were announced last week, sparking a lot of online discussion about the state of the industry in this country. I am hearing everything from big brewers unfairly dominating the scene, to the countdown turning into a popularity contest for marketing departments, Beer Snobs have been up in arms, and lots of talk about the merits of a cheeky macro-craft beer in James Squire 150 Lashes cracking the top 10!
What do I take from all of this…the craft brewing landscape is changing, and for the better. Yes, the definition of craft beer in this country is blurred, yes there are some massive breweries mass producing products and calling it craft, and yes there are some high ranking brews that are perceived to be lesser quality than their lower ranking counterparts. You know what I love though? We are talking about craft beer, and not mainstream beers, and that has to be good for everyone in this industry.
My take is that for every gateway/every level/lighter tasting craft beer that is voted upon by a beer drinker, the greater the chance they may choose that beer the next time at the bar over a mainstream bland lager. One day, that entry level drinker might decide to try something new and venture into APA territory and their craft beer drinking journey of discovery has begun. At this time, all of the smaller craft breweries that have been off the radar for this drinker are now firmly in their sights, and that has to be good for the movement.
These entry level brews are key to getting new drinkers into the category, most breweries will have a gateway option, but the big breweries also have the marketing dollars to push their products out to more people, which is the problem for most of the independent breweries.
Your average entry level craft drinker has no idea about who is actually brewing their favourite ale, they just don’t look that closely at the cleverly designed label to see that Woolworths, Coles, Lion, SAB, Aus Beer Co etc., and not a small independent brewer, has brewed their beer. This tends to lead to big brewers with big brands and big budgets getting the attention of the new craft drinker and luring them into their brands, this self-perpetuates as the brands get bigger and the independents miss out.
I know it’s frustrating, but do we just crawl onto the floor in the foetal position and give up? Nope, there is room in this overcrowded beer market for everyone! Sure, the big guys will get a fair chunk of the market, but every craft beer newbie that gets hooked is another drinker who will hopefully look further afield than their gateway ale from the big guys. So what can we all do to help to grow the craft category and convert our friends and families into craft lovers? Well, I am glad you asked! I have a had a lot of success converting mainstream lager drinkers in my circle of friends into drinkers who at least enjoy a craft beer every now and then, and at best some have turned into craft beer nuts! You can do it to…let’s start with these few ideas.
Gateway Craft Beer Sharing
I always like to make sure that I have something along the lines of a Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, Little Creatures Bright Ale, or Mountain Goat Summer Ale in the fridge, or take a few to a BBQ to share. If someone asks me what I am drinking, and then turn their nose up when I might say an American Pale ale or whatever, I then ask them to try the gateway brew and give me their thoughts.
I used to have lots of the above mentioned 150 Lashes (work samples) at my house and it was a great beer to introduce a little bit more flavour. If my friends liked that, it was always off to my beer fridge in the shed that held the special beers that were the next step up in the ladder of craft beer flavour.
I never expected my mates to immediately love the hoppiness of an American Pale Ale, but it’s amazing to see the change in what they drink now…many of them surprise me with how much they love the more flavoursome beers over their old favourites now.
Get the First Round
Remembering back to my days in the big machine, we always used to talk about the importance of owning the first drink of the night. Research shows that drinkers will usually stick with the first choice of the night…so next time you are at the pub, get the first shout and make sure it’s a craft brew!
I wish I could remember where the research came from, but a personal anecdote will have to suffice! With this idea in mind, I was the first to shout a group of mates one night and I thought I would try it out…I ordered a round of Mountain Goat Summer Ales. I took the cans back to the table and received a few funny looks and a fair bit of bagging by my mates, but the next person in the shout came back with the same beers! A bit later, a few extras joined us and asked what we were drinking….the proceeded to go and order the same. There ended up being about ten of us that night and drank the pub dry of their Mountain Goat Summer Ale cans!!
On a related note, we also used to talk about being seen by other consumers in a bar drinking a certain beer and watching how those consumers would often look around the bar to see what others were drinking and then copy the,…trying to be like the cool kids. When I worked on Becks we used to have some glassware that was big and bold and we would fund a bar shout program to get those glasses in peoples hands…it was amazing to see how many people would follow our lead and order a Becks too!
Beer & Food Matching
Craft beer is great for doing beer and food matches, so next time you have friends over for a bbq, why not try and introduce them to the idea. Cook up some prawns for entrée with a Summer Ale, serve lamb cutlets with an amber ale for mains, and then blow their minds by serving a rich chocolate dessert with a Porter…they will thank you for the experience!
If you aren’t sure what beers match best with food, check this out.
With the proliferation of craft breweries popping up around the country, chances are that there is one that is near you, or will be near your next holiday destination. If so, why not pop in for some lunch one day and enjoy some great food with a few brews. These guys all know that not everyone will enjoy their latest weird n wonderful Sour Beer, or the Complexity of an Imperial Stout, so they cater for the entry lever drinker as well with something like a Wheat Beer, or Summer Ale. If they don’t, they are missing out on converting new drinkers and should rethink their approach.
Note: If you are in Sydney and want to kill a few birds with one stone…check out Dave’s Brewery Tours!
It is amazing to see how little the average drinker actually recognises his favourite beer when you take away the ability for them to recognise it by its label. Many years ago, I conducted a blind tasting with some mates who were big drinkers of the #1 rival for the mainstream beer I worked with and it was a lot of fun, and very interesting.
I did a side by side tasting of the two rival beers, mixed with a few others, and got some very funny results. The best comment came from my mate who thought he was drinking my rival beer, and not his favourite and blurted out ”that beer is terrible, it tastes like piss, it must be Competitor Draught”…oh how I laughed. That guy later came to work with me and has since ditched his mainstream drinking ways for all sorts of craft beer wonderfulness!
It’s easy to do, you only need a 50ml sample per person. Do 4 beers, maybe get an entry level craft beer, a slightly more flavoursome craft beer and two mainstream lagers. Blindfold the samplers, or serve the beer in cups that disguise its colour (amber glass is great!). Get everyone to provide comments on smell and taste and rate the out of 10. Collate the scores, announce a winner, read back the comments…it’s a bit of fun and could surprise you with what wins!
If you take on board a few of my ideas here, we can build a bigger, better and more diverse craft beer drinking culture in this country!
Be sure to check back in Wednesday for my video beer review of Temple Brewing’s Rye Hard IPA, but until then,
Cheers to great beers!