The Session #64: Pale in Comparison

Posted on June 1, 2012

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Love it or loathe it, Lambrini is a massive brand. I kid you not. So successful is it in driving sales for Halewood last year they grew pre tax profits by 25% and lucky Mr Halewood scooped a dividend of nearly £10m. Nice work if you can get it!

But would Lambrini be as successful if rather than “wanting to have fun” girls were “prepared to tolerate having a reasonable night”? Would the middle aged, middle class be binge drinking Pinot Grigio if Jolly Olly was describing it as “dull, clearish, wine” in a less than jolly fashion?

Obviously that would never happen because wine producers, reviewers and writers would never denigrate their own category in that way. Thankfully the vomit inducing, over exuberance of Jilly Goolden has long been put out to pasture and in its place is a quietly, confident language that makes wine sound enticing, romantic and appealing. So why is it that beer can’t learn from them?

How is it acceptable to denigrate the craft, passion and hardwork of brewers by describing their beer as “boring brown bitter“? Arguably some may be but  far from all, there are thousands of delicious, citrussy, refreshing examples just perfect for afternoon drinking. We’ll never get drinkers to put down their crisp, chilled, chardonnay in return for something boring and brown now will we.

And what of the use of the word bitter? For most outside of beer it rarely comes with positive taste associations, more likely something that you’d spit out. One definition is “having a harsh, disagreeably acrid taste, like that of aspirin, quinine, wormwood, or aloes”, hardly the way we want people to view our glorious, national drink.

Pale ale is better, but only just. It’s a phrase coined by brewers rather than marketeers (who sometimes know their stuff, honest) and it does what it says on the tin. To the new beer drinker though pale could be seen as insipid, lacking the flavour and diversity that this wonderful style of beer can offer, and sadly be overlooked.

Perhaps I should be burned as a heretic for daring to suggest that we rename beer styles that have been around for hundreds of years but if beer has ever needed change to make it more appealing now is that time. If looking at new, attractive descriptors for beer could help reverse four decades of decline I’d be all for it. Besides, if the descriptors we have for beer were still appropriate and relevant why has the phrase “craft” (and all the resulting debate of what it means!) needed to be  introduced as a differentiator?

There’s long been talk of the  Beer Academy stepping up to create a new language for beer. A new set of beer descriptors with universal appeal, and which talk to drinkers in an engaging, motivating way. Am yet to see anything appear, or sure if they’re the right people to do it, but it certainly feels time to steal ideas from wine and in doing so steal back our category share.

But I digress. This month’s Session challenge was not to rewrite beer history but to taste two different pale ales side by side. I did, a Purity Mad Goose and a Little Creatures Pale Ale, they were both delicious.

P.S. Little Creatures website is just gorgeous, a slight bugbear of mine that they don’t make best use of the space so a lot falls below the fold (and the social share buttons are WAY down in the footer) but otherwise it’s beautifully done. I especially love the “learn about beer” page – they should make more of it and bring it up into the header.

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