I Spy Ted

Posted on June 22, 2012


There is a new kid on the block, Flat Cap Beers, and oddly (obviously never having read my in depth “it tastes nice” beer reviews) they kindly posted me a bottle of their first beer, TED, to review.

Flat Cap have already caused some consternation in the beer world as they are not a brewery but a purveyor of beers that they have other breweries brew on their behalf. By their own admission they claim not to be a “branding / marketing” company either, just guys that want to brew great beer without the cash to sink into a brewery so are making use of breweries that already exist. They’re not alone in doing that, it makes commercial sense for some – they want to brew a beer without a brewery, breweries need to fill capacity to manage their overheads, simple.

Zak, also a TED recipient, sparked a heated debate about their use of “craft” which I have no interest in discussing (craft – who cares is my view) and Andy from Flat Cap very quickly stepped into the debate to describe their business model, a transparency which is to be admired. TED is being brewed at the Salisbury Brewery and a soon to be released Czech Pilsner, Otto, at Zatec (and anyone brewing at Zatec gets my vote!).

There does remain a question mark for me around who has created the recipes. Cynically I wonder if the Czech beers will be Zatec and Zatec dark which for some bonkers reason have never made it big in the UK. If that is the case though I’ll be dumping my cynicism and filling up my fridge in double quick time and if they’re not but brewed to the same standard I’ll be filling up my fridge in double quick time.

Back to TED, a British Pale Ale described on the label as “a unique, light, yet full flavour beer with a ‘triffic hoppy body, a refreshing citrus aroma and a long sharp, bitter finish”. They’re not wrong, it is a ‘triffic example of a Pale Ale, think toffee crisp biscuit sweetness (they do exist) tempered with a woody, spiced dry finish and it’s quite delicious. All credit to Paul Buttrick who created the recipe.

The acid test, would I buy it? On draught absolutley, it would make a great pint that you could happily sink more than one of. Sadly their claim not to be a “branding / marketing” company is more than bought to life in the bottle label that, try as hard as I can, I can’t get my head around what they were thinking or who they are aiming this beer at.

The bottle label is mainly a very recessive shade of grey brightened up by a picture of TED, who appears to be a jovial granddad laughing as his numbers come up at the Age Concern bingo. Coupled with an off the shelf typeface I can’t help but wonder if as well as not having the money for a brewery they couldn’t afford an artworker and set to work with powerpoint. Given their use of the C word I’m assuming that they seem themselves sat on shelf next to beers from Magic Rock, Kernel, Thornbridge etc (many other excellent breweries are available) and next to some of these stunningly creative label designs they will fall short and look more like a novelty beer that has been produced for Father’s Day than a serious contender.

On the back of the label they state the following amongst all the labelling requirements (although they are missing the drinking when pregnant and drink responsibly message to be fully compliant with all five of the health labels recommended by the Department of Health).

Born to Russian immigrant parents TED grafted his way to Cambridge where after achieving a double first in Enigmatology he was recruited by MI5. Caught in a compromising position in the Urals whilst turning the KGB agent ‘goat’, TED’s life took a surreal twist.

As a marketing approach this is a nice move, they are trying to give TED a personality which could allow them to create engaging content along the way – think Bombardier (which feels more like TED’s competitive set perhaps?) and the success they have had with their Rik Mayall character. Remember the Gold Blend couple, in the absence of having a story about the brewer creating a personality that people can get behind is a smart idea.

Only this one doesn’t work – the spy story and the twinkly eyed granddad are completely incongruous, TED is clearly no retired James Bond. Maybe that’s the point, maybe as the story builds it will make more sense but right now it misses the mark and I’m left confused rather than intrigued. They have a way to go to make it compelling and convincing.

It’s early days for Flat Cap and they do have a strong foundation to build on, a great tasting beer. Unfortunately that seems to have been let down by the label design and the story and in such a crowded market a great tasting beer alone is not enough, it needs to be the whole package. It’ll be interesting to watch how it develops, I would urge them to look again but what do I know! I hope it works out for them.