Unspeak the truth

Almost 10 years ago, Steven Poole published his book, Unspeak. The subject was the use and abuse of words. People think carefully with their use of words. Hidden meanings and politically-charged meanings can be hidden in the utterances. This can be true for the politician, journalist, PR hack or marketer. Seems obvious, doesn’t it?

What prompted this post was a certain furore over a certain large brewery finally laying claim to trying to pass off some products as local, craft offerings. This is getting attention elsewhere so there’s little new that I can add to this.

What caught my eye, however, was a particular comment used by said breweries PR team. So what somewhat starting statement? It was none other than “low-volume high-quality draught products” being used to describe their small batch trying to be crafty offerings.

If this is how they describe these beers, how then to they describe their mass-market product? Those familiar with the dark arts of Unspeak could read this as as tacit acknowledgement of their big-selling and category leading brands as “high-volume low-quality”.

Accidental and careless, perhaps. Dangerous and charged, indeed.

Up for the match: Craft beer on and off the pitch

Guinness announced a few weeks ago that it was extending its current sponsorship of rugby’s Pro12 tournament for a further four years. The company clearly hopes that this new commitment will give it added exposure and convince people to stop referring to the tournament as the Magners League. This is a similar problem to rugby’s European Cup as people long associate it as the Heineken (or simply ‘H in France) Cup. The new Guinness tie-in follows an unsuccessful attempt to become title sponsors of the English Premier League. Carling has made a return as the official beer of type-flight football.

Of course these sponsorship arrangements are important sources of funding of sports. Breweries will try to snap up as many competitions as possible to keep them out of the hands of competitors but also to respond to a more imminent concern – a blanket ban on alcohol sponsorship of sports. It already happens in France for example. Now the Irish Government and others are expected to follow suit. This undoubtedly will cause problems for the likes of the IRFU and GAA.

One of many Dublin GAA themed ads from Five Lamps
One of many Dublin GAA themed ads from Five Lamps

In addition to the sponsorship money forked over, sponsors can be typically expected to pay anywhere up to 50% of the amount paid telling consumers that the sponsor said team, league or event. This can range from exclusive bars inside stadia, branding pubs, competitions, TV ads, instore promotions etc. However, they are particularly exposed on their flank to one particular threat – ambush marketing; other companies getting in on the game with little to no money down.

In the run-up to the All Ireland Football Championship, Five Lamps Brewery hosted a couple of GAA-themed events. Other breweries have released sports-themed beer names such as Western Herd’s Danger Here. Rascals Brewing Co.have had a few like Holy Schmidt Pale Ale and 13 Seconds. Such approaches fit in with a sector that sees itself in the midst of a revolution, trying to usurp control from the larger, macro breweries. Attention-seeking from the likes of BrewDog and others is key to a sector that has minimal money to spend on advertising.

Beer names have long been a popular tool to pay tribute to sports but even more importantly, they attract attention in and around major events
Beer names have long been a popular tool to pay tribute to sports but even more importantly, they attract attention in and around major events

Ambush marketing is perhaps a little too harsh a prism to view such actions. It’s not like infamous battles of Coke versus Pepsi or Addidas versus Nike to claim hearts and minds of consumers. Craft breweries are using other tactics to reach out to consumers through sport. Trouble Brewing has hosted craft beer nights in Dalymount Park. Kelly’s Mountain have been involved with their local GAA club.

Craft breweries are approaching sponsorship opportunities strategically. Sweetwater Brewery was launched by Rye River in Ireland the week of Boston College-Georgia Tech American Football game. As if that wasn’t enough, SweetWater was available draught at The Trinity Welcome Village at Trinity College Dublin, the official tailgating venue for the Aer Lingus Classic. Over in the west, Wild Bat brewery has collaborated with Oughterard RFC on a limited edition rugby jersey.

Wild Bat taking it one step further with this limited edition Oughterard RFC jersey
Wild Bat taking it one step further with this limited edition Oughterard RFC jersey

It seems that craft beer is prepared to take on the larger breweries head on in their traditional domain – sponsorship in marketing. However, they’re doing it in their own special way. Sure, what else would we expect from them.

London called once more

Great British Beer Festival 2016 Pint

Last week, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) was held in London’s Kensington Olympia. This was my fifth consecutive GBBF. It’s not quite the exploits of Michael Phelps and Steve Redgrave but it still makes me smile. It has become firmly an annual jaunt over to London.

GBBF 2016 had a slightly different feel to it over previous years. It seemed as there were one or two fewer brewery bars. Some big brewers like Shephard Neame relegated its sole beer (Spitfire) at the festival to a shared bar, which in the grand scheme of things is no big loss. The festival certainly had a more corporate feel to it, if by corporate one means organised.  It felt more spacious than previous years. This is more space on top of what is already the cavernous environment that is the Kensington Olympia venue. There was a big push by CAMRA to sign up new members. Some had the air of chuggers about them, keen to push the £20 Wetherspoon vouchers above all else. Corporate hospitality featured also with groups given guided tours, tastings etc. This is becoming the norm it seems at large festivals these days.


The organisers managed to invoke the ire of many a beer geek, who are known for their carefree attitude, by moving the announcement of the Champion Beer of Britain from the event itself to a separate awards dinner. This didn’t go down well at the festival and contributed to a fairly muted atmosphere during the afternoon of the trade day. However, many a beer writer quickly jettisoned his/her umbrage as the American Cask Bar opened around that time.

The presence of international beers at GBBF is always contentious. Yes it’s sad to see so many beer people crowded around the American beer bar. Then again the U.S. Brewer’s Association put in a lot of work to make sure the beers present are interesting, eclectic and first-rate. What’s more is that they pay tribute (except for the international bottle bar) to cask ale. They also throw in appearances by brewers or others connected with the breweries. It’s no wonder this bar’s popularity will continue, they put in a serious effort to make it exciting. Unfortunately, two Vermont breweries were due to be there but their beers missed the shipping deadline. For the record, the U.S. beers I tried were Ziggy Stardust (Boulder Beer Co.), Daydream IPA (Santiam Brewing); Hop Hunter IPA (Sierra Nevada); and Spruce Tip Session Ale (Urban Farm Fermentory).

Anyway back to the Champion Beer of Britain. I was expecting some ardent CAMRA folk to have picketed the dinner. Did it happen? I don’t know but then again coverage of the actual awards dinner on twitter was poor. There seemed to be only two people tweeting from the event. I was keeping an eye on proceedings more out of curiosity to see if any of the beers I had tried during the first day made the final three.

Binghams Brewery Vanilla Stout

As luck would have it, my brother Eoin had a pint of Binghams Vanilla Stout in front of him. It was his beer for the road. That was probably the last pint of it (or close to it) sold at the festival during the rest of the week – the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain being limited to third or half-pint pours. Thankfully, I had tried it earlier because it would’ve made the brother’s smugness all the more unbearable. The beer was smooth, silky with a pleasant vanilla hit – reminiscent of a quality chocolate truffle. Whilst there was a hint of sweetness in it, the vanilla didn’t overpower the character of this beer. It was well-balanced and drinkable.

Old Dairy Snow Top

This year’s three overall medallists would be even more enjoyable when the weather gets colder. It was also the first time a speciality beer won the overall prize and no doubt will be an answer in many a future CAMRA themed table quiz.  There was obviously a preference amongst the judges for darker beers this year. Snow Top by Old Dairy, a 6% abv (plenty of spice, winter fruits on the nose, warming and toasty) took silver and Tring’s Death or Glory, a 7.2% abv barley wine (not overly sweet, dark fruits, marmalade, and spice) taking home the bronze.

Tring Death Or Glory

There were some excellent stouts and porters on offer. Particular highlights for me were Crafty Stoat (Wibblers); Old Growler (Nethergate); Boss Black (Boss); Lambeth Walk (By the Horns); and Parabellum Milk Stout (Gun); Triple Chocoholic (Saltaire); and Chocolate Marble (Marble). Speaking of Marble, I enjoyed its lemony Earl Grey IPA and thought Lagonda IPA deserved better than bronze in the golden ale category. Other pale and IPAs worth a shout out include Nova (Bristol Beer Factory); Nor’ Hop (Moor Beer); Revelation (Dark Star); Magus (Durham); 77 (Heavy Industry); and Gyle 1500 (Flowerpots), although it’s billed as a red ale, given its hop profile it can pass somewhat as a red IPA. In case you’re wondering, no I did not forget to sample some mild and yes, I did try Fullers annual Vintage release. The 2016 version had plenty of the expectant vinuous notes, it could do with a bit more ageing.

A nice touch at the festival was to be found just inside the front door. Too often London breweries were underrepresented at the festival. This was a shame because there’s some amazing things happening in the city’s local beer scene. London Beer City grew up in and around GBBF and some might say, in response to it. London is definitely a front line in the craft versus real ale battle. Thankfully, the Real Ale in a Bottle bar returned to GBBF this year with offerings (all bottle conditioned) from Kernel, Redemption, Orbit, Partizan and others. Giving myself a break from the cask offerings, I enjoyed Weird Beard’s Saison 14. It hit all the right notes, with plenty of esters and leather in the flavour. The carbonation levels were spot on and set me up nicely for more beer tasting. I must say that Weird Beard is certainly a brewery that’s getting better both in terms of quality and consistency.

Earlier I mentioned that there seemed to be fewer brewery bars at the festival. There was an especially welcome new one. Tiny Rebel has gone from strength to strength since winning the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain accolade last year for Cwtch (still tasting great). Of course, they made a name for themselves well before winning the title but the brewery appears to have stepped up a gear.

Tiny Rebel Great British Beer Festival

The brewery was out in force at the festival and besides the likes of Fubar and Hadouken, it had Hank, a wonderful session pale ale and Juicy, which as its name suggests was a vibrant fruity all-rounder. As you probably guessed, I spent a fair bit of time at the Tiny Rebel bar, enjoying those beers mentioned, along with their black IPA Loki. It pleasantly avoided even the slightest hints of dark roast and opting to focus on bitter citrus notes. Finally, I could not but try Stay Puft, a 5.2% marshmallow stout. I was a little uncertain of this beer when I first tried it and on the second day, I bit the bullet and tried it again. I admit that this beer grew on me.  It wasn’t overly sweet even though that’s fear elicited by its name and description. The best description would be of a thick and creamy milk(shake) stout. Interesting and was worth having a pint of it.

Great British Beer Festival 2016 Pint

All in all, it was a good festival. More could be done to improve it. There was a lack of atmosphere on the first day that continued into the afternoon of the second day. The venue’s cavernous and could do with a bit of music. Perhaps various buskers dotted around the venue, not just on the stage. The food offering was the best yet. Talk already started of next year’s trip to GBBF 2017.

First, I have the Irish Craft Beer Festival to look forward to. It returns to the RDS on 8th to 10th September. Tickets, opening times and event information can be found here: http://www.irishcraftbeerfestival.ie/




Plans to limit the number of off-licences in Dublin City

The new Dublin City Council Development Plan (2016-2022) will be finalised in September this year. Drafting the plan offers local councillors the opportunity to make significant decisions on the future direction of the city. Unfortunately, for some it is simply an opportunity to pander to nimbyism as well as trying to force through illogical measures.

Forget the fact that many existing buildings wouldn’t get planning permission under the proposed amendments to the plan. One particular area of concern is the following proposal to be a stated objective of Dublin City:

“To prohibit the further expansion of off-licences or part off-licences unless a compelling case can be made that there is not an over-concentration of such uses in any one area. In this respect, any application for an off-licence/part off-licence should include a map of all such establishments located within a 1km radius of the proposed development. In relation to stand alone off-licences an audit of the existing off-licence floorspace provision within 1km and an analysis of the need for the proposal in the locality shall be provided”.

This is a serious additional layer of restrictions on what is an already heavily regulated retail activity. This move is separate to the restrictions proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It could prevent new outlets opening or existing retail locations branching into off-premise alcohol sales. It is a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores local employment, the specialist nature of products sold and changing consumer patterns. It shouldn’t be seen as the panacea for tackling public drunkenness and anti-social behaviour.

It is contrary to the stated ambition in the draft development plan to “actively promote and protect the range of specialist shops within the inner city, which contribute to the character and attractiveness of the city as a destination for shopping”. Imagine specialist whiskey, wine or beer shops being prevented from opening because there’s a generic off-licence somewhere within a kilometre of their proposed location. At the very least if the proposal remains, it would add significantly to the high costs of applying to open a shop.

Craft beer has been gaining a significant foothold in the likes of Spar, Centra and smaller Tesco stores. This proposal could limit stores such as these moving into off-sales, if they aren’t already selling alcohol. It also could limit new stores opening and offering alcohol sales. They already have to cease sales by 10pm and can be prevented from sales at the discretion of the Guards.

This proposal is not based on empirical evidence or regulatory logic. Why not let the market decide on this one? Off-licences are a source of employment, collect considerable duties and VAT for the State and would pay commercial rates to the council. Many are supporters of independent craft producers, providing them with a sales channel for their products and an important alternative to pubs.

G’Knight on the Fourth of July

Fourth of July for Americans is a BIG deal. Understandably so. I’ve been lucky to have been in the US for a few Independence Day celebrations. It’s barbecue, outdoors and fireworks. Hot dogs feature more prominently than beer. There’s even a nationally televised hot dog eating competition broadcast live from Coney Island, New York. Today’s winner apparently polished off 70 in the allotted ten minutes.

Of course many bottles and cans of Sam Adams or Yuengling will be downed today. Beers marking the festivities or ‘Murica more generally will be popular today. Even Budweiser has been renamed America for the summer (more on that another time).

Oskar Blues G'Knight
Forget the red solo cup, Oskar Blues made drinking from a can cool again

Needless to say IPAs will be drunk in commemoration of an American triumph over a British style. Is there a better or more symbolic way for a craft beer drinker to mark the 4th?

Americans don’t just like things big, they like them bigger. So why not turn to an imperial red IPA from Colorado’s Oskar Blues. At 8.7% abv, G’Knight demonstrates significant home-grown American heft. It’s name captures that the events 240 years ago when the 13 original states said goodnight and good luck to George III’s “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States”.

The beer pours a clear, burnt orange and rusted copper colour. There’s plenty of thyme and other herbs alongside pine on the nose. With IPAs these days all focuses on trying to extract as much fresh fruit aromas, it is almost somewhat pleasing to revert to the old-school pine notes. This beer is all about full-on bitterness and flavour.


It finishes dry, spicy and herbal. It’s chewy too, at times a little astringent. The warming alcohol notes suggest that this beer would be better enjoyed at this time of year in doors with the a/c cranked up, except if like me you’re enjoying the changeable Irish summer.

There’s sweetness in this beer and believe me you subconsciously go searching for it. You need something to cut through the bitterness. It’ll be hard to drink anything after this as your palate would be destroyed. Then again, a BIG BEER is appropriate for the day that’s in it.