What makes certain beers more popular?

21
Oct/09
0

At the hotel where I work, the most popular beer is Keith’s India Pale Ale.

Obviously, we’re not the only establishment that serves this beer and it’s pretty uniformly popular across the city. It kind of bridges the vague, drinking gap between those older guys who only drink Molson Ex or Labatt 50 or Blue and the little shits who’ll drink whatever’s put before ‘em. Along with Stella, Heineken and Corona, Keith’s flagship brand serves to represent Canada on the international front as Belgium, the Netherlands and Mexico purport to stand for the formers, respectively.

Much like it’s cousins, Keith’s Red and White (we don’t serve it’s ugly little brother the Staghead Stout so I’ll discount that here), Keith’s is not really an I.P.A. at all but a mutant clone, watered-down and designed to appeal to broader tastes; in much the same way Labatt Blue is called a pilsner.

It’s not even as good as Rickard’s (Molson’s brand) but people will continue to order it everyday. Now clearly, the marketing and perceived credibility of the brand affect the likelihood of a consumer being familiar enough to feel comfortable ordering it but I would argue that this actually has very little to do with what people actually order at my hotel.

Can you guess who’s responsible for Keith’s products being the biggest sellers? Why the bartenders of course! They recommend these beers and not because they like them but, in blind subservience to a vicious cycle, recite their names first when asked because they’re big sellers!

I take a different approach. If asked what we have on tap, I mention Mill St.’s Organic Lager and their Tankhouse Ale as likely options. 9 times out of 10, the guest will order one and be done with it. If they press me I’ll mention that we serve a number of  big brands and ask which one they would prefer. Sometimes, only a Stella will do and I’m not going refuse someone’s request. Still, the majority of guests will go with my suggestion and, particularly in the case of the Tankhouse Ale, I’m comfortable offering them a beer I consider to be one of the better ones produced in Ontario.

There are two factors at work here. Many people, when arriving at the critical juncture of the meal where they must choose from a number of options will often go along with a timely suggestion from their server. These people don’t want to have to give a lot of thought to their choice and they’re comfortable letting their choices be influenced by a confidently-knowledgeable server.

The second factor is one of novelty. These guests will often be up for trying something new if it’s well-presented by the server with a minimum of bullshit. I find that many foreigners are extremely keen to try a local beer but many Canadians will go for it as well.

The bartenders I work with don’t give a shit about supporting local products. They take the franchise element of the hotel to the extreme and offer  what they feel will be most comforting and familiar to a traveler.  They just can’t be bothered to concern themselves with the idea of which items are better.

One of them, seemed to be slightly irked by my constant orders for Mill St. beer. She wanted to know why I always sold their beers and did not agree with my assertion that they were the best of what we had to offer. According to her, Keith’s was obviously the best beer because it was the most popular.

This is coming from someone who doesn’t even drink beer. Mind you, she’s a fairly-good bartender for this hotel and a nice person to boot but I simply can’t wrap my head around her view-point.

She thought I was being pretentious in my devotion to our local brewery and while that may be true, I still think Mill St. makes a better beer. You may like Keith’s and Stella and could argue that those beers are different but even if you get technical and hold up Keith’s Red to the Tankhouse Ale, the latter comes out a clear winner. End of story.

So I’ll continue to sell as much Mill St. beer as I can (and if you guys are reading this, I’d be up for some kind of brand ambassador position…) and my coworkers will continue to think I’m odd but I can’t imagine selling anything but what I like myself.

I think servers owe their guests that kind of honesty.

(Photo taken from the Go There Guide.)

Fuzion in the top four at LCBO

24
Apr/09
0

fuzionYou may or may not have read about it but Beppi Crosariol over at the Globe and Mail wrote about the overwhelming popularity of Fuzion with consumers at the LCBO.

Apparently, it’s the number four product sold at everyone’s favorite provincial monopoly (right behind Heineken, Corona and Smirnoff vodka) What’s interesting to me is how a wine from Argentina, with no advertising and plenty of approving worth-of-mouth, has bumped Bacardi from the fourth spot to play the field with those perpetually-popular big boys of booze.

Corona spent a total of $30 million on print advertising alone last year. Heineken spent $50 million launching Heineken Premium Light (a fuckin’ light beer of all things…). I would imagine Smirnoff spends less (being a Canadian company and not having quite the global dominance of the first two brands) but it probably throws way more money into its advertising than Zuccardi does.

What then, can account for the love people have for Fuzion, the little wine that could? Beppi (I don’t know him but it’s kind of fun to call him that, try it) noted that some folks accused him of fanning the flames of its popularity with his approval of the affordable red that delivers a big taste for its price.

While Mr. Crosariol may have fueled the fire roaring under Fuzion, he didn’t spark it. Toronto Life, NOW Magazine, the National Post and the Toronto Star all reported on the phenomenon but to truly understand what’s going on here, we should look to Malcolm Gladwell and his classifaction of the stages of societal adoption of new ideas/products/etc. known as the diffusion model.

You have the Innovators, the visionaries who prize revolutionary change and will take risks to try out whatever’s new and interesting. The Early Adopters come next. They watch the innovators, evaluate what they do and join in.

Because of the Internet and greater saturation of writing on wine, approval of Fuzion was able to quickly spread in tandem with more personal methods of recommendation. These early adopters congregate on forums like Chowhound and the innovators, those who pay attention to these forums, in turn write and talk about this information through their own channels which is then filtered into the consciousness of the majority. This is where Beppi and Co come in.

They’re followed by the Early and Late Majorities; those people who while they may not have their finger on what cool kids are doing pay attention to the media and other critics.  With this media attention, you can bet the Laggards, those of us who value tradition and the tried-tested-and-true, will finally start paying attention and the next six months will either see them adopt it as a red wine standard (a la Yellowtail) or pass on it as a fad.

There are a couple of factors that will definitely affect whether this adoption takes place. While the change from the 2007 varietal to the 2008 went unnoticed by many, a sharp dip in quality could leave a bad flavor in some people’s mouths and result in a drop in sales.

Also, raising the price could lead to Fuzion competing with a higher quality of wine, at least in some people’s eyes and also result in a drop in its popularity. A similar thing (albeit on a much smaller scale) happened with Les Jamelles, a winery from France. Beloved by merchants and restaurateurs alike, it quickly became must-have by-the-glass option for those looking for that magical Old World median between price and quality. However, increased demand led to a lack of availabilty and was quickly followed by a rise in price. While it still has a good reputation (it’s merlot and sauvignon blanc are both very fine) it’s been replaced by The Next Thing on many a wine list.

Mind you, Les Jamelle’s merlot was never available at the LCBO and they never had to deal with fickle consumers. A change in cost could drastically affect Fuzion’s market share, particularly because one of the wine’s chief selling points is its $7.45 ticket price. While adding a couple of dollars may not seem like a big deal, a shopper at the LCBO may pass on a more expensive Fuzion, particularly if they remember reading about how it used to cost less or worse, they remember buying it for less. On overcrowded wine shelves with the LCBO carefully tracking its process, a severe enough dip in sales could mark Fuzion for eventual delisting.

Another good example is Bohemian, secretly brewed by Molson. The go-to beer for those of us looking to throw cheap parties, art gallery-openings and what-have-you, it was sold for an unbelievable $26 a case! Not only that but it tasted better than all of the other discount brands out there.  There were plenty of times I’d go to The Beer Store looking to get a couple of cases only to find that they were sold out.

When the price was raised to $28, suddenly Bohemian became way less appealing. It began to compete with beers that were, quite frankly, much better and while I don’t have any hard numbers to back me up, I don’t see Bohemian at many parties I go to and I bet you anything they don’t sell half as much as they used to.

The appeal of Fuzion goes beyond its attractive price point and has quite a bit to do with society’s perceived learning curve when it comes to appreciating wine. Many people simply don’t know what wine they should by. Its taken forever to get beyond simple denotations of “red” and “white” and now we find folks talking about “liking chardonnays” or “hating pinot”.

These people are intimidated by wine. They don’t have a McDonald’s equivalent of beer (say Heineken) from which to base their expectations on. Imagine someone coming along and saying there’s a terrific, cheap wine out there that works pretty well with lots of different food and can be consumed rather casually? I would hazard a guess that that would be quite a relief for your average joe staring at twenty-odd bottles in front of him.

Also, there’s the self-fulfilling pride “the expert” can take in recommending a sure thing plucked from the depths of relative obscurity. This person becomes, at least temporarily, cool. They know about what’s going on, even if its tangential knowledge, and unlike beer or liquor, having a working knowledge of wine is something that’s generally considered to be an admirable skill.

Even those of who know some things still can appreciate a good recommendation. I was introduced to Fuzion through my neighbor Jacqueline Rendell, who brought over a bottle one day. She in turn had been given a few bottles from a friend of hers who really liked them. I ended up buying half-a-dozen bottles of my own over the winter and I mentioned Fuzion in my post about the best, cheap booze in Ontario. Several people who read this blog have subsequently told me that they now stock their home with Fuzion on a regular basis and we only have to go back to Beppi to see that this is a personal example of what’s happening all over Ontario and Quebec.

As knowledge of Fuzion reaches its “tipping point”, this will have less of an impact but for now, Fuzion’s cool image will undoubtedly benefit from the advice of whomever we turn to for wine info and its price will only sweeten the deal.

Veggies in your cocktails + nine more links

21
Apr/09
0

liquorTiare over at A Mountain Of Crushed Ice gets into using vegetables in your cocktails. I’m really interested in trying out beets and plaintain but they all look pretty good to me. It might also help me feel better about not getting my eight servings a day.

The Intoxicologist takes issue with patriotic booze and so do I. The idea of exploiting an American’s patriotism to market cheap booze while making vague statements about supporting “everyone in uniform” (without saying which organizations they send money to) doesn’t sit well with me.

Science Daily talks about a new study completed in the UK that claims that “beer goggles” do not affect drinker’s perceptions of age. The idea is that this might prevent men from claiming that they didn’t know that their partners were underage. This is all very fine and well but doing a study in a pub is very different from doing one in a nightclub. And what about when you’re all on ecstasy?

Vietnamese snake wine with big-ass cobras in it!

Martin always said so but now we have some sense of what having Kingsley for a dad must’ve been like. Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog reviews “Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis”. Like many famous British drunkards, Amis Sr. was really good at being an insufferable prick but you gotta love quotes like these:

“If asked what you think [about the wine], say breezily, ‘Jolly good,’ as though you always say that whatever it’s like. This may suggest that your mind’s on higher things than wine, like gin or sex.”

I want a copy!

For those following in his footsteps, here’s a handy method for hiding booze at the office. Helen Gurley Brown might sneer but this sort of thing is generally frowned upon nowadays.

If drinking at work is too risky and you live in London, you could always visit the Alcoholic Architecture exhibit which makes you feel like you’re walking through a giant gin-and-tonic.

Finally, I have 116 bits of alcoholic trivia for you. While quite a few of ‘em fall into this bizarre wordplay category (otherwise known as “who gives a fuck”), the historical ones are genuinely interesting. For instance:

“33. The bill for a celebration party for the 55 drafters of the US Constitution was for 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers and seven bowls of alcohol punch large enough that ‘ducks could swim in them’.”

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I like how that one white dude really digs the music.

(Image taken from wil.widner’s Flickr photostream.)

Facebook & Google sell booze ads to raise funds.

27
Feb/09
0

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The Telegraph recently posted an article about how some companies such as Facebook and Google, the NBA and American television companies are relaxing their restrictions on alcohol advertising in order to generate new streams of revenue.

This is apparently a big deal although I fail to see why as long as they’re not misleading and they don’t market it to minors. Facebook tends to skew to an older crowd anyway although I’d wager it’s a pretty tight demographic (18-25?) that’s likely to install any applications offered by the likes of Anheuser-Busch or Bacardi.

Apparently, most of these apps offer allow users to win contests that get them into sponsored parties. I wouldn’t know because the Bacardi Mojito Party was unavailable to me (likely due to it being restricted to American users) and Miller’s Today I’m Toasting was under construction. In fact, none of the applications that have been developed were available which leads me to wonder if they’re specifically targeted at an American and not Canadian audience because we get to legally drink two years before they do?

The only application I’ve seen anyone use is Booze Mail, a particularly stupid bit of code that allows you to send drinks to your friend’s walls which is just as retarded as those gifts that get exchanged. Two apps I find much more appealing are Bottlenotes and RateBeer, both of which allow like-minded users to rate and talk about wine and beer they like (or dislike), respectively.

This doesn’t really help us Canadians, with our limited options for purchasing alcohol, and I’d be surprised the LCBO hasn’t jumped on this marketing opportunity except that I’d bet anything that they’re a) too cheap and b) far too old-fashioned. It’s too bad because an app that tracks new product releases with links built into their website allowing people to find what stores carry them and then contact those stores seems like a natural to me… Or maybe not but I don’t think I’m the only one who finds the LCBO website irritating.

But moving on, what about television? We’ve all seen our fair share of beer ads, ranging from stupid to offensive, but how is this regulated in Canada? The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has a code that specifically deals with what can be broadcast and what cannot. Here are some highlights.

“Commercial messages for alcoholic beverages shall not:

(a) attempt to influence non-drinkers of any age to drink or to purchase alcoholic beverages;

(b) be directed at persons under the legal drinking age, associate any such product with youth or youth symbols, or portray persons under the legal drinking age or persons who could reasonably be mistaken for such persons in a context where any such product is being shown or promoted;

(e) attempt to establish the product as a status symbol, a necessity for the enjoyment of life or an escape from life’s problems, or attempt to establish that consumption of the product should take precedence over other activities;

(f) imply directly or indirectly that social acceptance, social status, personal success, or business or athletic achievement may be acquired, enhanced or reinforced through consumption of the product;

(g) imply directly or indirectly that the presence or consumption of alcohol is, in any way, essential to the enjoyment of an activity or an event;

(k) use imperative language to urge people to purchase or consume the product;

(n) contain inducements to prefer an alcoholic beverage because of its higher alcohol content;

(o) refer to the feeling and effect caused by alcohol consumption or show or convey the impression, by behaviour or comportment, that the people depicted in the message are under the influence of alcohol;

(q) contain scenes in which any such product is consumed, or that give the impression, visually or in sound, that it is being or has been consumed.”

Now, far be it from me to be a negative fuckin’ nancy but don’t they regularly break (e), (f), (g) and (q)? Doesn’t the Molson ad I just linked to fit the bill? How about this one? There are good ads out there.  Arrogant Bastard Ale released this campaign that pretty much made fun of mainstream beer drinkers and companies they support that release “outrageously conniving, intentionally misleading, blatantly masturbatory and fallacious ad campaigns.”

ale

I don’t know about you but I’ll take that their brand of arrogance over what the other guys are offering any day; even if it treads dangerously into that extreme, stressed graphic style I find distasteful. At least it has some credibility.

We’re way past the days when Anheuser-Busch et al. could lay any claim to putting out a “premium product” and in a way, their advertising is a perfect example of that. They can’t really claim to have the best-tasting beer but they sure as hell can sex it up.

So what’s my point with all of this? I guess I’m saying that I’m in favor of allowing spirits advertisers back into mainstream media and I’d argue that having those ads play during prime time television and be printed in newspapers isn’t going to raise a nation of underage binge-drinkers.

No, we have the stupid neo-prohibitionistic notion that children must be protected at all costs from the dangers of alcohol to thank for that. These ads will bring in important revenue and if the product is good, I see no harm in it. However, I have one proviso and it’s a biggie.

The ads should deal directly with the quality of the product. They should make you want to drink it because, goddammit, it’s the best product of its kind and you’d be a fool not to. The ads can be funny, serious or clever as long as they’re honest. Maybe I’m asking too much but I don’t think so. I’d like to see both advertising and it’s retarded cousin, Facebook apps, up their  game and start treating consumers with a little respect.

They can be the cooler, older brother if they want to.