Monday, October 10, 2011

Beers for All Your Slow Friends

A lot of my beer drinking is done in the closed environment of the DCU Center, where we watch the Sharks, and as is the case in many arenas, the selection is mostly limited to the major breweries.  My options are usually Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light, Heineken, and occasionally Michelob Ultra.  To their unending credit, the DCU Center has started serving beers from the local (and excellent!) Wormtown Brewery as well as Sam Adams* in their Charter Zone.  This is not entirely the fault of the DCU Center.  They have advertising and stock agreements with the various companies, and those agreements dictate how and where the beers are sold in the building.  That's a whole other problem.  What I'd like to talk about is how maybe, just maybe, we might be able to see the ascendance of the Wormtown Breweries of the world, because the big breweries are clearly wigged out by the fact that people are starting to realize that beer doesn't have to taste like a foot.

The clearest indicator of this concern that non-boring beer might be on the rise is shit like this: 
From top left: beer for your slow friend, beer for your concussed friend, beer for your clumsy friend, and beer for...your friend who doesn't know to hold onto their beer?
Whenever I see a commercial for one of these bottles, I feel like chugging a case of Brawndo and checking to see if President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho has been elected yet.  Coors Light is my particular favorite.  Would you like to know the most efficient way to figure out if your beer is cold?  Pick up the damned can.  It's literally been working since the beginning of time.  Babies can do this.  However, Coors Light not only thought people could use a hand figuring this out, but thought they needed more detailed help and rolled out a can that has a "cold" bar and a "super cold" bar.  Here's a question.  If you went to a bar, and every time you ordered a drink, you had to listen to the bartender call you a moron, in great detail and at top volume so the whole bar heard them, would you go back to that bar?  Of course you wouldn't, because that bar would be a shitty place with a douchebag behind it, and no one wants to deal with that shit when all you want in life is a beer.  Coors Light is that bar.  STOP GOING TO THAT BAR.  

The other bottles have their own weird stuff; the Miller Lite vortex bottle is apparently for people that never learned to tilt the glass as you pour a beer (or, you know, just drink out of the bottle), and the Bud Light bottle...?????? If you need to rely on your beer bottle for entertainment, you probably have more problems than a little square of personalizable space on a sub-par beer can solve.  But what is consistent across all of these is that the beer itself is not being marketed, but rather the container it's in.  That's a sad statement on consumerism and the way we approach beer, isn't it?  "Buy this thing, it's shiny."  It seems to me that these beer companies acknowledge that their product cannot compete on a taste level, which to me only says good things about the smaller breweries who have begun to be more visible in recent years.  I hope so, not only because I would like some non-gross beer to be available, but also because I think business is most productive when many smaller businesses are able to compete amongst each other and strive to create the best products possible.  

All that said, I'd like to commend one beer for their searing honesty.  That beer has chosen to market their product with this spokesperson: 
Smooth like Keith Stone.
Exactly, Keystone Light, exactly.  Your skunky-ass beer tastes EXACTLY like this sheisty hipster-failure looks.  Well done.  Not sure if it's actually good to point this out, know.  Bravo?

* NB: This is not to say Sam Adams is not a major brewery, but rather that it produces beer that tastes less like piss-water than the others noted.  This is less an assessment of quality and more an identification of the fact that Sam Adams at least has a flavor, rather than going for "generic beer." 


  1. I think you're off base here. I get what you're saying, but, Labatts and Molson aren't trying to pimp up their bottles because they "know they can't compete on a taste level." Are you kidding? They don't NEED to compete with the Wormtown Breweries of the world. In fact, I can't even think of a "flavorful" brand they would need to compete with because THAT'S HOW BADLY they're crushing those beers that are so superior and rich with flavor. Do you think Bud Lite sits there quaking in its labelled bottle at the prospect of too many people ordering Sleeman Honey Brown or something? C'mon.

    The majority of beer drinkers do not want flavorful, different beers. The vast, VAST majority of beer drinkers want the Buds and Coors of the world. It's safe, it's generally cheaper, it's ubiquitous. If these major brands are competing with anyone, they are competing with brands that are just like it.

    Bud Lite (Labatts) competes with Coors Light (Molson). Budweiser (Labatts) competes with Canadian (Molson). If you look at the major selling brands of Molson and Labatts you'll see that as far as tastes go, they're not that far from each other: Labatts has Bud, Bud Lite, Kokanee, Keiths, Blue, 50, and so on. Molson has Coors, Canadian, Export, Keystone, and so on.

    Plus, regarding not marketing the beer itself but rather the container it's in: the taste of beer never changes. Your first bottle of Bud will taste just like your 300th bottle of Bud. And almost everyone on Earth has tried Bud because it's EVERYWHERE. So when the product never improves or varies and almost everyone already knows what it tastes like, marketers have to think of other ways of wooing new drinkers or wooing back old drinkers; and gimmicks are the way to go here. Beers that show you how cold they are when you look at it, beers that come with spaces to label them so no one can steal your beer, beers that sing a jaunty tune whenever you press the bottle to your lips, or whatever.

    (Note: looking at a beer designed to visually display its coldness is FAR more efficient than assessing it's temperature by picking it up. Think about it).

    And it works. If you say beer companies are willfully insulting their customers by insinuating they're idiots with these marketing tactics, I have bad news for you: by your definition the majority of beer drinkers ARE idiots, because people love that stuff. And you can't blame a company for being successful (legally - slave labour and such not withstanding). So who are you mad at here, the beer companies or the MILLIONS of "idiots" who purchase products from them?

    1. I agree on your point about packaging; this is something that's more or less universal, right, it matters and it's how you keep product consistent while wooing new customers. That said, I'm not sure how often [NB: I suspect that there's a national character component here, too. In Canada for instance, the Molson family, particularly Export and Canadian aren't marketed with gimmicky bottles but an appeal to Canadianness and tradition. Similar with Budweiser, right, but not Bud Light. (Maybe this points to Bud Light being the "new market" beer and Bud regular the "base" beer.) I'm sure there's more thinking to be done about this but the least complex idea I get from it is that you CAN sell beer without gimmicky bottles, etc.] I don't think that the large breweries are concerned with individual smaller ones, i.e. I don't envision this as "Molson vs. Wormtown," but I do think they feel some threat from the development of those smaller breweries as a whole; that threat may not be felt in the sense of "oh our empire may crumble" because I don't think that's a thing they need to worry about, but I do think it means they may have to change some of their formulae and that's a pain in the ass they may not want to undertake.

      However in the course of your argument you highlight something important - these major breweries don't need to compete, not because they're superior product but because they're so ubiquitous. For decades, when you go to the store or you go to the bar, your choices are generally limited to the major breweries, simply because they have the delivery mechanisms and broad appeal necessary to get lots of bottles (or cans, or whatever) into people's hands. This speaks to your closing point...I don't think everyone who drinks Bud/Bud Light/Coors/whatever is an idiot for drinking those beers, I DO think that people who defend them on the basis of taste are idiots. WHICH IS NOT TO SAY THAT YOU CAN'T ENJOY THEM. I also enjoy really trashy TV that is quantifiably bad. I DO think that selling based on gimmickry presumes you'll go for it, and in a food product that does indicate a certain level of assumed idiocy; just 'cause it works doesn't mean that's not the underpinning.

      I'm not particularly mad at anyone here, I just think it's an interesting dynamic that comes along with the sudden explosion of this particular kind of gimmickry (of the "it does stuff!" variety rather than changes in label, etc.).