Sunday, 2 August 2009

Innovate or die

Here's an interesting thing: a serious article about beer in a German national newspaper. (English version here).

It is surprising to many people outside Germany that most German drinkers don't know the first thing about beer.

The marketing men still think it's enough to put "Brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot" on the bottle, and most consumers still seem to agree. But the Reinheitsgebot doesn't stop you putting isomerised hop extract in your beer. It doesn't stop you lowering the hopping rate until the beer is bland and boring. It doesn't stop you pushing up the attenuation until the beer is thin and lacking any body.

The lesson for the big brewery groups should be simple: If you brew dull, uninteresting beer, then Oettinger will take your customers. While Oettinger isn't great, it sells for half the money. The beers currently being produced by the big German brewers are not twice as good as Oettinger. That's the quandary they find themselves in because they have chosen to take the same short cuts in brewing that Oettinger do.

There are two responses to this situation. The breweries run by marketing people respond by dumbing down the beer: producing "Gold" beers with less hop taste and all manner of bizarre beer-mix drinks with lemon, lime, passion fruit, orangeade and pomegranate. These are derisively known as "girls' beer".

But there seems to be hope. Some breweries seem to understand that making interesting beer is a way to compete.

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