So pick up your crap beer and make it better.
If I were keeping count, I would have now lost it in reference to the number of times I’ve seen people recently lament that they are sick of drinking sub standard beers from newer breweries. Drinkers are resorting to the old form of sticking with the tried and tested to be ensured a decent beer. There’s money involved in these exchanges and it is tiresome parting with people’s decreasing disposable expenditure for increasingly poor brews.
Our reputations are all we have. The effects of social media make it easier for a reputation to be crushed by a few bad reviews or accounts of poor exchanges. It’s difficult to receive criticism and I’ve spoken about that before, but if you are repeatedly putting out a subpar product then the murmurs will begin.
As ever, some will ask for examples to provide scope to this derision. Some, of course, will say that they have a right to know so that they can avoid the brewery themselves. The reason I personally do not name and shame breweries is usually their youth and hope that they will improve with time. In fact, I don't want to add to the damaged reputations.
I’m not in huge agreement with the congratulatory process as a brewery shares it pouring beer away because it is subpar. Putting out a product that is quality is the least I expect from breweries, akin to expecting the use of malted barley in the brew rather than cyanide.
Yet with all the social media praise or criticism given to breweries regarding quality for the end drinker, the middle establishments selling the goods seem to have been forgotten.
Returning Bad Beer
Many of us will be familiar with the difficulties faced in returning a poorly kept pint. Sometimes there is indignation. Sometimes humiliation. Some establishments seem to consider pointing out that a beer is off is a slight on their establishment and done just to be awkward.
Now I have heard - and seen - a worrying new trend for this sort of attitude within brewing companies themselves.
Recently I was in a pub where they had a beer on keg I’d had just a fortnight before; brewed with a very specific flavour that it had had in abundance the previous tasting. In this pub it was entirely devoid of this flavour. I told them and they were concerned as the beer had only just come on so they hadn't tried it before like myself. The beer didn’t taste awful or off, it was just entirely different to what it should have been.
The next week I returned and that beer was still on. I asked the same person behind the bar about it. “Yes, we got the brewers themselves to taste it and they said that whilst it was different it still tasted fine and as it should. They won’t take it back so I’ve got to sell it.”
So it will sit there on the bar. A beer that nobody has complained about but nobody is particularly enjoying. The pub will be forced to try and recuperate the money paid for it whilst selling a beer they don’t particularly want to. Meanwhile the brewers earn a reputation amongst the drinkers of the beer that some of their beers are poor.
And funnily enough I was to discover the brewer tasted said beer whilst in the pub picking up a couple of casks that were off.
Since this incident I've asked about and found that whilst most brewing companies will pick up casks that are off, there are a few who do so with certain umbrage; just like returning a bad pint back to the bar.
The Everyday Drinker's Reputation
There’s too many within the craft bubble that believe that experimentation is the only way to drink and that reliability isn’t a necessary quality. In a bubble of active review encouragement, the average beer drinker down the pub is still happy with the nice/not nice review policy. They aren’t fools either. They might not know hop nationalities but they know what they like in a beer and won’t accept poor quality
Many drinkers form opinions about breweries fairly quickly and will return to their trusted favourites. Whilst most will take a risk on an unfamiliar name or new brew, one or two encounters with a brewery are usually enough for the reputation to be formed.
I see it a lot amongst regulars in my locals. There’s the local brewery who were so poor to them in their early days that they still steer clear of them to this day; despite the fact I know they’d rather enjoy their much improved beers now. There’s the brewery who don’t fine their beers, so the fussier drinker’s automatically avoid whatever style they brew – despite their beers being delicious. There’s the brewery who brew a popular 3.9% pale ale, so the drinker’s inadvertently order the 5.6% stout when they see the brewery’s name, in the blind hope it’ll be another low strength pale ale.
There’s the brewery who have been average to poor for the last six months whose beers are now slow sellers, as the regular crowd avoid them.
And the inevitable end is that the pub will stop buying their beers. Business gone. You made your bed.
This sounds an obvious conclusion, but as a rather new and local brewery, there was an attempt to support them. Early offerings were promising but they are going backwards. They have built their reputation as a brewery to avoid amongst crowds of regular punters and even from other pubs.
Pubs Rely on Brewing Consistency
Pubs and Bars have a reputation to develop and maintain and a current acceptance of inconsistencies does not help them. I’ve recently heard of brewers haphazardly changing beer recipes based on whatever ingredients may or may not be around the brewery on brew day. In the craft bubble exists the culture of beer “versions” and “batches” that cover inconsistent practice, but in core beers this is dangerous to pubs/bars.
I recently had a cask beer that last month was excellent, but this week was nice but noticeably not as good. It transpires that a different malt bill and bittering hops were used for the second batch due to what the brewery had lying around at the time. Surely this is a different beer then?
Brewers seem to be forgetting the potential damage this can cause to a pub’s reputation. If I had the two batches of this beer at two different pubs, I would have concluded that the second pub didn’t keep its beer nearly as well as the first. I wouldn’t, just as most drinkers wouldn’t, have assumed or accepted a change in recipe. It would be the pub’s reputation that would suffer, not the brewery’s.
The beer climate is mostly dominated by drinkers who can tell you which of the Robinson’s tied houses serves the best Unicorn (or other regional example.) The quality of Unicorn isn’t questioned from batch to batch. The pub’s are the ones judged. New breweries need reminding of this.
So start aiming for consistency.
Reputations can be rebuilt but it is a slow process and in the current competitive climate it might be too much a of a climb back for some. If the pubs/bars aren't happy with what they have been sold then listen to them. And then pick up your beer and go away and make better beer. Reputations are sometimes all a business has. Don't damage another business's when damaging your own.
Picture courtesy of @yesaleblog