How to convert a lagerboy

Fuller’s was not the only brewer with a viral ad on the stocks for last year’s Rugby world cup: the Wychwood chaps had one lined up for their Hobgoblin beer called How to convert a lagerboy.

The video shows a chavvy lager-drinker wearing a Burberry baseball cap and slumped at a table, Suddenly a goblin runs up and, rather than attempt to convert the lagerboy by force of argument, boots him hard up the aris, making him soar over the bar of some nearby rugby goalposts, in a “conversion” Jonny Wilkinson would be delighted with.

However, Rupert Thompson, Wychwood’s MD, confessed last might that he bottled out of releasing the video on the net, fearing that it might be misinterpreted – and certainly some beer bloggers would not have been impressed.

Thompson was talking at a presentation in the Hobgoblin pub near Marylebone station in London to launch the “new” 4.5 per cent abv cask version of Hobgoblin. This is not to be mistaken for the “old” 4.5 per cent version of Hobgoblin, which was boosted to 5 per cent in 2004. At the same time the bottled version was dropped from 5.5 per cent to 5.2 per cent, and the recipe was tweaked, with some crystal malt joining the chocolate malt to add a little sweetness to the dryness, and Fuggles hops replacing Progress alongside the late-added Styrian Goldings.

The “new” 4.5 per cent version has had another small tweak, Jeremy Moss, Wychwood’s head brewer, said last night, with three “secret” hops being added in small quantities. He refused to reveal what these were, on the grounds that they might well be change in future, but I’d bet at least one is an American variety, giving a hint of citrusness.

The need to earn a living means I’m not normally free for beery events like last night’s, but I was glad to have a rare chance to go out and join fellow beer hacks, since Wychwood was also showcasing two other versions of Hobgoblin, the 3.5 per cent abv version that is the only one legally allowed to be sold in Swedish supermarkets, and the 4.5 per cent American keg version.

Hobgoblin is about taste rather than strength, Thompson said last night, and the Swedes certainly get a beer with plenty of flavour, but it’s inevitably a thinner, less rounded beer. The surprise hit was the keg version, which had a very pleasant smooth rotundity and perfectly acceptable carbonation. Dark beers generally seem to survive kegging better than pale ones, and in my distant youth, if there was nothing in a strange pub that looked acceptable, I’d go for the keg dark mild, since it would almost always be drinkable. (Alas, even keg dark mild is rara cervisia today.)

Wychwood is quite open that it has dropped the strength of cask Hobgoblin back down to 4.5 per cent to sell more beer, even though sales are already up 24 per cent year-on-year at the moment. It surprised itself, I suspect, with the success of its positioning as the “unofficial beer of Hallowe’en”, when it managed to get into some 4,500 accounts at the end of last October, against 600 to 700 normally. If the beer can have that sort of success as a one-off, Thompson and his crew clearly decided, then it should be able to do it all the time.

The aim now, Thompson said last night, is to make Hobgoblin a top 10 cask beer by 2010 at the latest. The drop in gravity is part of the strategy to achieve this, making the beer more “sessionable”, and meaning that drinkers who might have had one at five per cent abv will have two or more at the lower gravity.

Wychwood’s take on the changes that are taking place in pubs since the smoking ban is that older drinkers are coming back and replacing younger smokers: and what the oldies want are beers that deliver flavour, that go with food, but that aren’t too strong. Hobgoblin in its new iteration fills that slot, Thompson feels.

The brewery is also pushing the idea of cool Hobgoblin, with a promotion to win a fridge full of the beer in bottles. It will be continuing with the lagerboy campaign, despite the critics – outside a small though vociferous group, “people love it”, Thompson insists. People who object, he said, are suffering from “a sense of humour failure”, and while some seem to think lager drinkers ought to be offended, no one actually is: the Advertising Standards Authority has received just one complaint about the campaign, from Hampshire, and told the complainant to “get stuffed”.

However, Wychwood is stopping referring to Hobgoblin as “strong” and “dark”, preferring now to call it “ruby” and “legendary” – presumably regarding the new descriptors as less frightening to potential new recruits.

Thompson is confident that at its new strength the beer can attract new drinkers, which is “what every cask ale should be doing”. Wychwood is proud that out of 34 colleges in Oxford, a short distance from its home, Hobgoblin is on the bar of 30, and being “actively drunk” by 19 and 20-year-olds. Applause all round, I think. And thanks for the lagerboy T-shirt …

0 thoughts on “How to convert a lagerboy

  1. It’s not a question of being offended by the advert. I just think it’s tacky, and helps perpetuate cliches about the type of people that drink real ale.

    And I’m seriously bored by CAMRA types slagging off lager. I read about three issues of “what’s brewing” back to back when I came back from Spain and was really irritated by the number of uses of the word “lager” as a synonym for “boring and tasteless” or worse “chavvy”.

    Plus the t-shirt looks really bad pulled over a beer belly.

  2. Your POV is a totally valid one, and I’d agree there’s too much knee-jerkery among many Camra members on the subject of lager (and, surprisingly, on the subject of American beers – a lot of Camra members seem never to have heard of the small brewery movement in the United States). And T-shirt over beer gut is never a good look, even if the T-shirt’s Armani … but the advertising is specifically meant for the already converted, to reinforce their belief in the qualities of the brand they buy, and from a marketing POV there’s plenty of good in that – and all the mainstream lagers in the UK ARE boring and tasteless, and frequently chavvy as well …

  3. I don’t really mind the adverts – it has a focus on taste instead of all the other rubbish used in beer ads.

    But they are in a danger of falling into their own trap when they are watering down their beer. They should have a stronger, premium ale as well, for those who really want a punch!

  4. I actually really enjoy the campaign. It puzzles me that people who often complain that real ale isn’t marketed at young people enough then often also complain about the Hobgoblin adverts which are clearly aimed at a younger drinker. When someone says lagerboy the lager being referred to is Fosters or Carling, not some Continental Bock. Its got attitude and I don’t have a problem with that. Perhaps I’m biased as I don’t have a soft spot for even good lagers.

  5. I don’t see how it’s marketed at young people. If you take it at face value, it’s a wizened old creature calling someone else a “boy”.

    The only people I have seen with these t-shirts are well into their forties.

  6. I agree entirely with Boak – no-one, least of all me, thinks that ads like Wychwood’s are actually *offensive* – that’s a red herring and a half. They’re just the height of sad geekiness, and make real ale look like a drink fit only for a social misfit.

  7. PS. Zythophile be careful with using the word “chavvy”! I’m sure you don’t mean it that way, but it seems to have become a sneery synomyn for “working class” in the right-wing media these days.

  8. Sneery about the working class – moi? My 19th century ancestors were agricultural labourers, you don’t get more working class than that …

  9. Sorry guys at Wychwood (yeah I have to stare at your jeering “lagerboy” advert in my local Canuck pub) but it will take a lot more than Wychwood to ween me off my Weltenberger, Ayinger dunkels and dopplebocks and my farvorite locally crafted Oktoberfest marzens and helles bocks.

    Lagerboy for life and fully unrepentant 😉 ….your promo gear gets giggles from me because of its philistine presumption. I always end up thinking, anyone who would mindlessly accept that sloganeering has never tasted artisan lagers.

  10. Bill, you’re very lucky to get Weltenberger, Ayinger dunkels and dopplebocks, Oktoberfest marzens and helles bocks: we rarely see those beers on bars in the UK. And I doubt “lagerboy” drinkers would drink them if they were available. Lagerboys drink Stella, Fosters and Carling, and wouldn’t have a clue what the word “artisan” meant.

  11. It is a pity that the lager style is generally only associated with the cheap, massed produced, watery lager ‘drinks’ rather than the real lagers. I know of many cracking lagers in Czech Republic that provide very good reason for re-establishing the good name of the style. In that respect it is lucky for me that I am living here at the moment. I would specifically draw the reader’s attention to Chodovar Zamecky lezak special, Zlatopramen, or even Budweiser Budvar as good examples of the style.

  12. I drink Real Ale, I also own a Hobgoblin t-shirt. I agree with other peoples views when they refer to “lagerboy” they tend to refer to the drinkers of the bland tasteless lager we seem to get in so many pubs in the UK, the Carling, Fosters, Stella I have tried all these lagers and find them all just cold, flavourless drinks, I have also tried some very good continental lagers that have been superb but they are so rare to find these decent lager drinks we majority of us have to put up with the tasteless rubbish served in UK pubs. Given a choice I’ll choose the tasty Ale thank you.

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