I’m basing that headline solely on the report in the Morning Advertiser, but if the pub trade paper’s summary of what Mark Hunter, UK chief executive of Molson Coors, just said to the International Brewing Convention 2010 in Manchester is correct, Mr Hunter needs to step down straight away and let someone who actually understands the UK beer business take his place.
According to Mr Hunter, the answer to all the problems the beer market faces in Britain is – fanfare please – beer menus in pubs! Yes, the reason why beer’s share of the alcohol drinks market has fallen from 70 per cent in 1970 to under 40 per cent now, with beer being replaced for many by (I quote Mr Hunter) “more relevant, unisex, innovative, exciting categories” is because you don’t get handed a list of the beers available that night by the landlord as soon as you pop your head round the door at the Duck and Dive.
You’ll have spotted, of course, that the rise in sales of wine, spirits, alcopops and the like over the decades is solely because even the meanest backstreet boozer puts a lengthy winelist on every table, chalks up its wide range of whiskies and vodkas on a board prominently positioned behind the bar and features a floodlight cabinet right inside the entrance containing every flavour and colour of RTD beverage known to marketing science.
Mr Hunter also called for “greater innovation” in the industry, and apparently, according to the MA, declared that “not much” new has been offered since flat-top beer cans were introduced in the mid-1950s. Right. So the rise of keg beer, the explosion in sales of lager, nitrokeg “smooth” beers, the whole cask ale/Camra thing, the massive boom in new small breweries, the introduction of new styles such as golden ales and whisky-cask-aged beers, the big expansion in beer choice in supermarkets, the arrival in the UK of previously unknown beer styles from continental Europe such as wheat beer and lambic, the flood of innovative new brews such as DIPA from the US, the recent envelope-pushing efforts of British brewers from Brewdog to Sharps, that was all a figment of my beer-sodden imagination. I can go back to sleep, and wake up again in a time when every pub had at least two draught milds and Watney’s Red Barrel was a well-respected bottled pale ale.
The Molson Coors boss also, apparently, urged “a ‘re-think’ on beer to attract more women” – oh god, shoot me, I’m getting too old, I’ve been listening to idiot marketers prattle on about getting more women to drink beer for the past four decades, with every new generation of the dozy pollocks failing to realise that trying to force more women to like beer is like trying to get more men to go down the pub and have a glass of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Or, come to that, pinot noir. For a roomful of reasons, it ain’t going to happen. Come back in 10 or 20 years and a new twat in a suit will be talking about how all the brewing industry’s Christmases will come at once if it can only get more women to plump for hops.
It would be too easy to declare that as far as the UK beer scene is concerned, Molson Coors isn’t part of the solution, it’s part of the problem. and that it shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness for Mr Hunter to call on the brewing industry in the UK to “unite and educate by celebrating the diversity of beers available” when his own company’s website showcases just one style of beer, pale lager.
To help boost beer sales, Mr Hunter apparently wants the Beer Academy “to lay down a clear and consistent set of beer descriptors with universal appeal, and which talk to drinkers in an engaging, motivating way.” Right. If the academy – nice bunch of people, btw, I’m not getting at them here – can come up with a set of descriptors that meaningfully distinguishes between Carling, Fosters, Stella and Heineken in a way that motivates me to drink any one of them, it will be job well done.
Mr Hunter, according to the MA, “gave an impassioned plea for ‘beer champions’ to breathe new life into a sector that has declined by 18 per cent between 2005 and 2010.” If he looked around he might notice there are thousands of “beer champions” doing their best to promote British beer, even ignoring the efforts of Camra, from the writers like Mark Dredge in the Guardian and Adrian Tierney-Jones in the Telegraph (nice piece on the Gunmakers, there, Adrian) to the huge numbers who work closer to the front line, in the 700-plus independent small breweries around the UK, and in the many hundreds – thousands – of pubs and bars dedicated to serving good beer in excellent condition.
Mr Hunter, still waving his beer menu in the air, promised the International Brewing Convention that once the Beer Academy came up with its “motivating” set of beer descriptors – you know, like the ones the wine industry used, and the alcopops industry used to get people to drink their products – then “at Molson Coors we will adopt these and I would challenge everyone here today to commit to the use of consistent language and the introduction of beer menus into every on-premise outlet across the UK.” And I would challenge Mr Hunter to fahk off, drop “beer menus” – the brewing industry equivalent of John Major’s cones hotline – and come up with a proper, workable meaningful strategy to encourage people to recognise the truly wonderful diversity of flavours and experiences available in a beerglass in Britain today, instead of stupid “beer menus” whose only use will be to stuff under the lounge bar door to stop it closing, and to slip under a wobbly table leg so the pints on top don’t spill.