In the craft beer industry you have to ignore a lot of emails to stay sane. Every morning we get a run of terrible press releases that are a mixture of bad science, poor design, sexism and desperation, much like the conveyer belt at the end of the Generation Game.
Most pass into the ether, never to be seen again. A PR person has an awkward meeting with a manager somewhere and all is forgiven. But sometimes a journalist just has to rise to it, in some ill-fated bid to make a difference. And so I find myself writing this when I have much more important things to do.
Or do I? Because this new release from Robinsons is so disappointing, so embarrassing, that it could actually do some damage. The image of craft beer is riddled with unfair cliches about beards, pricing, bubbles and so on. The thing is, the people causing those cliches aren’t the guys and gals creating or drinking the beer. It’s the ones who want to.
What Robinsons has forgotten in its dire release of a new IPA and pale ale is that craft beer is led by the creator – be that a brewer or a founder. It is personal, like the mission of Evin to recreate the beers he discovered in America, or Andy of Redemption’s aim to bring great cask ale microbrewing back to London. Everything flows from there in a personal journey. That’s why the beers are so challenging – because they are brewed by and for one person – and the branding is so idiosyncratic, because it came from the mind of one singular, special individual.
What Robinsons has produced is the product of a committee. It is a mess of ideas picked up while watching from a distance. It would have started with a meeting in a boardroom, followed up by research by an agency and pitches by a designer. There would have been a formal game of word association with an A-board (HOPS! HIPSTERS! BEARDS! PUNS! RAY BANS!), some testing of products and endless back-and-forth between a project leader and a design team. Instead of seizing on one good idea, they bastardised all of them. I bet the last person drafted in would have been the brewer. By that time, it was already too late – we had hops with beards in, Bohemian colours, slights about hipsters being weirdos.
Now, Robinsons might respond to this and say all that is untrue. But if it is, then that’s even more worrying – they turned to their greatest creative mind and all they could show for it was a bunch of cliches and inaccurate tropes. Their packaging and recipes would have been dated back in 2010. Why join a race if you only have the pace to join it at the back? Aren’t you just taking the shelf space of a product that could push beer forward much faster?
When it comes to great beer, you shouldn’t release something you couldn’t grow from the ground up. These breweries need to takeaway their routes to market, their PR budget and technical prowess and really think is this a legitimate product? Does it add to the market? Can people buy into it as well as buy it? That rule isn’t just for the regionals. Look at breweries like Magic Spell, who’s branding, business plan and recipes look equally dated.
Regionals could and should play in this market, but they need to understand it. You cannot brew by committee, and if regionals want to tap the amazing opportunity the beer flavour revolution represents, they have to start with a unique concept. I don’t know what craft is, but it is not this. This is exploitation, or at least it would be if it looked like it could see out the year.