How old is a piece of string?

How many ingredients does Crown have?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a story looking at some comments made by Foster’s Group chief executive John Pollaers in a speech when he relaunched the newly beer and cider only CUB brand. I queried his use of the word ‘lagering’ being used to describe the maturation process for Crown Lager and suggested it may be a little cute to apply a historical word that suggests an extended production time to a beer that takes a few days to produce. I thought at the time it was a bit of a throw-away line in a speech. Instead it was actually the soft launch of Crown Lager’s new marketing campaign called ‘Time’. The current big push in maintaining the ‘premiumness’ of CUB’s biggest selling ‘premium’ beer is the time that it takes to produce. This speech has been followed by a campaign that includes the ad campaign to the right.

Quite apart from the use of the word ‘lagering’, there is the issue of what exactly is the time that Crown takes to brew? The ad suggests the time taken to make Crown is something very special about the brew. As I noted in the previous article, even though it is a feature of their campaign, it is impossible to get a precise figure on how long Crown Lager takes to produce. The figure of four days I used was derived from a comment made by a brewery tour guide a few years ago. In discussions I have had with CUB over the last few days thiswasn’tcorrected, so we can assume that it’s no longer than four days. But I have been constantly told by others in the brewng industry that the ‘lagering’ or cold maturation period may even be less than 24 hours.

Whatever the correct figure, if you’re going to make an asset of a particular feature of your product you are opening yourself up to questions about that feature – you also have a duty to disclose, so I posed the following questions to CUB:
Are you willing to:

  • give an indication for how long the brewing process is for VB from start to bottling
  • what part of that do you regard as ‘lagering’
  • advise how long the brewing process is for Crown from start to bottling
  • advise what portion of that is regarded as ‘lagering’

I was advised:
“Crown Lager is made with fine ingredients, is lagered twice as long as its mainstream stablemates, and we’re proud of the beer’s quality and the loyal following it has enjoyed by for decades. We can’t share specifics of our recipes or brew times for any of our beers as they’re commercially sensitive, and we accept comparisons with boutique, craft scale brewers to our operations are always going to be different. RE Crown’s marketing, our new campaign is called Time, it’s speaks to the time taken in general in making Crown Lager, and to its heritage.”
But with the time taken being so important as to warrant its own marketing campaign, surely the customer is entitled to be told just how long that period is, rather than just ‘twice as long’ as mainstream beers? Especially when they won’t say how long the mainstream stablemates are matured for. If it was such a source of pride, surely it should be shouted from the rooftops?[pullquote]Highlighting the fact that Crown is ‘lagered’ twice as long as its mainstream stablemates does less to raise Crown’s stature than it diminishes mainstream beer’s.[/pullquote]

With theemphasison the time taken to mature Crown being designed to stress CUB’s flagship’s quality and its premiumness, I wanted to get a sense of what other brewers do. I contacted a number of small brewers to ask about their lagers and how long they take to produce. The responses I got were “2-3 weeks”, “28 days” and “six weeks”. Even assuming the four days for Crown which, in the absence of any official indication, looks less and less likely, does it really warrant a campaign glorifying the time spent.

Crown Lager is what it is. In process terms it is well made and it is consistent, it is made using quality ingredients by people who are highly skilled. Importantly, a lot of people like it, which is why we drink beer. But, no matter how much CUB would like to dress it up, it is still a highly industrialised product produced in huge volumes exceptionally quickly. Highlighting the fact that Crown is ‘lagered’ twice as long as its mainstream stablemates does less to raise Crown’s stature than it serves to diminish mainstream beer’s. When the logical comparisons are made to other premium and craft beers, it highlights that mainstream beers are the fast food of the beverage world and leaves Crown looking like the McDonald’s Grand Angus Burger of beers. The only difference being that McDonald’s introduces a note of irony when Michael Caton intones, “it’s a little bit fancy”.

When lavish marketing campaigns are being conducted to tell the public told that this is the the best they can aspire to in the world of beer, perhaps it’s not surprising that drinkers are losing interest and turning away from it in droves.

Stone & Wood Brewery's promotional T-Shirt

While Time might be described as putting lipstick on a pig , perhaps more troubling is the ad’s tagline, “Time. The fifth ingredient”.

Given the widespread use by beer marketers of the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, to emphasise the quality of their beers, beer’s four main ingredients are commonly known. Beers made with only malt, water, hops and yeast are held out to be higher quality. As the T-Shirt (right) shows, craft brewers regularly highlight their use of just these four ingredients to emphasise the quality of their beers. If time is the icing on the cake for Crown Lager and is heralded as the ‘fifth ingredient’, the beer’s marketing would seem to be suggesting that it has only four other ingredients, which would have to be malt, water, hops and yeast. All good, except that Crown has five material ingredients…the real fifth ingredient is cane sugar, which would make time the sixth.

Even if it is a case snappy copywriting winning over clear presentation of the facts and the intention wasn’t to deceive, the plain reading of the Crown tagline is that it is suggesting that Crown is an all-malt beer, which it simply isn’t.

Time might be relative, but it is still Crown’s sixth ingredients – not its fifth.

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