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Beer or wine: Telling the truth a good place to start

Curious timing. Today Evan Benn (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) asks the question, “What’s in your beer? Labels should tell you.” And at the Wine Spectator website columnist Matt Kramer asks something that it turns out to be related: “If You Owned a Winery … What would you do differently?”

Benn looks at a government proposal for beer labels that small brewery owners don’t like. He’s not buying their objections. Good for him. Granted, it’s complicated, there may be issues I don’t know about and the whole “standard-drink” discussion confuses it further.

However, even though Kramer writes about wine, his discussion about labels is just a relevant to beer. Take a quick look at this photo (from shortly after La Cumbre Brewing in Albuquerque opened in December).

What's on tap at La Cumbre Brewing in Albuquerque

A lot of facts, stuff that a lot of people don’t care about. Ask the person pouring beer a question and he or she may provide even more information — about the ingredients, or about process, or just what the brewer was thinking. Again, stuff of interest to a relative few. But if you do want to know you can find out. Labels should provide useful information and honest stories. And QR codes further extend that opportunity.

Here’s the CliffNotes version of Kramer’s list. You should be able to figure out where to plug in the word beer.

* I Would Tell the Truth.
“This may seem overly simplistic. But I’m here to testify that it’s nothing less than astonishing to see the number of times a winery sidesteps, obfuscates, or flat-out lies about its practices in the winery or its reasons for pursuing a particular course of action.”

* I Would Speak Up.
“The key point is not to hamstring yourself, but rather differentiate yourself from those who want your artisanal image but are not willing to pay your price.”

* I Would Recognize That My Label Is Really a Portal.
“I would redesign it in recognition that the label is—or should be—an invitation to the prospective customer to acquire yet more information about what’s inside the bottle.”

* I Would Always Hire Wine People.
“There’s a trend, especially among very big wineries or small producers seeking to break into the luxury category, to hire people from fields other than wine.”

* I Would Ask Myself, “Am I A Me-Too Winery?”
“The only way to become above-average is to impose a demand that what you offer is indeed superior.”

Whither beer blogs (redux)?

There is something terribly circular about this. What follows is inside baseball, blogging about blogging instead of the beer itself.

I asked last year if anybody really reads beer blogs (other than other bloggers), pointing to a post at Palate Press digging into why wine blogs fail their readers (so don’t have many).

Today Jeff Siegel at the Wine Curmudgeon dives into a report from the United Kingdom’s Wine Intelligence that independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the United Kingdom, United States, and France.

Its study found that only one in five regular wine drinkers in the U.K. trust what independent bloggers say about a wine, compared with more than 50 percent who trust their wine merchant. In the U.S., the numbers were 20 percent and 80 percent, while only 10 percent of the French trusted bloggers.

Siegel went beyond the headline stuff — which caused a major stir in wine blogdom (like here) without most of the world noticing — to find another key number: 84 percent of the respondents in the U.K. said they didn’t read wine blogs.

This is the number (probably different in the U.S., and also different when it comes to beer blogs) Siegel chooses to focus on.

At this stage of the 21st century, most wine drinkers have access to the Internet and are well educated and Web savvy enough so that they can read any wine blog that’s out there. But that this affluent and sophisticated demographic doesn’t even know to look speaks to a serious problem with wine blogging. And it’s a problem that we perpetuate.

We’re too parochial, focusing on too much on the inside baseball kind of stuff that we like and that most consumers could care less about. I enjoy writing posts like this, and I think it’s important that I do it. But they are usually among the least well read posts on the blog. Wine drinkers want wine reviews.

I added the boldface — Siegel links to his most popular posts in 2010 to prove his point.

I suspect beer drinkers are much the same.

That’s enough inside baseball talk. Tomorrow back to inside beer talk.

Beer, wine, forests, trees

It was pointed out more than once yesterday in the comments to my take on how a famous wine writer sees the world of beer and beer drinkers I missed an important point.

He represents the way most people think.

That was even clearer this morning when Max checked in from the Czech Republic, commenting on an article from an Argentine newspaper headlined, “Five qualities from wine that beer watches and envies”. (His translation; it was in Spanish.)

Another list. Another occasion for deep breaths. And an excellent conclusion.

Before you scream “Bollocks!” you should be aware that this is not the way we see beer, but the way the average consumer does, and that, although the article speaks about Argentina, it could be very well applied to many other countries.

Well put.

Here’s a wine guy who needs to get out more

Steve Heimoff is one of the best wine writers out there. I own a couple of his books. But today’s post looks like something written in 1984 or so, although the Wine Market Council presentation was two days ago.

(Before going on, because this could get ugly, I’ll remind you that the category is Beer & Wine, not Beer vs. Wine.)

Heimoff points with particular interest to data compiled by The Nielsen Company.

I like well-known brands:    1    34
I like to explore new brands:    42    5

I guess the numbers are percentages. Anyway, let’s get right to his analysis: “In other words, beer drinkers stick with their tried-and-true favorites (Bud Lite, Coors, whatever) and rarely venture outside their comfort zone. Wine drinkers by contrast are 8 times more likely to be adventurous and try something new.” [We won’t deduct points because he might have confused Bud Light and Miller Lite.]

Then why are the beers the Brewers Association defines as “craft” rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ in supermarkets? SymphonyIRI data certainly indicates beer drinkers are exploring like crazy.

So perhaps his guesses at “why” would be rendered moot with different numbers in mind. But it is so seldom somebody puts together a list of six points and gets every one wrong that it deserves to be repeated.

1. wine is inherently more interesting than beer.
2. wine changes with each vintage and people know that whereas beer always tastes the same.
3. wine drinkers listen more to gatekeepers, such as critics, than do beer drinkers.
4. wine is so much better with food than beer.
5. there are so many more wine brands than beer brands to choose from.
6. most importantly, wine drinkers are more adventurous than beer drinkers because we’re risk takers, curious, liberal, open to improving ourselves and our lives, smarter (but don’t think we know everything), and more hopeful than beer drinkers, who, for all their charms, are (let’s face it) happiest with a kegger and an ample supply of beer nuts.

(Remember, deep breaths.)

Added Jan. 28 (the next day): He says he was kidding. Just wish he hadn’t written “brewski” in doing so.

The wide, wide, wide world of beer drinkers

“I am special, I am special! Please, God, please, don’t let me be normal!”

— Louisa, from The Fantasticks

Beer drinkersWould you think me more special if I had tasted every particularly rare beer on the Rate Beer or Beer Advocate top howmanyever lists?

Is your palate better than mine because you appreciate the subtleties of low alcohol, lightly hopped beers and if I can’t taste a big-sized dose of Simcoe/Citra/Amarillo hops I’m bored silly?

Do you watch American Idol?

If you answered yes to any of the above I’m not quite sure why you are here. But, please, don’t leave. It’s little fun drinking alone; the point of drinking beer would be lost.

I’ve been considering this for almost two weeks, since Zak Avery posted his questioin about Elitism in Beer. To understand you should read that post and the comments, skip over to Alan’s follow up (again, the proof is in the comments), then back up to Tandleman’s Beer Blog, particularly this post (and, ahem, the comments).

Now indulge me by following one more link, this one to W. Blake Gray’s essay about “Why all wine lovers just don’t get along.”

He starts with a “study” from Constellation Brands a few years back that divided wine drinkers into six categories. The two he zeros in on are “Image Seekers” (he renames them “Quality Seekers”) and “Enthusiasts,” writing “The former spend the most money on wine; the latter expend the most verbiage on it. These are the only two who care enough about wine to read articles or blog posts about it.”

Hmmm. The others are: Overwhelmed (buy wine but don’t know anything about it); Satisfied Sippers (buy the same brand); Savvy Shoppers (look for discounts); and Traditionalists (like old wineries and are brand-loyal). I’m pretty sure that beer drinkers who would fit into similar categories can read, and I hope they do.

Anyway, I can’t resist this analogy: “And like a marriage entered into after one date, they are stuck together even though they’re incompatible, with verbal sparks flying all the time.”

To make the distinction clear he reduces it to one word (well, one word each, two in total).

Quality (or Image) Seekers want “great.”
Enthusiasts want “interesting.”

The beer-wine analogy is not perfect, but Gray says that Image Seekers (in this case I like the Constellation verbage) spend more and enthusiasts are reluctant to — in part because they understand how many great choices there are at more reasonable prices. “Quality Seekers would spend four times as much to get a wine that’s 10% better,” he writes.

Now to the nut.

What strikes me is how deaf both sides are to the other. The 100-point scale debate, for example: I’m always astounded that Enthusiasts want to take information away from Quality Seekers, and don’t even try to understand why they would want it.

Meanwhile, on the Quality Seekers side, they look at Enthusiasts the way people with jobs looked at tie-dyed student protesters. Yeah, yeah, you love the sound of your own voices. The louder you yell, the less I’m going to listen.

Go back and read the comments in the links above. You catch a bit of that sort of attitude, but you also get the sense that the participants understand (in part because they live in a relatively small country) they might some day continue their discussion in person rather than via a keyboard and computer screen.

Over a beer. So it will be civilized.

Which is what makes beer great.

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