Quaffing Gravy

Posted by on Aug 26, 2013 in English Beer | 7 Comments


A riddle, wrapped in an enigma, inside a screen-printed bottle. A beer launched by an art director and partner, aimed to be an ‘easy-drinking pale ale’, yet thrust into the market with a grunt of the hips and a sweat-laced high-five. A website with more t-shirts on sale than beers, linked to quirky tumblr accounts highlighting the glory of the internet. Protestations in swirling script to ‘furnish your drink hole’; pleas to interact, to belong to the movement, to sign up and be rewarded on ‘Free Shit Friday’. A beer named after a saying, emanating from a P.O. Box in West Yorkshire. Quaffing Gravy.

This is it, this is what the market is leading up to. A perfect (free)shit storm of design, hype and style. The actual beer, buried under layer upon layer of on-point, urban gloss. Riding the back of the ‘craft beer’ fad like a junked-up circus clown, screaming spit-laced frenzies of bravado. Go on, drink it. Please. Go on. Just try it. Please. It’s awesome. Honest. Drink hole. Please. Now. Please. Are you a beer drinkin’ dude? Then drink it. Go on. You like BrewDog? This is BrewDog. Made by us. Please. It’s craft. Go on. Friend. Can we be friends? Can we? Go on. Please. Drink hole. Open your drink hole and pour in the AWESOMENESS! DO IT!! DO IT NOW!!!

As ‘craft beer’ and the enjoyment of good beer in general become the thing, these kinds of products will appear more and more often. Featured on design and packaging websites rather than beer websites, they aren’t ‘craft beer’ – they are ’boutique beer’. If ever there was a market sector to brand (pun intended) with this phrase, this is it. Goodness only knows what Michael Jackson himself would have thought of it. And speaking of BrewDog, yes they don’t half come out with some nonsense at times, but they know the marketing angle they are pursuing, and have it nailed. “We’ll be like BrewDog” the newcomers say, completely missing the point that the ideas underpinning BrewDog’s strategy can’t be copied, without looking derivative, and therefore, fake.

Like, for example, this:-

Reminiscent of an angel’s tear on your tongue, you’ll find Quaffing Gravy Pale Ale a joy to behold. Nicely hopped, with a fresh clean flavour, it’s a big high five to the taste buds and a nice pat on the back for the palate. The hops we use go by the name of Cascade, mmmm Cascade. When given the love and affection they deserve they produce an unbeatable citrus aroma and flavour. And when combined with our choice selection of wheat, yeast and barley a thing of beauty is created. So may we salute you for stepping into our world, go forth dear friend, and get some awesomeness in your drink hole.

You can tell, I think, that this has been developed by an art director – it looks like an art project. The screen-printed bottles are fetching and stand out, and stand out even more once language like that above is noticed on the reverse. Contract-brewed at Naylor’s in Keighley, Quaffing Gravy is one of the results of the growing trend of out-sourced brewing. Prospective beer-makers without the money for a brewkit can go down this route, but, also, so can people who want to get noticed, who want to do something they see as being different, edgy, and unusual. And, as with Quaffing Gravy, sometimes it works (getting noticed, I mean).

Take another of their contemporaries – Saint Lager. Also the brainchild of non-brewing minds (a contracted collaboration between a distribution company and a branding agency), Saint launched last year in a blaze of publicity, delivered a fairly mediocre product – a lager no better than the multitude – and now sits there in the market, with the ‘News’ section of its website reduced to a list of adverts for men’s fashion lines. This is the endgame. Beer becoming fashion – one outcome at the branch-end of the contract-brewing evolutionary tree. ‘Pay and Play’ beermaking leading nowhere.

So, what’s Quaffing Gravy actually like? Well, it’s biscuity, very slightly fruity, and has a whack of honeyed sweetness on the finish. Highly carbonated throughout, with an aftertaste of Honey Nut Cornflakes, it tastes, essentially, like a fairly standard malty bitter, without a huge amount of the promised hop trace. The beer, in and of itself, isn’t really bad – but my drink hole usually panders to a tad more Cascade, if used, and if you promise awesomeness, averageness means you’re falling short – particularly if you’ve set out to do something different. All you’re left with then is a blustering sounding board in an empty room.


  1. Grahamf4
    August 26, 2013

    Good article Rich. As you say there will be a growing trend for beer of this kind. Making claims that cannot be substantiated and creating copy that is incoherent. All to get your company noticed. Robinson’s have a similar thing with their Iron Maiden & Elbow collaborations, if indeed they are genuine collaborations. We should or could ignore these attempts to bring beer into disrepute and not give them our precious arrention. Alas, being human means we seek meaning, so we will look at these insults to brewing to satisfy our curiosity but thanks to good folk like you, we now know that Quaffing Gravy is most likely not worth the (creative) energy put into developing the idea.

  2. Dan
    August 26, 2013

    I put up with Brewdog’s rambling nonsense because they (from time to time) make great brews. Jackhammer is a fantastic hoppy beer. Hipster wannabe brewers take note, and venture forth into the fields of humulus lupulus (see, I can write this crap too).

  3. Chris
    August 26, 2013

    Well written Rich, and nailed.

    As you know I find this whole thing contemptuous. It’s insidious, cynical and, ironically, a jump on the gravy train. I think you’re right, they’ve looked at BrewDog and thought we can do that, but they forgot the talent. They forgot to read the parts that said that James and Martin worked 24hr days regularly for yrs to get to where they are. It wasn’t a hobby. Commercial brewing isn’t a hobby.
    They’ve misjudged their market, thinking they will just be accepted because they drew a pretty picture and used the word ‘awesome’.

    For all the publicity beer is getting, this is the obnoxious unsavoury side which could serious jeopardise the microbrew industry. Not immediately, but what if this succeeds? What if more start up? What if, as a direct result of a flood of piss poor ‘gravy’ beers the consumers grows weary, starts becoming cynical and loses faith? It sounds dramatic, but it’s how markets work. The issue being that ‘craft’ can only achieve critical mass, self sustaining momentum, if it can appeal to a wider audience than the geeks. Utter shit like this prohibits the growth of truly creative breweries by turning the consumer off. One faux craft brand won’t hurt, but how about 100?

    I hope they fail. Quickly.

  4. Rob
    August 27, 2013

    I couldn’t agree more.
    This is a great example of a failed attempt to dupe the uninciciated. Put bland beer in a snazzy bottle and all those people who think beer is cool will buy it. Well they may buy it once but will soon be dismissed as a scam.
    Good beer is key and good branding helps a good product find its way into cool bars, fancy restaurants and high end shops. It’s the cherry on the cake that goes beyond just good beer in a boring bottle.

    Naylors is local to me, they make solid if boring beer. I saw the posters for the launch of this place in a local craft beer bar, I knew nothing of this Quaffing Gravey, asked around and neither did anyone else. So I didn’t bother going to it.
    Im all for this new wave of cookoo brewing but you need someone who knows a good amount about brewing involved.

  5. Keith
    August 30, 2013

    Good article Rich,

    We should remember that the failures of Quaffing Gravy – both as the beer it (so garishly) promises to be, and as an example of the worst type of hollow marketing – comes from the product itself, not from the fact it is contact brewed. Contacting is treated in some quarters with a hint of snobbery and distain (but I do understand that beers like Quaffing Gravy add plenty of fuel to that particular fire). But by dodging the high costs of startup, those who contact can afford to bring beer to market which otherwise would not be there, adding diversity and thus strengthening the brewing scene as a whole.*

    When it comes to the crunch it will be quality, not where the product is brewed, that will be the determining factor for brewery survival, and beers like Quaffing Gravy will quickly be a long and slightly embarrassing memory.

    *I am, however, completely bias as I work with a brewer who has used contacting in the past.

  6. pete s
    January 22, 2014

    I have to say that some of the sentiments in your review I can wholeheartedly see, but as for this particular beer, I have to stick my neck out and say I don’t share your view. The ale is a lovely hoppy brew which although highly carbonated, delivers a crisp fresh malty sweetness with the hops. It strikes me that there is alot more “Contract Snobbery” than meets the eye and just because someone has the “audacity” to try and make the blurb on the bottle a tad more interesting than your standard boring fare, I don’t think that should cloud your judgment of the product. I have had the beer in pubs in York Leeds and London and spoken to Bar keeps and punters alike who were really enjoying it for what it is.

  7. Richard
    January 27, 2014

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, pete. I think Contract Snobbery can be an issue – see Keith’s comment on the issues faced by some breweries who begin by going down that road. I also think label copy can be improved, in many cases. However, this beer is sold on its image first, product second. Looking at it as a whole, it seemed to me as if the actual beer inside was an afterthought.

Leave a Reply