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.