Branding: who has the Best?

Posted by on Apr 15, 2015 in Scottish Beer | 2 Comments


It’s been five months since I started working in the industry full-time, and I’ve already learned a huge amount. I never thought I’d end up in a career in Marketing – back in my day at Uni, I remember seeing toilet roll dispensers scrawled with ‘Marketing degree – please take one’ graffiti. * Here I am though, still thoroughly enjoying it. The insight I’ve gained has been widespread and hugely revealing – but one particular point was brought home just the other night. The importance (or not) of what we in the trade should refer to as ‘on-trade brand recognition’. Or, in plain English – why people choose things in pubs.

* Losers. I instead opted for the supremely employable degree of intertidal macrofaunal biologist. BOOM

At my hotel, a patron came in and after surveying the fonts, asked for a pint of ‘Caledonian’. What he was asking for was actually Caledonia Best, brewed not by the Caledonian Brewery but by Tennent’s, at the Wellpark in Glasgow. Now this coincidence is without doubt not lost on the people in both of those breweries; at the latter because the brand is a similar marque to Scots smoothflow-leading Belhaven Best, and the Edinburgh concern because the beer name is a one-point Scrabble tile away from that of their brewery.

The irony here is twofold. Firstly, the Best which the purchaser may or may not have been after isn’t actually made by Caledonian at all; and secondly, it doesn’t really matter what he was really after. He asked for the wrong brand and got a beer he was probably expecting anyway. The main underlying point is…does any of this actually matter? He got a beer, Tennent’s got the sale and the Caley got the brand recognition. I guess it depends what you think is the most important. And that is the million dollar question.

I’ve not spoken to anyone from the three breweries involved; the Best/Best similarity is an old story and anyway, I drummed up the blog post while I was eating a bowl of pasta. In this age of trademark disputes where ‘passing off’ has become ‘watering down’ for the craft generation, you’d think it would be important. But then, people have always asked for things by badge-name rather than brand name; got things wrong but got the right beer. I remember one of my first days at the aforementioned Uni, when met with a row of unfamiliar pump clips.

It was the sports bar of the place I was studying, which obviously given the fact that I was about to embark in a short-lived career in estuary worm-ology I didn’t frequent often. I still have the memory of being stared at from behind the bar as I tried to work out the beer I was going to pick. I should, of course, have opted for the ‘pint of lager’ catchall defence, but had it into my mind to try something Scottish. So, peering from my centimetre-thick glasses and stammering my plummiest English, I asked meekly for a ’pint of McEwans Brewer, please’.

What happened was that without pause or comment, I was given a pint of McEwans 70/- and retreated to a corner, from that moment on resolved to asking for it only by that single number (or if I felt flush to the tune of £1.30, I’d trade up for a pint of 80). In truth, brand recognition matters to marketers and people in the trade – but if punters come up with an approximation that works, that will do for them. From my sports bar pint, to the Best-drinking hotel guest, to the old story of the crowds at Digger’s in Edinburgh holding up fingers when they made it through the door.

There is a final irony to all this – if I were to order a McEwan’s 70/- today, it is actually brewed at…the Caledonian in Edinburgh, so although Wells & Young’s would get the sale (having taken over the McEwan’s brand), the Caley would get a tiny bump in their contract-brewing order sheets (well, Heineken would). Maybe the take-home message from this isn’t the vagaries of beer ordering in unfamiliar bars as much as the intertwinedness of the Scottish brewing brands…


  1. News, Nuggets & Longreads 18/04/2015
    April 18, 2015

    […] → Richard ‘Beercast’ Taylor considered whether branding and brand confusion — the source of so much strife in the beer world in recent years …: […]

  2. Phil
    April 20, 2015

    My worst Scottish beer-ordering experience was on my one trip to Glasgow, at a time when the bitter brand that you’d see everywhere was Dryburgh’s. Did I say ‘bitter’? But no – the pump clip proclaimed it, loud and clear, to be Dryburgh’s Heavy.

    The phrase “a pint of heavy” sounds fine in a Scottish accent; it sounds great when Billy Connolly says it. If you’re English, though… “A pint of heavy” in RP sounds as if you’re patronising their quaint local customs – and trying to put on the accent would be even worse. The first time I ordered it I wound up trying not to sound English-rather-than-Scottish while also not sounding like I was an Englishman trying to sound Scottish, which is a good trick if you can pull it off. The second time I ordered ‘Dryburgh’s’.

Leave a Reply