If you walk into the beer section at your local grocery or liquor store, you’ll immediately be barraged with both subtle and not-so-subtle marketing invariably attempting to scream “pick me!”. Packaging and displays will feature a carefully selected combination of words, colors, and designs with the end goal of attracting your consumer dollars. While honesty and transparency may be secondary goals for some, it’s not always a direct path to beer sales. The ambiguity of buzzwords allows producers to feel truthful and consumers to feel like they’re getting what they want. If that’s where it ends, then it would appear both parties have been satisfied. But as the average depth of consumer beer knowledge grows, as well as the amount of beer options, consumers have become more selective, and marketers more sly.
Consumers may have many considerations when selecting beer. They may be looking for the cheapest, or for something to pair with their caprese pasta for dinner (Might I recommend a witbier?). Regardless of the reason behind beer choice, there is a common expectation of quality. With this expectation comes a growing basket of buzzwords fashioned with tiny hooks meant to dig into consumer desire, and ultimately get you to think you’re making a quality purchase.
Spoiler alert: that’s not always the case.
Below is a short list of buzzwords that have, over the history of their use, become incorrectly synonymous with the term “quality”. Through either cunning marketing or repeated improper usage (probably both), these short words and phrases have been slapped with neon flashing lights and feel-good emotions as a sign to consumers that what they want is right in front of them. Read on and ask the question – quality or falsity?
Let’s start with the biggest and potentially most controversial! Is all craft beer quality beer? Hell no! Just because something is touted as craft or artisanal does not mean it is a quality product worthy of your dollars. The identity of “craft” is meant to differentiate products made on a large scale by industry giants from those made on a smaller scale by privately owned businesses. For further clarity, see the Brewers Association definition of a Craft Brewer. Below the main definition is a list of concepts surrounding the craft beer industry. Though words like integrity, community, and innovation are all associated with craft, the buzzword alone cannot identify if the individual product was produced with any of these topics in mind.
Supporting local business is a community building method of keeping locally earned dollars in the immediate economy. While buying locally produced goods can help ensure the vitality of the community financial system, it often occurs under the guise that the producers are small, privately owned businesses that make quality goods. It’s entirely possible that neither is the case. Additionally, the definition of “local” can mean anything from your next door neighbor who owns a single food truck to the distillery up in the mountains owned by a Fortune 500 company. Geographic proximity is as much a sign of quality as a scatterbrained yelp review riddled with spelling and grammar errors. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself.
You may have read my last post about beer clarity, in which I noted the unfortunate observation that some people have come to believe haze is a sign of quality. There are many more reasons that beer haze is a sign of poor quality than a sign of good quality. Lack of clarity in a beer can be a sign of poor process or infection. That’s not to say brilliance is the picture of good health in a beer, but it’s rarely directly associated with neglected beer. There are stellar hazy beers in the market, but a single glance and judgement of opacity cannot distinguish which are produced excellently and which are produced lazily.
Jeff Alworth nails this marketing buzzword right on it’s redundant head in his Beervana Blog article. When a brewery brags their beer is cold lagered, cold filtered, and cold packaged, they are insulting the consumer’s intelligence by assuming they don’t know each of these practices already occur at cold temperatures as an industry standard practice. Presenting the obvious as a unique stamp of quality only makes consumers ponder if there is actually anything noteworthy about the product. Even if potential buyers were unaware of the common cold practices, marketing should empower the consumers and treat them as intelligent adults. “Cold lagered” is equivalent to “hot boiled”. Give the consumer a bit more credit, will ya? Don’t even get me started on beer that’s “Colder Than The Rockies”.
These buzzwords buzz for a reason. Craft, local, hazy, and cold are all attractive words that work in the market because they, at least as some point, have been associated with beer worthy of purchase. It’s a shame these words have become tired descriptors, long stripped of their intended purpose, even when appropriately used. I’d love to look at the word “craft” on a can again and not think twice about the quality of the contents. The glass is half full though, and I’m happy to have so many options that a second thought is necessary to make a truly quality choice.