Sometimes I feel have to apologise to the world on behalf of marketing. Not because marketing has done something that’s my fault, but because I occasionally still work in marketing and no one else who does is going to do the decent thing.
I’ve just been writing a piece for Garret Oliver’s upcoming Oxford Companion to Beer on the subject of Foster’s, and I found this, the brand’s American website. Here, on the landing page, we find a bold product claim that would put even Stella Artois to shame:
“Unlike other beers, [our hops] are added at the end of the brewing process to preserve their freshness.”
Foster’s is different from other beers because they add their hops at the end of the brewing process?
And the reason they do this is to preserve the freshness of the hops??
Just how wrong can someone be???
For those of my readers who may be unfamiliar with the brewing process (such as those of my readers who work on Foster’s in the US), hops add two key things to the character of beer (apart from their contribution to preserving it): bitterness and aroma/taste.
When you add hops at the beginning of the boil, the compounds break down, the alpha acids are released, and their pungent aroma disappears. These hops add bitterness to the beer.
Towards the end of the boil you add more hops. You don’t give these a chance to break down. The aroma compounds remain intact, and these hops give beer its floral, grassy, herby, spicy or fruity notes.
This is standard practice across brewing, and while there are probably some beers that do not have a late hop addition, I don’t know of any. Any book you read on the brewing process will describe an early addition and a late addition of hops as absolutely standard practice. And Foster’s is claiming it is unique to their beer.
Attentive readers may also realise that Foster’s seems unaware why it is adding hops late in the boil. They mention nothing about the aroma stuff I just described; they say it is to preserve the freshness of the hops.
If the person who write this had ever been near a brewery in their lives, they would know that even where brewers use whole hops, 99% of the time they have been dried and stored – they’re not fresh to start with. And most industrial brewers such as Foster’s don’t use whole hops anyway – they use dried, concentrated pellets, or even hop oil. Freshness has nothing to do with it.
What makes me angry about deliberate misinformation like this is that it helps no one. Having worked on the dark side, I can tell you that they probably come out with bullshit like this because as a ‘premium’ brand, they’re looking for a ‘reason to believe’, a ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ that provides a rational basis for product choice. They would probably argue that their ‘target audience’ is not beer nerds, but mainstream drinkers who have no knowledge of the brewing process. They don’t want to hear too much information, just enough. And if that information is heavily distorted or even wilfully wrong, they’re never going to find out, and wouldn’t care much if they did.
This is insulting the intelligence of the people they’re talking to – deliberately writing off any curiosity they may have.
It’s distorting the truth of the market, insulting all other beers.
And it’s exacerbating a problem facing craft brewer and corporate lager brewer alike: one reason wine is surging ahead, taking people from beer, is that it’s premium, yet easy to understand – it’s made from grapes. There are different varieties of grapes, and you’ll prefer some to others. People aren’t really aware of what beer’s ingredients are, what each contributes, and what the brewing process does. It’s quite complicated, and that makes it hard to engage with. And when people who have a responsibility, or at least an opportunity, to act as ambassadors for beer, if they add to that confusion by wilfully, deliberately, further confusing, distorting and lying about the brewing process just to say something that sounds differentiating and simple, they betray their drinkers, their brand, and everything about beer.
And I don’t even have the energy to take them to task on what they go on to say about yeast.
Shame on you, Foster’s. Next time, just stick to the image-based marketing that actually works for brands like yours.
More candidates will be inducted into the Artois Academy of Marketing Nonsense forthwith.