Cambridge Brewing Hinting At Bottling

Tip of the hat to Todd Alstrom from Beer Advocate , who noticed that Cambridge Brewing Co.‘s Will Meyers tweeted out a link to a short survey asking his customers a few questions about buying beer in bottles, suggesting the brewpub is considering bottling some of the their beer. Here’s the introduction to the survey.

Thank you for taking the time to fill out this survey. Your answers will help determine the future of a Cambridge Brewing Company bottling program, and provide you with the beers you want in your local store. At this time, we are only in the beginning stages of planning our roll-out, but our success depends on you. So please let us know what you think, and what you want to drink.

Will later confirmed CBC’s plan to bottle, tweeting “Yup! Damn PSYCHED!” And to another, tweeted back that they’re “Considering it, but most interested in making our funkier beers. Lots of great ambers/pales out there already!” So that suggests they’re considering bottling the more interesting one-off and barrel-aged beers that Will has marinating in the basement … er, cellar. And that, I think, is most excellent news.

Next Session Opens A Can, Bottle, Cask Or Keg

Our 48th Session will be hosted by Simon Johnson of the Reluctant Scooper. His topic is “Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle?,” or as he describes the question:

The method of beer dispense often raises the hackles of even the most seasoned beer drinker. Some evangilise about living, breathing cask as being the one true way. Others heartily support the pressurised keg. The humble tinny has its fans. Lovers of bottled beer, either conditioned or pasturised, can be equally voiciferous.

Perhaps you think that one method magnifiies a beer’s impact. Perhaps you won’t try a beer if it’s dispensed in a way you don’t agree with. Perhaps you’ve tried one beer that’s been dispensed every which way.

The question is simple but your answer may not be: Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?

So tap a keg, pull a pint, pop a cap or open a can of whoop-ass on the next Session on Friday, February 4.

Broken Bones Beer Bottles

I think this is merely a graphic design product and not a commercial product that you can buy. I came across it by accident at Street Anatomy, a blog featuring anything to do with skeletons. A quick search reveals it’s mentioned exclusively on graphic design-oriented blogs and websites, so it was most likely not done for a client. It was created by designer Dustin Joyce, who works for a Minneapolis, Minnesota ad agency.

I must confess, as others pointed out, that while it’s very well executed, the results are not all that appetizing. The bones appear to be almost floating in the beer, which I don’t think is the imagery you want. It doesn’t make people want to actually drink a beer that’s had bones floating in it, or at least plants the idea of that occurring. But it is an impressive design.


Heineken Redesigns Bottles, Reduces Number Of Sizes

Heineken announced at the beginning of December that next year they’ll be launching redesigned bottles and cans along with a big reduction in the number of sizes they’ll be selling worldwide. The packaging redesign is cosmetic, but the package size reduction is more worrying.

According to the press release, “[t]he restyling aims to streamline the visual identity and make the brand even more consistent and recognizable in all 170 markets worldwide where Heineken can be enjoyed. The new bottle will come in five different volume sizes and will be available in Western Europe at the beginning of 2011 and across the rest of the world by 2012.”

While I realize that packaging, brand identity, etc. are very important, I still can’t help but laugh at some of the language and the way in which the new packaging design is framed. For example, check out this description:

The new bottle, replacing the XLN (extra long neck) and Heineken shortneck packaging, is introduced in two versions: embossed and standard. The new design features a unique curved embossment on the neck and back, which not only looks good, but also adds a pleasing to-the-touch feel, whilst a distinctive embossed mark acts as a stamp of quality and authenticity. Additionally, the new shape makes it look proud while enhancing the premium positioning of the bottle.

Yes, nothing says quality like a “pleasing to-the-touch feel” except perhaps the actual taste of the beer. How “proud” the new bottle looks. Huh? The “embossments,” made by using “strategically placed indents and tactile ink” somehow add “to the overall drinking experience.” Hilarious. Nothing makes me enjoy my beer more than having little raised spots on my bottle to hold on to. Of course, I always pour my beer into a glass, but I’m weird that way. No worries, a newly redesigned glass “features an embossed curve on the side, adding a pleasant feeling when held.” So they got us glass-drinkers covered, too. Whew.

But all this attention paid to their “revolutionary tactile ink” just cracks me up, and is indicative of why the big brewers are stagnating. They continue to focus on marketing and ignore what’s really important: how their beer tastes. Undoubtedly, marketing is going to keep them huge for a long time to come, but slowly it is having an effect. So this “revolutionary ink, created by a series of small raised dots on the surface of the can, gives the consumer a better feeling in the hand, enhanced grip and allows the brand to appear more refreshing and recognizable.” Nothing like an “enhanced grip” to make the beer “appear more refreshing.” I’m certainly interested in how that process works. How exactly does my grip on the beer bottle give the beer inside “the power to restore freshness, vitality, energy, etc.,” which is the definition of refreshing. That’s some pretty impressive osmosis.

The new “magic” embossed Heineken bottle.

But snarkiness aside, the real news is that Heineken will be reducing the number of package sizes they offer worldwide “from fifteen to five bottles sizes.” I understand any company’s reasons for reducing the number of items they sell, to a point at least. As they concede, it’s being done to achieve “greater efficiencies in the supply chain.” And it may not mean anything, but then again I can see at least one possible scenario that could play out. If Heineken cuts two-thirds of its package sizes, it’s not too hard to imagine the other international beer companies doing likewise. With the vast majority of glass manufacturer sales going to just a few companies, most likely they’d simply discontinue making the package sizes that Heineken and the others abandon. That would make those other ten bottles sizes unavailable for smaller breweries, too, or at least prohibitively expensive. Maybe that’s a stretch, but at a minimum I think it at least bears watching.

The changes will start early next year, first in Western Europe, and then the rest of the world over the balance of the year.

The new can with “tactile ink.”

The Future Of Good Beer Is Cans?

Gizmodo has an interesting article on Friday speculating that Canned Beer Is The Future of Good Beer. Like most Gizmodo articles, it’s in-your-face opinionated (especially in the comments, where it turns decidedly loopy) but makes most of the points we all know about that are advantages for canned beer.

I don’t believe cans will ever replace bottles entirely, but cans should command a greater market share as the craft segment of the industry continues to grow. Cans will continue to be place-driven and occasion-driven, at least in large part. But we don’t always spend our time camping, swimming or on the golf course so the real trick in marketing cans is to convince everyone that they’re ideal for the home, too, which is in fact often the case. But I continue to believe that as we also try to raise the perception of beer as a sophisticated beverage worthy of white-table fine dining, that bottles will continue to be seen as the superior package at least from that perspective. In the same way we all know that screw-top wine can be every bit as good as wine sealed with a cork, the perception remains tilted toward corks as an indicator of quality. I should hasten to add that I love craft beer in cans and support the idea whenever I can, I just don’t think it will ever be an all one package world, nor do I think it ever should be. Both packages are good from different points of view, and so I think most likely both will also remain viable for years to come.


Yuengling Phasing Out Returnables

I wrote about this last week, where the focus was on the Straub Brewery, in The Extinction Of Returnable Beer Bottles, but they did mention the decision by Yuengling to discontinue offering returnable bottles. Today my old hometown newspaper growing up, the Reading Eagle, picked up the story but centered instead on Yuengling. In Returnable Bottles Leave Beer Drinkers Cold, Dick Yuengling explains the reasons for discontinuing returnables.

Yuengling said returnable bottles still make great sense ecologically. He said that at one point 60 percent of his business was in returnable bottles.

“Now, if you showed a 16-ounce returnable bottle to a 22-year-old, he wouldn’t know what the heck it was,” Yuengling joked. “I like the idea. I installed a bottle washer at our new (Pottsville) location. I was going to try to revive the returnables but the customer just doesn’t want them anymore.”

According to the Beer Institute, in 1981 about 12% of beer sold was in returnable bottles. Today it’s just under 0.3% … and dropping fast. As I opined last week, even though I understand the rationale for this, I still can’t help but lament it. It just feels like a lost opportunity in our current obsession with being green. I did a lengthy feature article for All About Beer magazine a few years ago about brewery’s green practices, and I was astounded by how much most breweries, both big and small, were doing.

It seems like going back to returnables, while undoubtedly difficult and expensive, would be a great way to keep local beer local and show the craft beer industry’s leadership in recycling and being ecological. It may be nearly impossible to ramp up by any national company, but the smaller the brewery, the more manageable it could be, giving an advantage to local brewers. Oh, well, I know it’s not going to happen, but I can still dream.

The Extinction Of Returnable Beer Bottles

You know you’re old and curmudgeonly when you remember fondly returnable beer and soda bottles. They had a heft to them, felt heavier in your hand or carrying them to the car. That’s because they were made to last, to be used over and over again. I hadn’t really thought about it until this morning, but that was real recycling, well before the term had even been coined. But it was just practical to make things that could be re-used. It’s almost a cruel joke that as a society we’re so obsessed lately with recycling when without realizing it we were doing far more of it years ago before almost all packaging, including bottles and cans, became throwaways. If we really cared more about the environment and the world than our own selfish “convenience” then it would be easy to just return to … well, returnables.

Unfortunately, I’d say it would be almost impossible to change our collective habits at this point (yes, I’m a pessimist as well as a curmudgeon) despite the fact that many places around the world never stopped using returnable bottles. Germany is a prime example of this. All the beer bottles sold there are returnables and every brewery has huge stacks of cartons filled with bottles waiting to be cleaned and reused. Obviously, their economy hasn’t suffered and people haven’t decided to stop drinking beer because they might have to return the bottles rather than just throw them away. But I just can’t see that happening here where everything is about being fast and convenient, where it’s all about “instant” gratification. Lest you accuse me of being too self-righteous, I include myself among the lazy multitudes.

I bring this up because the Lehigh Valley [Pennsylvania] Morning Call has an interesting article about their local beer, Straub Brewery, and how Returnable beer bottles to become extinct if Straub doesn’t get back some cases. It’s not surprising that Straub is one of only two breweries who are still using returnable beer bottles — the other being Yuengling — and that both are in Pennsylvania, since the Commonwealth is the lone remaining (as far as I know) case state, meaning almost all beer is sold by the case at what are called “beer distributors.” This may have made sense in 1933, but it’s become an increasingly antiquated system as the years have rolled on.

From the article:

Straub Brewery, a 138-year-old family-owned business about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, is begging customers mostly in Pennsylvania but also some in Ohio, New York and Virginia to return thousands of empty cases.

Without them, Straub says it will do as nearly every brewer has done over the years — eliminate returnable bottles from its inventory. Only one other major brewer and the nation’s oldest , D.G. Yuengling & Sons of Pottsville, still sells beer in returnable bottles. But it plans to phase out the practice by fall.

All major brewers, including Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors, gave up on returnable bottles years ago because their costs multiplied with national distribution. About 12 percent of all U.S. beer was sold in returnable bottles in 1981, but since 2007 the percentage has been negligible, according to the Beer Institute in Washington, D.C. In Pennsylvania, more than a quarter of all beer was sold in returnable bottles in 1981, but that was when state liquor control laws required most beers to be sold by the case through distributors which readily accepted the returns.

So hopefully their customers will heed the call and start returning their bottles so they can be used again. I know it’s a forgone conclusion that returnable bottles will die out at some point, but the nostalgic, romantic in me (a.k.a. old man) still thinks that the returnable is an idea that should be revisited, especially with the recent increased focus on being green. It would be hard to argue that reusing bottles and packaging wouldn’t ultimately be better for the environment than our current recycling efforts. But I think Dick Yuengling summed up the situation best.

“The consumer’s been indoctrinated; we’re a throwaway society,” Yuengling said. “Everybody’s environmentally conscious, but if you put a case of returnable bottles in front of them, they say, ‘What’s that?'”


Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bottles

Alright, not exactly fearful symmetry, but Asia Pacific Breweries, who owns the Tiger Beer brand, is sprucing up its bottles. They’ve hired two artists, Korean-American Rostarr (Romon Yang) and Singapore-based Tomas Goh, to create limited edition bottle designs. They each did one design apiece and collaborated on the third.


About the designs, known individually as Graphysics, Rise and Energy from the press release:

Internationally acclaimed Korean-American Rostarr´s design Graphysics is based on his signature cutting-edge graphics that fuses digital design and free painting. His design is a marriage of Graphics and Physics, creating a dynamic visual iconography.

Singapore-based Tomaz Goh´s design, Rise, on the other hand, reflects his thoughts on the state of the environment today. With the opinion that our world is fast deteriorating, the versatile Goh chose to use his design to urge mankind to “rise” against the threats of global deterioration of our environment and increase our recycling efforts.

The Energy design is inspired by the collective efforts of Asian artists such as Rostarr and Tomaz that are making an impact in the design world today.

Graphysics, Rise and Energy are exclusively designed to represent the spirit and philosophy of Tiger Beer — a brand with bold character and identity!

While I know it’s all about the beer inside, I still do enjoy the art of packaging and labels. And people do shop the labels and are swayed to make a purchase based on the packaging, so like it or not, it is an important component in a beer’s success.