If your product is virtually indistinguishable from most of your major competitors, then you make yourself stand out through marketing and advertising. No gimmick is off-limits if it will steer customers to pick up your product instead of the other guys. This seems especially true of the makers of American-style lagers like Bud, Miller and Coors along with the pilsner-derived imports like Heineken, Corona and Stella Artois, to name but a few. Over the years we’ve seen some entertaining — if pointless — ad campaigns for all of them. Creative promotions, merchandising, sponsorships of sports teams and events, logo’d clothing, hats, towels — you name it — and a new product for every new trend of the moment (remember the dry beers, ice beers, low-carb beers, etc.). We’ve come to expect the ridiculous and shake our heads at the inanity. Unfortunately, many times the ads and novelties seem to undermine beers very image and over time have contributed to beer being perceived as something wholly different than it really is.
But even with all that history and low expectations behind it, the latest move by Coors to bring to market — at great expense — a beer to be served at below freezing simply boggles the mind. Now generally when beer dips below freezing ingredients begin to break down, primarily the proteins which come out of solution. This causes them to separate and form small flakes that swim around in the beer and make it cloudy. Of course, because of the alcohol beer freezes at a point that’s already slightly below freezing, the exact point depending on the percentage of alcohol. Alcohol itself freezes at -173° F.
This is also the reason frosted, frozen glasses stored in the freezer are such a terrible idea. They also chemically alter the beer and change its taste. The reason you generally don’t notice it is simply because drinking any liquid at that temperature also numbs many of your taste buds. Several volatile components in the beer aren’t released in your mouth and disappear undetected down your throat. The beer’s flavor profile is considerably narrowed and some tastes disappear completely. Cold beer also effects the beer’s balance because hop character survives better than malt or fruity esters. This is the reason bland lagers, which are generally less well-hopped, do better at cold temperatures and explains why ales are generally served at warmer temperatures. A good rule of thumb is the colder the beer, the less of it you can actually taste.
So Coors has launched Coors Sub-Zero, a beer that is chilled down to -2.5° C (27.5° F)
According to Coors’ press release, it “uses space age technology developed in Britain [at Burton-on-Trent]; its patented pouring process naturally forms soft crystals of the crispest, cleanest, ultra-cold lager that melt away in the mouth. Best of all, they keep Coors Sub Zero cooler for longer, giving sensational refreshment and taste.” The pricetag was more than £10 million (over $18 million USD).
The beer delivers an entirely new taste experience. The soft frozen lager crystals create a subtle sensation of snow on your tongue. And the super-chilling, along with the clean, clear taste of the lager, combine to create an extraordinary, refreshing crispness.
The way Coors Sub Zero is poured is technically and physically unlike anything else behind a bar in Britain. During the one-minute, fully automated pour-process, the specially made beer glass constantly revolves on a turntable – creating what must be the most impressive beer-pouring spectacle ever seen.
Hmm, frankly I’m more impressed by taste than space-age technology and a magic show, but maybe that’s just me.
Coors describes what the experience will look like in a bar:
To serve the beer, as either a pint or a half, the bartender puts on a ‘science show’ for the customer:
- The glass is placed on the turntable and the launch button is pressed [which cools it with a spray of cold water]
- [The lager is stored at high pressure and is poured into the glass at a temperature of -2.5C.]
- The glass is rinsed with chilled water before the lager is dispensed at sub zero temperature [high pressure makes the beer stay cold and keeps it from freezing]
- Two seconds before the end of the pour comes the ‘sonic trigger’ – a process of ‘supernucleation’ which causes soft frozen lager crystals to gather in the top of the glass [these are ultrasonic waves which form crystals of ice around the gas bubbles]
- Finally, the condensation that has formed during the pour is removed — and a crystal clear pint is presented to the customer
[my additional explanations]
What’s stranger still is where the beer is being launched. Great Britain’s wonderful ales are best consumed at temperatures much, much warmer than freezing. In fact, the English consume very few beverages at even a cool temperature, much less at freezing. Trying to find ice in a British restaurant is maddeningly impossible for us uncouth Americans. So it’s strange to see quotes that people there want colder beer. That seems a bit odd to me.
Here’s the Coors spin machine at work:
Said Stuart Renshaw, Head of Marketing for International & Portfolio Brands for Coors Brewers: “We have listened to consumers and their requests for colder and colder beer. With Coors Sub Zero the cold beer lover’s dream has finally come true – a pint that stays cold right to the bottom of the glass and the first ever pint that actually seems to get colder in your hand.
“Coors Sub Zero is the perfect ice cold refreshment. It brings together traditional brewing excellence and 21st century dispense technology to deliver a unique drinking sensation”.
Scientist Dr Alan Samson, who has worked on Sub Zero since 1998, said: ‘For years companies have been trying to pull a truly cold pint, but now the technology has caught up.
‘It is a natural phenomenon ‘ nothing is added or taken away to the lager. The only problem is that we wasted 8 million pints getting it right.’
It seems to me they spent a lot of money and are now trying to create a market for it, rather than the other way around. One hundred pubs are expected to have the special system installed by the year’s end with the first in sometime next month.
In the end, it’s hard not to view this development as an abomination since it perpetuates the myth that beer must be as cold as possible, or now perhaps even colder. This is bad for the perception of beer in general and helps only those beers that would suffer for being consumed at a warmer temperature. And we all know who they are.