Wednesday, 25 August 2010

You didn't think I wouldn't say anything........

With my latest foray back into the world of blogging it would be remiss of me not to mention the sexist tripe that is the new Heineken advert. 

It is aesthetically very nicely done, clearly they've spent some money on it, but seriously, do the marketing team at Heineken still think the only way to sell beer is to continue churning out beer stereotypes that should have been put to bed in the 70s?? Yes ladies like shoes (I have far too many pairs) but essentially this is a big budget version of  Al Murray's   "Pint for the fella... Glass of white wine/ fruit-based drink for the lady!" 

As most big beer brands they are targeting men, why wouldn't they, that's who's drinking the stuff but do they need to constantly do it by alienating women with the stereotype that beer is just for boys? When you see ads like this it's no surprise that women claim changing the advertising is the single biggest thing that could be done to make beer more appealing to women. 

And it can be done, this San Miguel ad is a great example of a stylish beer advert that is targeted squarely at men without the lame, laddish banter we're more used to. San Miguel haven't always done such good stuff but this is great example of how beer advertising should be in my book, not only does it not upset anyone it does a great job of making beer look like a premium drink to be savoured - not just a cheap commodity. More of this please!!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Great British Beer Festival - is it a girl thing?

Earlier this month I took some time out to enjoy a day at the Great British Beer Festival (all in the name of research). For me it was like an extra Christmas, 450 ales under one roof all wanting me to try them out and I had great fun. Two standout beers for me, once I managed to tear myself away from the Thornbridge bar, were the Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout and Brewsters Hop a Doodle Do but there were lots lots more.

As a reminder of the day I hopped onto the website to take a look at the festival photos and was surprised to see so many nubile young ladies in the photos that seem to have been missing from the day itself!! One thing that the GBBF does, I'm afraid, is bring to life a lot of real ale stereotypes with an audience largely made up of overweight, bearded men in sandals (apologies to Mr Dredge). Now CAMRA are no fools, they're not going to put photos of fat Kev and his bermuda short wearing compatriots on their site - they want to attract people to next year's show, but is the GBBF really the hotbed of young ladies the photo gallery would suggest?

CAMRA have talked lots about the growing number of women drinking real ale. As part of this years National Cask Ale Week they claimed that women are turning to real ale in ever-growing numbers. In the space of one year, they say, the number of women drinkers trying real ale has nearly doubled from 16% to 30% and now there are 1.3 million women drinkers of real ale.

Research showed many women wouldn't even try real ale because they didn't know what it was, where to start or because they thought it would taste too bitter but my hunch is that more women are turning to ale through the efforts of good publicans than any concerted effort from CAMRA. Pubs are offering more choice, better service and education that is enticing women into the beer category, if the GBBF is anything to go by CAMRA have a way to go in understanding how to market to women and as a result I only saw a handful of women like those in the pictures.

I'm aware there are two schools of thought when it comes to making beer appealing to women; either there is nothing wrong with the beer category, women just need to appreciate it and any attempt to market specifically to women is patronising and unnecessary OR that beer is overly masculine, has ignored and even alienated women and there's a lot that needs to change to make beer relevant to women (lets not forget over 60% of women don't drink beer, ever). I've made no secret of the camp I'm in and whilst there is a lot right about the GBBF there's a lot they can still do if they want the lovely ladies in the photo to make up more of their actual audience.  Nearly half of women look for great food,service, atmosphere and entertainment in the places they choose to drink in so how did the GBBF measure up?

Service - the barstaff were brilliant. In the main volunteer and the level of knowledge and enthusiasm they had was outstanding. You could walk up to any bar say "I quite like jellybeans and the smell of hot tarmac on a wet summers day" and they would find you a beer that you would enjoy,taking the time to let you try any number of beers until you found one you liked without once rolling their eyes. But I had to stand up all day and put my sleeve in wet patches on the bar far too many times - keeping a clean bar and offering a table service area would have really made my day.

It was great that there was a range of glass sizes on offer (pint, half and 1/3) but there was no way of rinsing your glass between beers or emptying out a beer you might not have liked - something that's the norm at any wine show. I know it's difficult when you're dealing with such large numbers of people and I'm not expecting Michelin standard service but offering people the chance to rinse their glasses (especially after some of the big hoppy beers) would make a real difference.

Food - there was loads of it, and the pork scratchings were legendary, but there was no obvious link between the food and beer. Should I have picked a certain beer for the Thai food, something different for the fish and chips - there was no way of knowing, meaning that when people left would they remember anything other than "I tried a lot of beer" instead of a really great food and beer pairing that they'd want to try out at home and impress their friends with their new found knowledge. The festival programme has some basic principals on matching beer and food but I would have liked to see the food and beer mixed in together and signs on each stall of which beers they would recommend went with their food. 

Atmosphere - this is something that scored highly. One thing I've learned in the last year is just what a welcoming and friendly lot the beer community are and the GBBF was no exception. Mixing a room full of guys and 450 beers always has the potential to be tricky but not here, it felt very relaxed and a completely safe environment for a woman on her own. Everyone was there to enjoy the beer and enjoy the company and the atmosphere was hard to fault.

Entertainment - my view of CAMRA is that a lot of their views are stuck in the 70s and the entertainment was a real reflection of that. Whilst Hank Wangford is one of the finest names of a musician I've ever heard I'm not sure he's that relevant to a younger, female audience. Clearly he has appeal to the more traditional CAMRA member, as did all the entertainment, but what was lacking was real diversity. Am not suggesting that JLS are booked up for next year but there needs to be more than just country music and skittles if you want more women through the doors.

The GBBF are using Twitter but there seemed to be no recognition of the power of social media at the event itself and the number of people blogging and tweeting live from the event. I'd love to see free charging stations for your mobiles as many big shows offer (my battery died after beer no4) and free wifi for next time. 

All in all I'd say a B- with definite room for improvement and hopefully next year there will be as many women there as the photos suggest.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Is drinking around your kids ever ok?

In what feels like a sadly increasing trend, another mother has been sentenced for letting her child look after herself while she got drunk on holiday. 

The mother in question, Alicia Jenkins, deemed it safe and appropriate to let her 11 year old daughter roam the beaches of Salou, famed for the booze filled, violent excess of Saloufest, while she got trollied on cheap Sangria. Fortunately the girl is now in local authority care but this is, sadly, far from an isolated incident. Last month the The Mirror reported how young mother, Katie Down,  took her four-year-old son with her when she met friends for a few drinks in a beer garden on a sunny afternoon… a few hours later she was arrested, locked up – and her son taken into care.

I've shared my views on children in pubs before but I suspect this is less about having kids in the pub - I'm pretty sure no one has ever had their kids taken away for indulging in a J20 and chicken in a basket in a Wacky Warehouse - and more about just how appropriate is it to drink alcohol in front of children.In 2009 The Chief Medical Officer's official issued guidelines on alcohol for under 18s for the first time, stating that:
Children and their parents and carers are advised that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. However, if children drink alcohol, it should not be until at least the age of 15 years.
This seems somewhat at odds with the current legal position which makes it legal to give children alcohol in your own home from the age of 5, an age limit that does seem ridiculous. That said I do disagree that an alcohol free childhood is the best option - I believe in modelling the right behaviour to my child and I want her to grow up thinking of alcohol as a normal part of adult life. I will have a beer with her when we're out and am happy to drink in front of her when we're at home - a beer or a glass of wine, not 16 Vodka Tonics and half a bottle of Jaeger, it's about teaching children moderation. If my daughter never sees anyone drinking she'll grow up thinking that alcohol is something drunk in secret, making it a taboo that is more likely to encourage her to rebel by binge drinking as soon as she can.

Seeing your parents falling down drunk is wrong for any child - children need stability and they panic at any change of behaviour in their parents. It's worrying for a child to see their mum suffering from a cold so watching them stumbling about, incoherent and drunk should never happen but learning to enjoy alcohol responsibly should be part of any normal childhood.

*image from 

I blame the parents........

In a week where the Daily Mail yet again place all of society's alcohol problems at the feet of young women it seems that that the older generation aren't as blameless as the the Mail would have us believe.

The Temple Bowling Club in Denmark Hill, London, where most of the members are drawing a pension, have been refused an extended hours license after repeated complaints about loud music and disorderly behavior.

The club has apparently made several attempts to get the golden oldies to curb their raucous revelry without success, with local residents complaining;
"on occasions the noise emanating from the club house was more suited to boisterous rugby players after a day of pub golf."
 Certainly beats a lukewarm cup of tea and a nice biscuit at the church hall!