London Velvet, an investment opportunity?

london-velvetLondon Velvet, a blend of porter and cider, is raising money through the crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. Should you invest?

London Velvet is made with a porter from the Burtonwood brewery of Thomas Hardy Brewing and Packaging and a cider from Bevisol, both on a contract basis. Not well known names to the general drinking public but both respected contract brewers/cidermakers.

The London Velvet company is involved in the management, distribution, sales and marketing. It is raising a relatively small amount of money and operating on relatively low margins.

It is aiming to tap into the craft beer market yet is made by contract brewers and sold by supermarkets. I can’t see it appealing to the craft beer market without better provenance. Porter and cider are made on a ‘craft’ scale in London – why not use these? I can see it filling a niche gap on the supermarket shelves very successfully though.

I haven’t tried London Velvet. But over 35 years ago I was enjoying pints of cider and Guinness, it’s a damn fine drink, so I am sure that London Velvet is also good. But herein lies the rub, cider and Guinness is, in effect, already available in almost every pub in the country. Surely if London Velvet takes off then Diageo Guinness have the nous and marketing muscle to say ‘thank you very much’ and grab the lion’s share of the market?

So I wish them the best of luck but, regrettably, I’m out.

Disclosure: Intoxicated Rich has invested through Crowdcube and is currently an investor in Hop Stuff Brewery, Little Beer Corporation and CMIC (CAMRA Members Investment Club).

Guinness Porter Review – brand new, old beers!

The SchtickGuinness ST JAMES'S GATE

The Brewers Project is a rather clever idea whichever way you look at it. Ostensibly it is a collaboration between the brewers and the archivist to recreate beers of long ago. However I am guessing that it was cleverly orchestrated by the marketing department who knew exactly the products they wanted – not that it is a bad thing at all. Full marks for identifying a gap in the market and using unique heritage to exploit it. It gives the brewers some fun times to play with real beer making in the pilot brewery instead of pressing buttons in the main brewhouse. It gives Guinness a chance to use their tremendous heritage and archive to best effect.

Porter and then ‘stout porter’ were the precursors of the stouts we know nowadays. After starting with ales, Guinness moved on to making porters. Early on there was a ‘town porter’ and a ‘country porter’. The country porter as its name suggests was the product shipped outside Dublin. It had more hops to preserve the beer over a longer time and, certainly once the products were exported, a higher alcoholic strength for the same reason.

To provide a counterpoint for this review, it’s also time to introduce Intoxicated Shep, he’s a brewer, so might be expected to know more about these things than me. But in his own words,
Intoxicated Shep says, having been asked to give my considered opinion on Guinness’s foray into, let’s call it the more artisan end of the beer drinking spectrum, I’ve thought back to what and how people are reviewing on various websites and social media. From “Nom, nom, nom” on Untappd, “A juicy banger” on Twitter and even recently “sexy sticky black and smells of vanilla laced treacle tart and patchouli oil”, which certainly isn’t on Mark Dredge’s crafty craft wheel of beer flavour or any wheel of beer flavour for that matter. As a child of the 80’s I have little idea what patchouli oil is, never mind what it tastes like (Can you drink patchouli oil? Ed: They will only serve it in thirds I believe). I know what sticky black is though, and what it tastes like. So this is going to be a straight down the line “say what you see” describing the organoleptic experience and maybe try to explain why, from a, dare I say, technical point of view.

The Beers

Dublin Porter , ABV 3.8%, available in bottles and keg.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER 2Intoxicated Rich says, I decided to compare the bottle with a bottle of Guinness Original, so far so sensible. Then I made the noob mistake of having them in the fridge too long. Both beers improved dramatically as they warmed up, below, say 10oC, they have little character. Immediately the difference is in the head. The Dublin Porter had large quickly dispersed bubbles, not a traditional Guinness head (which will hold some volatiles nicely). The mouthfeel also reflected a highly carbonated product. Quite sweet and more biscuit than really toasty, I found this a simple pleasant beer. ‘Guinness Lite’? By contrast the Guinness Original had a crisper initial flavour, much bigger mouthfeel and altogether a more satisfying mouthful.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER FOUNTNB: At the launch I also tried the keg version. A much better head and could see this as being a pleasant session porter in its own right. And it also makes a great adult cream soda when topped with a Guinness ice cream float!

Intoxicated Shep says, , pours frothy, loose head and has a faint aroma of roasted malt and very little else , if pushed, a little toffee. On taste, there’s very little sweetness, not much malt character, thin and leaves a drying astringency, I’m searching for more things to describe, to adjectivise, but I can’t.
In their press release, Guinness informed us that this beer was “fermented at a high temperature”, the dryness and lack of any roasty-toasty body is a symptom of this, the fermentation has been vigorous and probably too long, using up any residual sugar from the insufficient malt bill and giving birth to a beer that in the grand scheme of things is like a warm Diet Coke.

West Indies Porter, ABV 6.0% available in bottles only.

GUINNESS WEST INDIES PORTERIntoxicated Rich says, I compared this with two versions of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (FES), Dublin and Nigeria bottled versions. These weigh in at a hefty 7.5% ABV. They had a brief chill but they were much happier at room temperature than a few degrees below. All had a proper head, the WIP creamy and the FES more capuccino coloured. For aroma the Nigerian FES won hands down with great volatiles, but the head was quickest to dissipate. So, tasting the WIP it is a lovely smooth drink delivering toffee and slightly chocolate notes. All good until you try the Dublin FES, my favourite Guinness incarnation. A big boozy start, then bitter, then deep, complex and lingering – all in harmonious balance. Somewhat reminiscent of Nwankwo Kanu the Nigerian version flattered to deceive with it’s lovely aroma, proving to be altogether thinner and less complex – albeit still with the same boozy whack upfront.

Intoxicated Shep says, this seems a bit more serious, darker, thicker with a moussy head and a waft of dark fruit and chocolate. As expected, this is sweeter, (lactose sweet) and fuller than it’s poor cousin, the bitterness comes from the roasted malt, perhaps a hint of spice, smoke and a pleasant tangy linger. Not the travesty I thought it would be and for 6% in your local shops, not a bad fallback. Just for the record I had an FES too, …dark, boozy rum, molasses aroma. Very thick, lots of body, fruity sweet, coffee, chocolate, spice, a little bit of alcohol burn but smooth and delicious.

GUINNESS DUBLIN PORTER AND WEST INDIES PORTER 2Was it fair to compare these porters with their stout brothers? Probably not. Both the style and the age of the recipe are the precursors to the stouts so the stouts certainly should be ‘better’ in some respects. But enough wittering from us for a moment,

What will they think of them?

Dublin Porter

The beer geek – doesn’t drink 3.8% session porters
The old bloke in the pub – the 3.8% will appeal, crisper than a mild, different from a bitter, not as full on as a Guinness, he might like the keg version.
The girls night out – my feeling (having never been on a girls night out) is that if they want Guinness, they’d order Guinness
The supermarket bottle drinker – a bit boring to sit with by yourself at home? Nice label though.
The ‘interested’ drinker – it’s the back story that attracts and would be a must on any comparative tasting

West Indies Porter

The beer geek – might have fun working out the differences between this and FES but will come with a dose of big brewery scepticism, will end up preferring the FES
The old bloke in the pub – doesn’t always want the volume, sat by the inglenook on a winter’s evening with a bottle of this, nice.
The girls night out – sharing cool looking bottles of this might appeal
The supermarket bottle drinker – want a stronger ‘sipping beer’? This hits the spot.
The ‘interested’ drinker – worth trying but probably a stepping stone to FES

And I haven’t talked about food pairing. Do try WIP with a sticky toffee pudding.

To sum up…

Unlike some new beers I can see a place and an appeal for these beers. They are not ‘me-too’ beers or for ‘me-too’ markets. They fit nicely with Guinness existing range and aren’t a knee jerk reaction to go off on a ‘crafty double IPA’ tangent that would be out of character (Greene King take note). There is no serious aim here to try for the ‘craft’/beer geek/Hackney Hipster market, what they want is pub goers and home drinkers to have a new alternative with a great story behind it.

Disclosure: I was invited to a launch of these beers and asked if I would write about them

Guinness: Textbook marketing through the years

Guinness-original-logoEveryone likes Guinness, even the people who don’t like Guinness. Why’s that then Rich? Marketing! Oh, and a good product and factual story to back it up.

Marketing can be seen as a dirty word but done well, everyone’s a winner with one proviso – the marketing needs be backed up by the product, without that it is just ‘puff’. For years the advertisements have been both contemporary and legendary (Ed: Can you be contemporary and legendary at the same time? Rich: Semantics, you know what I mean.) There must be a Guinness pump in over 90% of the pubs in the UK, saturation point? No, some Genius comes up with the idea of serving an identical product two degrees colder. This gave Guinness the chance to double brand awareness at a stroke. (If you don’t believe in the subliminal effect of brand awareness look around you next time you are in a Brewdog bar, count the Brewdog logos, count the other logos you can see.)

Bitter (style, not attitude)drinkers who wouldn’t touch a pint of ‘nitrokeg’ or ‘creamflow’ bitter will often drink Guinness happily as a fallback such is the affection for the brand. People who don’t drink Guinness still like the brand. Only a smidgin of this love can be attributed to the UK’s fondness for some softly spoken, self-deprecating Irish blarney.

I have had the unalloyed good fortune to be the recipient of Guinness hospitality recently. On the first occasion this was as part of the European Beer Bloggers Conference (my advice – start a blog, attend, you won’t regret it). This included a sneak look at their big, shiny, new brewhouse (the fourth brewhouse they have built at St James’ Gate) followed by a reception at the Storehouse, the most prominent building on the site, with panoramic views over Dublin. Now you expect a professional presentation and a bit of free Guinness, right? This was so much more. All versions of Guinness including the two different export, higher strength versions were on offer together with some other beers and most interestingly, Night Porter. This was the winner of an internal brewing competition, a lovely chocolatey, tarry mouthful for a relatively modest 5.5% ABV. I always mention this because I would just love them to commercialise it. I digress, each stout was matched to a different food station – oysters naturally but lots of other good stuff. Apart from the quality of the beer and food, the most impressive thing were the staff. All were knowledgeable and informed, keen to talk about the product but not in any sort of pushy way. This doesn’t happen by accident, it is the result of excellent training and employees buying into the ethos of the company.

Then, a few days ago, I was invited to a Guinness event of ‘discovery’ at a ‘secret location’. My arm didn’t need twisting. Again, I was expecting a nice evening but was unprepared for how good (and exclusive) it was. I won’t make you green by describing the evening, let’s concentrate on the facts. It was to launch their new West Indies Porter and Dublin Porter, presented by the brewer and the archivist. There were some shadowy suits and little black dresses that indicated marketing people in the background but it turned out they didn’t bite and were indeed, without exception, quite charming.

GUINNESS SERVE 1These two new beers are based on old recipes, recreated as best they are able, from the archives. Sample problem, how big is a bale? From the brewing side this has been labelled ‘The Brewers Project’ and gives the brewers, technically skilled at producing consistent, large volume stout a chance to do some more interesting stuff than the day-to-day routine. All very well, but just another beer to market? No, all the Guinness marketing Genius is here. This is the brewer with the biggest heritage in the British Isles but it’s something they have cashed in on before. The style is one that was incredibly popular, witness the archives, yet is under represented in pubs nowadays. Pubs that are committed to a regular range of bitters might have no problem putting a porter alongside and it’s not a stout. Well, cynics might say it is ‘stout lite’ but when Guinness pull this type of stunt we just smile indulgently. And the markets they are aiming for don’t compete with their existing ones. Nice old labelling. It all comes together into a great marketing package – based on facts and real stories.

Diageo, owners of Guinness are primarily a spirits company. Kilkenny, Smithwicks and Harp complement Guinness in Ireland and North America. In Africa they have some local lagers to complement the famous Foreign Extra. However they have not dipped their toes in the murky waters of ‘craft beer’ either by acquisition or pilot brewery before. Wisely the word craft doesn’t appear here either, it’s about heritage, a far more tangible label. Nevertheless this is just a tiptoe into some markets where Guinness might not have been seen before.

So very neatly Guinness have avoided confrontation with best bitter or modern IPA. They haven’t engaged in the craft vs cask war. They haven’t gone for anything ‘new’. Competition for these new beers is relatively low in a market that is becoming increasingly saturated.

This has been rather gushing, hasn’t it? It is for the marketing. Guinness could be used as a textbook (also for exporting, but that’s another story). Sadly I am too much of a thrill seeker to drink a lot of Guinness nowadays but I love what they do.

A review of the actual beers is here.

In the meantime, a useless fact: My favourite time and place for a pint of Guinness is the open air, but covered bar underneath the Gold Cup restaurant at Cheltenham racecourse on Champion Hurdle day prior to racing. Watch the excited crowds stream in for the first day of the Festival, read the Racing Post, feel the anticipation of the winners and enjoy a pint of the black stuff – bliss.