Smutty Beer Labels

Posted on January 30th, 2012 by Robin Goldsmith in Beer, Drink

A letter based on this article was published in CAMRA’s What’s Brewing magazine, May 2012, p.13.

There has been much discussion over the past 12 months, concerning British beer labels and pump clips and whether they are often too "smutty".

Cornish Knocker

The arguments raised include whether this trend represents a puerile sense of humour which detracts from the seriousness of the product and deters new or old drinkers from trying out different real ales. Another argument is that wine producers, in contrast, do not market their "crafted, artisanal products" with smuttiness, in order that they can be taken seriously (‘Bailey’ in CAMRA’s BEER magazine, Winter 2011, p.54). However, this is not strictly true. The wine world is awash with smuttiness, puns and downright corny names – "Pisse-Dru", Domaine Wal-mart "Merde du Pays", "Chat-en-Oeuf", "Cat’s Phee on a Gooseberry Bush" etc.. Kröver ‘Nacktarsch’ from Germany, even has a famous label featuring a young boy having his bare bottom spanked! Yet, this "smuttiness" does not appear to have had an adverse effect on sales of the wine, nor can it be seen as undesirably self-deprecating.

These examples and others just reflect a sense of humour and originality and make the wines stand out from the crowd. The same is true of beer. Rather than putting people off trying something new, a sense of humour, completely in keeping with British tradition, is surely more likely to entice new drinkers and give pleasure to seasoned ale tipplers. Jeff Pickthall wrote earlier this year in the Guardian Word of Mouth Blog (Monday 1 August 2011) about "Real Ale’s image problem." For example, he accuses the pump clip for Cornish Knocker, a successful award-winning ale, of being unoriginal and juvenile. He seems to suggest that potential customers will be deterred from trying real ale, equating "dodgy presentation" with "dodgy brewing". However, where is the evidence for this idea and also for the outdated stereotype that this traditional and well loved drink can only be enjoyed by flat-capped old men? Indeed, CAMRA (www.camra.org.uk) has provided evidence that Britain’s national drink is becoming fashionable and ‘cool’, winning over new younger drinkers. Furthermore, as a reflection of this trend, 99 breweries opened in the last 12 months, over half of which are microbreweries, and the number of under-25s drinking cask ale increased by over 250% between 2007 and 2011, according to figures in The Cask Ale Reports, authored by Pete Brown (www.caskreport.co.uk). At a time of worldwide recession, the number of microbreweries in the UK and elsewhere offering innovative artisan beers is growing. Even in a traditional lager-producing country like Italy, there is a flourishing craft ale brewing scene and in the US, this trend shows no signs of abating.

There will always be corny, puerile and embarrassing names – this applies to beer, wine, comedy films and TV shows and people! But ultimately, it’s the quality of the product that shines through and lives to fight another day. Beers with names that reflect a uniquely British sense of humour – English is a brilliant language for puns – are unlikely to give beer knockers another stick with which to beat the ale drinkers. There is a huge difference between good humoured real ale aficionados who enjoy the myriad of organoleptic experiences inherent in proper beer, whatever the name, and the type of person who knocks back pints of cheap lager in order to get drunk. It is this realisation that should convince the beer knockers to focus their ire more gainfully … or is that just a load of Dog’s Bollocks?

UK producers of real ale offer a unique selling point and consequently strong export potential. The British sense of humour is world-renowned in a positive sense. If this is reflected in the names and artwork on bottles of beer, coupled with the unique variety of colours, smells and tastes inherent in British beer, then our export market could benefit.

5 responses to “Smutty Beer Labels”

  1. Roger B says:

    I agree.There are a lot of microbreweries around at the moment and they are often competing with each other at beer festivals and specialist pubs. Anything to make their product stand out from the crowd is probably worth a try. Slaters have allegedly seen a surge in sales of ‘Top Totty’ since it was banned from the Commons Bar. I do think it can get a bit stupid – ‘What The Fox’s Hat’ is quite amusing if a bit baffling but ‘Bucking Fastard’ is just childish really. On the whole I’m more likely to be offended by ‘political’ beers, especially as they usually seem to come from a rightwing perspective. I like Bateman’s beers but will not be touching their ‘Veto’ offering in Wetherspoons in case a purchase is taken as an endorsement. With that proviso I would say that to me a good beer is a good beer whether it is called ‘Best Bitter’ or ‘Breast Bitter’ (and yes I’ve seen one of those).

  2. Robin says:

    Good points. As you say, some names are childish and stupid and, as far as I can recall, none of these “extremes” has ever been associated with a top-class beer. It takes some doing to regard Cornish Knockers, for example, as offensive and demeaning to the beer industry ! In times of economic & financial meltdown, it is even more important to have quality products that stand out from the crowd, as you mention.

    Robin

  3. apinto says:

    hi there, wondering whether you know of any brewery tours that you can recommend in or around London?
    thanks

  4. Robin says:

    Hi

    There are quite a few tours which you may be interested in. Fullers is well-known – see their website at http://www.fullers.co.uk for further details. However, with the rise of microbreweries, especially in London, breweries like Meantime are well worth a visit – see http://www.meantimebrewing.com/news-events/brewery-tours. If you are able to travel a little further out of London, however, Tring brewery (http://www.tringbrewery.co.uk/brewerytours.html) is also highly recommended. Enjoy !

    Robin

  5. barmykev says:

    Nothing beats a Bishop’s Finger. Apinto enjoy your your tour.

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