Friday, February 10, 2012

The Haves and Have Nots

I'm always a bit hesitant to comment on folks from another country and their beery doings, but a piece about the lack of Courage Imperial Russian Stout in London, on Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog, and a response to that post by Pete Brown, has piqued my interest. The gist of B&B's post is that not only is Courage Imperial Russian Stout unavailable, as of yet, in the UK, but to make matters worse there are numerous reminders of it's past glory, all around the city of London. Fair enough. I agree there's no sense for those breweries who make, or made, some of that cities best loved beer, to rub salt into the wounds of their biggest fans by not distributing some of their product locally. I feel my Anglo brother's and sister's pain, New Belgium, Russian River and Bell's don't distribute to New York, at least not in New York's Capital Region—and that's just shitty. From a beer-loving, solidaritist's point of view: Quit stalling Well & Young's, and make with the black stuff.

That's all well and good, but it's Pete's response in Boak & Bailey's comments area, that has me furrowing my brow. Here's what he said:
I have to say Wells & Youngs seem to have a completely different take on the British beer market than any other brewer I know – they seem stubbornly determined to keep believing that there’s no market for stronger and/or more eclectic brews, when even their peers such as Greene King and Marston’s are looking closely at what smaller brewers are doing and starting to do more interesting stuff. 
A statement to that end, is like saying Yo Yo Ma is stubborn because he hasn't put out a rap record. I get that beer geeks think all breweries should be everything to everyone, but that's not reality. I think what is really at work here is, Wells & Young's has noticed a void in the U.S. beer market. Good British beer is simply less available stateside. The other two breweries that Pete sites, Marston's and Greene King, are perfect examples of this. I've only ever seen dusty cans of Abbott Ale on U.S. shelves and only a few bottles of Pedigree (To be honest,  Mahar's does occasionally have casks of Greene King stuff). In the last year, I've seen Double Chocolate Stout, Bombardier, Banana Bread, Ram Rod and now Courage Imperial Russian Stout, on both the shelves of beer stores, and on tap at a number of local pubs and bars in the area. The smart move is to exploit the situation and fill the void, which is what Wells & Young's seem to be doing. There's also a better guarantee of higher ABV craft beers sales in the U.S.—not that those beers wouldn't sell in the U.K— but, the fact of the matter is, higher ABV craft beers sell well in U.S. markets. Why not take advantage of that?

As I started this piece, I am in no position to judge the British beer market—these observations are strictly third party. Additionally, I respect and admire Pete Brown, who is in my opinion, one of the best beer writers working today. I'll even say that there's a chance that Wells & Young's is being overly cautious. However, it seems a bit harsh to vilify a brewery because they don't make what you think they should. I'd like Honda to look toward Ferrari, and make a $20,000, 12-cylinder, 650 brake horsepower hatchback with room for two car seats—but, I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen. Fair or unfair, I think Wells & Young's is doing what they believe to be the best for their business, unfortunately that means the UK is going to have to wait a little longer for its Imperial Russian Stout.              


  1. if you watch Simon (Real Ale Guide) 's tour and interview with W&Y's brewmaster you can tell they're pretty set in their ways. From i understand only Samuel Smith's is more strict to tradition and lack of frills.

  2. There's nothing wrong with being "set in your ways"—If the beer sells. The market will determine if a business needs to change it's approach. A business having to change because the market demands it, is far differnet than wanting them to change because you think they should make a differnt product.

    1. Did anyone else catch that I spelled different wrong twice in that comment Twice.