Friday, 16 September 2016

Fish in a barrel

Do you really want this lurking in your pint?
Last week, the Good Pub Guide gave us an object lesson in how to do a press launch – pick a single, straightforward message, in this case piped music in pubs, that they knew would resonate with their target market, and which generated acres of pretty much entirely positive coverage.

Fast forward a week, and what do CAMRA do for the Good Beer Guide? That’s right, concentrate on the widespread use of isinglass (a substance derived from the swim bladders of sturgeon) as a clearing agent in real ale, and suggest brewers should try to cut down on it. Surely highlighting this doesn’t exactly enhance the public image of real ale, and it also promotes the view that brewers should do more to pander to vegans and other weirdy-beardies rather than the normal drinker in the pub.

Needless to say, it didn’t exactly generate positive publicity, with many seeing it as a call for isinglass to be outlawed in beer. Of course the message was misinterpreted, but the press, as anyone involved in public relations should know, don’t exactly do nuance and subtlety. Give them a simple, unambiguous, newsworthy message and they will run with it.

And Roger Protz was wrong to even suggest that less use should be made of isinglass. He should recognise it for what it is, a traditional, long-established ingredient in beer. Maybe it would have been more diplomatic to urge brewers to produce more beers suitable for vegans. After all, if there is a market it makes sense to cater for it. But even that, if it involves changing mainstream recipes, would be a case of the vegan tail wagging the omnivorous dog.

Sadly, even when confronted with fish in a barrel, it seems that CAMRA are more likely to shoot themselves in the foot. Whoever thought this would be a good way of publicising the GBG launch really ought to be taken outside and shot themselves.

23 comments:

  1. The comment about a single clear message is spot-on. There were four press releases yesterday, covering London microbreweries, nasty big business, safe drinking limits and fish bits in beer. Not much to say about a book that tells you where to go for wonderful beer (which is what it does).

    There's a lot of positive things to say about real ale, and for all my reservations about micropubs I would have thought it worth highlighting the number of new drinking places with good beer.

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    1. Yes, in a sense a single clear message is more important than exactly what that message is. Given CAMRA's general ethos, I would have thought celebrating the rise of micropubs and other "unconventional" outlets would have been the best line to take.

      While making many of the right noises about combating the anti-drink lobby my feeling is that they still haven't truly taken it to heart.

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  2. Are all the CAMRA grown-ups away on holiday or something?

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  3. The story about new places to drink real ale was put out- it was in the Guardian. You would be right that this would be the correct message and should really have been the only press release. However it may be that the journalists have read the guide and picked up on different aspects held within it.
    Unfined real ale though is now a fashionable thing and I quite like it (and brewers who I have talked to are really quite keen on it.) However it takes more time and skill to care for it as it will drop clear if you know what you are doing. The problem is some pubs and large pub chains carry no stock and they want real ale that can drop off the dray and then 12 hours later serve a clear pint. Unfined beer will not do this and so maybe it should only be drunk in higher quality outlets where the cellarman knows what he is doing

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    1. To be fair I've seen loads of local CAMRA branch publicity that focuses on new entrants and highlights the diversity of places to drink good real ale. It's also much harder to hang a narrative around the message "there's good beer out there" than to pick on things Daily Mail reader love to moa about.

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  4. I completely agree, however one small clarification - it's not just vegans, but also mainstream vegetarians who don't eat fish, and that's a lot more people.

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    1. But, if used correctly, finings shouldn't be present in the beer you drink, so you're not actually ingesting a fish product. Vegetarians in general are happy to wear leather shoes.

      I suppose the question is whether the fish are specifically caught for isinglass, or whether it's a by-product of fish that are caught for food, but I don't know the answer to that one.

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    2. It`s a by-product of general fishing and so many (but not all) vegetarians will drink real ale.

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  5. I get the feeling that some elements within CAMRA have used the launch PR as an opportunity to try to get their views about veganism and vegetarianism across. I understand that CAMRA (and anyone else banging stories out) need an angle to promote their story but this wasn't a good choice.

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    1. Sounds a bit like the Labour Party - no firm hand on the tiller, so everyone taking the opportunity to sound off on their own favourite hobby-horse.

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  6. I picked up on this story via an item on the BBC website. I hadn’t realised CAMRA had decided to run with it for the GBG launch. The whole “fish guts” thing is both inaccurate and alarmist, and I will be posting on this issue later.

    In summary, isinglass should be classed as a “processing aid”, rather than an ingredient, as once the finings have done their work, by attracting and combining with the suspended yeast cells, they are sitting at the bottom of the cask, along with the yeast. The technical term for this layer of sediment is “trub”, and unless the cellar man really didn’t know what he was doing, you wouldn’t be drinking it anyway.

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  7. I think you are being rather harsh. CAMRA released the following press releases in connection with the GBG launch:

    > Fishy business: Good Beer Guide reports moves to axe isinglass.
    > CAMRA's Good Beer Guide warns global brewers threaten choice.
    > New ‘safe drinking’ limits are rocky road to prohibition.
    > Good Beer Guide celebrates London as Beer Boom City.

    CAMRA cannot control how the media choose to present or - more relevantly here - ignore the information they were given. I notice you ignored all but one too.

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    1. Actually they can - by putting out a single, unambiguous message, as the Good Pub Guide people did. It's not my fault if the media choose to concentrate on the one out of the four that makes the best copy.

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    2. I agree it's not your fault what the media chooses to report, but it is your fault that you followed their lead.

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    3. The whole point of a well crafted press campaign - not just chucking a press release or two out in the hope they get used - is - simplifying things a bit - to choose your words wisely and to use your media contacts to avoid the media from twisting your message to suit their own agenda. That's what good publics relations people do. Camra seem a bit lacking in that respect.

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  8. Remember having this self same conversation over 25 years ago with a vegan. It didn't stop him drinking beer though. He had convinced himself that breweries no longer used isinglass, but used peat moss instead..

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  9. Weirdy beardies? Really?

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  10. tbf the guide has generally had a number of topics covered in the foreward sections, its a lot like Wisden in that respect, some of them are designed to be provocative, because it gets people talking about the guide, and not necessarily just a this is the state of the union address.

    so I think it worked well, got the coverage, and whether we like it or not isinglass is something that newer "real ale" drinkers are increasingly bothered about. which is reflected in the fact newer "craft" breweries are making it a virtue of their beers that they dont use it and its selling and not just to vegans.

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  11. Do vegitarians/vegans also object to the yeast in beer?

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    1. Surely yeast is a fungus and thus vegetable, not animal.

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    2. So it is. But why is killing plants more ethical than killing animals?

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    3. Don't ask me, I'm not a vegetarian. But I think the argument is that animals are sentient creatures, while plants aren't.

      Of course there are the extreme fruitarians who believe that human cultivation of plants is immoral, and we should subsist only on what is naturally provided.

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    4. Fungus is neither animal nor vegetable, but a classification all to itself. However, scientists generally regard fungi as being more like animals than vegetables.

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