Friday, 12 March 2010

Drinkers demand weaker beer

Well, apparently Molson Coors think they do, as part of their relaunch of Caffrey’s nitrokeg ale involves reducing its strength from 4.2% ABV to a mere 3.8%. Caffrey’s was originally launched in the mid-Nineties at 4.8% ABV, and at that strength it did at least have a distinctive alcohol kick to it. It was eventually reduced to 4.2% as drinkers apparently found it too strong for a prolonged session, and now they’ve had a second bite at the cherry. But whether drinkers will come flocking now it’s been made weaker than many ordinary bitters and cooking lagers is very questionable. It all very much smacks of flogging a dead horse, to be honest. It joins the ever-growing list of popular beers and ciders whose strength has been cut in recent years.

On a related note, virtually every pub now will offer a 5% ABV premium lager – Stella, Heineken, Carlsberg Export, Kronenbourg 1664 etc. – yet outside specialist outlets it is very rare to find an ale of similar strength as a regular beer. Greene King Abbot Ale is about the only widely-available example I can think of. Even its stablemate Old Speckled Hen was reduced to 4.5% in draught form a few years ago. The explanation for this must be that consuming ales of that strength in volume is just so much more like hard work than lagers.


  1. Drinkers demand weaker beer

    Yeah right! I treat things like this with the contempt they deserve Cumurgeon.

  2. I enjoy beer of all strengths, but this is just lousy smooth flow crap, so I find it difficult to give a damn how weak or strong they make it.

  3. Brains brewery in Cardiff used to do a very nice 'light', which you could drink two pints of at lunchtime and be unaffected in the afternoon.

    For evening drinking, they had SA and a few pubs served it straight from the barrel. That was 'wake up fully clothed with half a bag of chips in your pocket and no recollection at all' stuff.

    I'm a long way from Cardiff now, so I don't know what the current situation is.

    A light beer is a useful thing at lunchtime when you're thirsty but still have stuff to do in the afternoon. So it's a handy thing to have available.

    I won't be drinking any tonight. It's whisky night for me.

  4. I enjoyed Caffrey's back when I was at college, especially when sat in the O'Neill's on Broad St in Brum wishing I was extroverted enough to chat up the lovely barmaid from Connemara with an accent that could melt the stoniest heart.

  5. Not sure how Caffrey's could join any list of popular beers.

  6. This may sound strange, but 5% lagers don't seem to affect me as much as 5% ales.

    On my recent visit to Prague I was drinking between six and seven half litres of 5% Czech lagers a day (Don Schenker take note!). Although I was pacing myself, eating sensibly at lunchtime and in the evening, and also doing a fair amount of walking, the beer had very little efect on me, and I felt as right as rain the next day! Had I been drinking the same amount of 5% strength ale back home, I know I would certainly be feeling the effects.

    I'm still not sure why this should be the case, and I'm not about to switch to drinking Stella or Heineken to further this research. I will add that 5% is perhaps a fraction too strong, certainly for a good session ale. 4 - 4.5%, is probably just right though!

  7. I do think the relative "heaviness" of ales in the 5% strength range does make them harder to drink in quantity than lagers (or ciders) of comparable strength. In a sense maybe that is a point in their favour.

    One or two folks have said "who cares, Caffrey's is shite anyway?" Maybe it is, but part of the remit of this blog is to look at trends in the overall beer market and not just to cover craft beer in a narrow sense, which others do much better than me.

  8. I would have to agree that 5% lagers have an edge, in that respect, over a lot of their ale counterparts. Certainly, OSH, when it was stronger, was a case in point. However, isn't that mainly only true of the traditional strong ale? There are quite a few modern IPA styles that are very easy drinking for 5%.

  9. There are quite a few modern IPA styles that are very easy drinking for 5%.

    There are - Hopback Summer Lightning springs to mind. However, you don't tend to see these as regular beers in mainstream pubs. Robinson's have tried with Frederics and now Double Hop, both of which were/are excellent beers when well kept, but you scarcely ever see them in their tied houses.

  10. I think the points raised by Curmudgeon and Tyson hit the nail nicely on the head. The relative "heaviness" of many 5% ales does probably account for their being harder to drink in quantity, and the fact that brewers such as Robinsons have found it hard to sell their stronger offerings in their own pubs mirrors my own experience of these matters.

    Years ago, when Whitbread were anxious to project a more local image, they brought out a strong bitter called "Tusker". The beer was named after the famous Fremlins elephant symbol, and was sold under the Fremlins name. (For the uninitiated, Fremlins were the major, and best regarded, brewery in Kent until Whitbread acquired them during the late 1960's).

    Despite it being an excellent beer, Tusker proved difficult to sell to local drinkers, weaned on a diet of 3.5% bitters. It started to suffer from quality issues brought on by poor turnover - linked, of course, to low sales. Eventually it was withdrawn.

    Our own local brewery, Larkins, suffer from the same problem. Very few pubs take their excellent 4.4% Best Bitter, perhaps hardly surprising as the majority of their outlets are rural freehouses, where not wanting to exceed the drink-driving limit is obviously an issue with drinkers.

    Despite these issues, there is still no excuse for brewers to deliberately reduce the strength of their beers.(I seem to recall this was common practice back in the 60's and, of course, much easier to conceal when there was no requirement to display the strength of a beer!).


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