The Blind Lead the Blind, Pig: Craft Brewers vs Crafty Brewers

Today, a colleague of mine presented me with a bottle-shaped wrap of newspaper. On inspection, the newsprint looked to be slightly yellowed and aged, and the stories similarly ancient, with headlines about flappers, jazz and the like.

PigWrapped

It looked better when I received it than on arrival home

Within the clandestine-looking wrap (which was rather torn and tatty-looking by the time I’d carted it home in my messenger bag, which was full of CDs and my Asus notebook) was a bottle of cider. He’d received a crate of Blind Pig cider for Christmas from the boyfriend of one of his daughters: he happens to be involved in the brewing industry in some kind of sales capacity. My colleague seemed to think he was in fact employed by Carlsberg or a similar major, but he was intrigued by the cider, which appeared to be an entirely independent venture. He wanted my opinion, knowing me to be something of an enthusiast and not entirely lacking in knowledge or expertise where alcoholic beverages are concerned.

Wrapper

Fake newspaper wrapping, and all that jazz

Indeed, the information on the elegantly-shaped and vintage-looking bottle, with its suitably retro labels gave precious little away, and the same is true of their website. Pretty much all on-line coverage is devoted to rave reviews of its pop-up prohibition-themed launch event. Moreover, inspecting what I had brought home and which now sat on my kitchen table all looked distinctly prohibition-era US: the bottle’s capacity, 16.9 US fl oz, and the alcohol content, 8 per cent proof. there’s no question that they’ve gone all out for cultivating a strong image and a brand that’s all about cult cred.

But here’s where they’ve slipped. Anyone with any real knowledge wouldn’t need to look at the rear label, which confirmed the brew was produced ‘in the EU’ and that its alcohol content was 4% ABV. All these bullshitters who try to look hard and / or cool by referring to drinks – spirits in particular – by their ‘proof’ strength are only airing their ignorance in public. Wow, you’re drinking a whisky or vodka that’s 80% proof? Must be tough… oh, no, wait, it’s only a regular 40% ABV. It won’t turn you blind, sunshine. And the nicely-shaped bottle is of course 500ml in capacity, 68ml short of a proper pint thanks for the metricisation of, well, everything.

Bottle

Nice bottle neck

So, what’s pitched as a ‘premium’ cider for ‘connoisseurs’ and therefore ‘superior’ and ‘edgy’, with its unusual flavour (Blind Pig Cider comes in threw flavours: whiskey, honey and apple; rum and poached pair; bourbon and blueberry, with a bottle of the whiskey, honey and apple perched on my decidedly post-millennium IKEA pine folding table), is starting to look very like another exercise on kitsch marketing of something ultimately mainstream trendy, namely fruit-flavoured ciders.

Label

Neat label

So how is this different from, say, Dark Fruits Strongbow? Well, I’d question just how much it is. It’s light, it’s fizzy and however hard you chill it’s, it’s incredibly sweet. The flavour isn’t unpleasant, and there is a smoky, peaty tang, a hint of charcoal that hints at single malt and bourbon. And yes, bourbon is sweet in comparison to the majority of single malts (the raisin and honey hints of something like Jura excepted) but even accepting that we’re talking about whiskey and not whisky, this isn’t that kind of sweetness. Actually’ let’s unpack that flavour set again: whiskey, honey and apple. The honey speaks for itself, and you’d expect sweetness from it, but again, honey beers like Waggledance aren’t as cloying as this, and as for apple… wait,apple flavoured cider? that’s beyond audacious. What next, grape flavoured wine? Gin flavoured gin? Milk flavoured mikshakes? The point is, unless it’s a ‘flavoured’ cider, it should be apple flavoured, no? Well, actually, no: cider should taste of fermented apples and have a crisp tartness, whereas this has that claggy, artificial apple sweetness. It’s simply not refreshing.

Pint

Sorry, favourite festival glass

While they’ve done a good job of creating a mystique around the product and hiding any major brewery connections, it feels like a huge con, another example of the mainstream hijacking burgeoning trends, specifically the craft brewing fad that’s all the rage right now. A real ‘craft’ cider wouldn’t use spirit flavourings, of that I’m certain: this hasn’t been near a drop of whisky, or an apple as far as I can tell.

Sipping this syrupy fizz, I’m reminded of both Kopparberg and the deceptive marketing of Blue Moon beer, which despite its independent ‘handcrafted’ appearance, is produced and marketed by MillerCoors, and its cloudiness isn’t a natural unfiltered haze but the result of a ‘clouding agent’ being added. In turn, it’s no different from a major record label creating a subsidiary that’s pitched to all intents and purposes as being ‘independent’ as a vehicle for pushing ‘alternative’ band signings that present a sanitised, mass-market version of the underground scene. it’s the way of the world, and the way of capitalist markets: most innovations and revolutions rise from the underground, from the zero-budget, and as soon as there’s a sustained groundswell, the big corporations come sniffing around wanting a piece of the action.

While I expect the origins (and the source of its bankrolling) will be revealed one way or another in due course, the bottom line is that Blind Pig Cider ain’t what it presents itself as being (c’mon, real newsprint would be cooler and more environmentally sound than ersatz repro newspaper wrappings, as real apples would be more appealing than a syrupy synthetic shot of flavour) and nor is it especially good: I have a very real need to cleanse my palette with a can of Scrumpy Jack.

 

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On a Grohl: The Best of Foo

The Foo Fighters have become something of a recurring theme in my writing, for a number of reasons. I will confess that I did find their debut disappointing, although it’s only as time has passed and their career has progressed that my dislike of the band – Dave Grohl in particular – has really solidified. There was a time in 2005 when it was impossible to escape the strains – and I use the word intentionally and fully aware of all of its connotations – of ‘The Best of You’. Not having a digital radio at the time, I found myself often stuck with Radio 1, where Chris Moyles would play it relentlessly. Fine, he’s a commercial DJ and a slave to the playlist almost as much as to his appetite and ego, which are of comparable size. But at the time, Zane Lowe represented just about the best – by which I suppose I mean the only – real conduit to new alternative music. However, it was around this time that the playlists of the supposedly alternative Lowe, who was growing increasingly irritating in his excessively exuberant links and evermore sycophantic interviews with artists, began to overlap with the mainstream daytime shows to a considerable extent. Were alternative bands taking over the mainstream? No, the alternative being represented was becoming increasingly commercial and narrow in scope.

 

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Zane Lowe: Bumlicking Cockend

The Foo Fighters – a major force in the charts, especially following ‘The Best of You’ and the attendant album, In Your Honour – were not an alternative act. In fact, the crime was worse than that: they were the acceptable face of rock, the ‘rock’ band it was ok for people who don’t like rock to like. The very worst type of corporate rock is surely the rock the suit digs and references when trying to make like they’re hip. In my own experience, I’ve heard it said on more than one occasion that ‘The Foos Rock’. The line always seems to emit from the mouths of people who wouldn’t know rock if it hit them round the head and knocked them unconscious. Arguably, it’s impossible for any band which has songs converted to ringtones to be alternative, and certainly, if an act’s getting played every morning for a month on Chris Moyles’ breakfast show, it ain’t alternative. While I’ve never actually heard a Foo Fighters ringtone, I’m sure they exist and are favoured by the least ‘rock’ people you’re likely to meet.

Moyles

Chris Moyles: the saviour of Radio 1 or just an egotistical fat cunt who loves the sound of his own voice?

Yet the Foo Fighters retained credibility with the true rock crowd because of Grohl’s credentials in terms of his previous output. Now, as a drummer, I have to confess respect, even admiration, and his contribution to the recordings of other bands is also noteworthy: Killing Joke’s eponymous 2003 album would not have been half the album it was without his powerhouse percussion, for example.

Anyway, while some authors have imbued characters they intend to portray negatively with, for example, physical defects or deformities as a reflection of their defective personalities or deformed morality, I bestow mine with questionable musical tastes – at least as far as I’m concerned. Ben’s liking of the Foo Fighters correspond with his conflicting nature, namely the conformist battling with his rebellious streak. In Ben’s case, it’s a more complex issue than his inner rebel struggling to find an outlet against the conformist he’s become in order to fulfil the function he has assumed. Moreover, he’s a conformist at heart who has a fear of anything that disrupts the comfort of conformity; any rebellion he exhibits is as artificial as the happiness he presents to the outside world, because he knows that a dash of rebellion, of non-conformity, is cool. Fearful of going too far, and not really having a taste for anything too far beyond the ordinary, The Foo Fighters are emblematic of ‘safe’ rebellion, the musical equivalent of, say, a henna tattoo.

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Foo Fighters, with the nicest man in rock, Bee Gee tribute artist Dave Grohl

 

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