– 16 January 2013

I love the idea of craft beer. But let me unpack that statement so that it’s not just a glib say-so.

Beer is a refreshment that just about everybody loves – easy to understand. But I love the idea of craft – that time honoured tradition of ritual and the observation of sacred practice. That’s why although I wouldn’t label myself the world’s greatest beer drinker; I am passionate about craft beer because it is all about creating something that consumers can enjoy. It is the making of a beverage according to a time honoured tradition or on a small scale or using only the best ingredients.

jack black the great white project

After years of domination by the SABigboys, in the past few years the local craft beer market has really opened up. Yes we’ve always had craft beer, but for the first time restaurants, pubs and eateries are beginning to understand the complexity and brand opportunity in beer as much as there has been in wine.

There will be a big argument as to why this is, but in my book the guys most active in changing market perceptions about beers have to be those lads at Brewers & Union. Yes, independent brewers have staged their own revolution, but if anyone knows about marketing it has to be those people who once founded Vida e Caffè -Brad Armitage and Rui Esteves.

It was Armitage and Esteves who largely put coffee on the map (yes, that’s another controversial statement), and I believe they’ve done the same with beer. The story goes that the two lads met in Durban while surfing well over a decade ago, founded the red coffee shop that became a legend, and then sold the business six or seven years ago. That’s when they decided to do the same thing for beer that they had done for coffee.

And so the duo of marketing whizzes set of on a journey that took them across the globe (well a large part of it) to bring the best artisan beers back home. Their first attempt was a corked beer that failed dismally in the market, because consumers just weren’t ready for anything that avant-garde. We were only just cutting our teeth on craft beer, and for the most part still under the stranglehold of that massive brewing monolith. We hardly knew our hops from our wheat.

But under the brand collective Brewers & Union, Armitage and Esteves persisted and started importing crafted beers from Europe into the country. The big thing for the beer-loving pair is quality rather than mass commercialisation. But what’s been crucial to the growth of their house of handcrafted brands is educating the market – both restaurateurs and consumer palates.

Initially Brewers & Union struggled to get their beer into restaurants and knew they’d be dead in the water if people didn’t have some place where they could enjoy the beer, so they opened up a ‘beer salon’ under the old NG church at 110 Bree Street, Cape Town. The vibe is chilled and there’s great tasting food, and awesome local music. Needless to say it is the place where all the cool people go.

This and the ‘We love real beer’ association which hosted the ‘We Love Real Beer Craft Festival 2012’ have helped spread the word. As have a dedicated direct marketing programme that Brewers & Union has with distributors and restaurateurs. The accent is on quality and the personal touch – going that extra mile.

This is why I was so excited to see that another craft brewer had come out with what looked like a really clever campaign.John Jack Black was a brewerfrom the New York State in the US, who had a maverick spirit and was passionate about bringing the freshest beer to people who loved their ales. His spirit has been adopted for a Cape Town based brewery that makes beers in small batches, with the same care and dedication.

To be honest when I clicked on the brand’s new campaign the result was disappointing to say the least. The idea is pretty obvious, and isn’t executed in a way that’s fun or cheeky or that offers some sort of redemption to what is a fairly flaccid ad. There’s a ‘behind the scenes’ type video that accompanies the ad, but it is fairly cringe-worthy and I found it uncomfortable and difficult to watch, precisely because of that fact.

It doesn’t matter how much your ad cost to make – even if it was a couple of beers. But if those beers were awesome, the ad has to be just as good as the beer or else you’re not doing your brand any favours.

Craft and artisan beer has immense opportunity in marketing. Don’t hash that by being obvious, clumsy or creating bad ads. The time and effort you invest in your marketing should be just as considered as the time and effort you invest in your craft beer.