Thursday, October 07, 2010

Pump clips - todays whinge !!!

After a discussion with a couple of our local brewers my mind, for some bizarre reason, started to ponder the question of pump clips. What are they for ? What do they tell us ? Are they relevant ? After a while I decided that I could probably write a Phd on them but rather than that I have decided to share some of my thinking with you. See what you think.

Before the real ale explosion, a pump clip was a fairly straight forward thing. It told the drinker what to expect to come out of the pump. It had the brewery name, the type of beer, and the strength. Just like Tetleys now for example, or Timmy Taylors. Simple, straightforward and to the point. A bit like buying a tin of beans, functional but clear. Effectively pump clips were a point of sale for the brewer, so the buyer knew what he was getting. The same is true now of many lager clips, all you find is the brewery name and an abv, nothing else to help the drinker who presumably knows the product and knows what to expect.

In recent years this has all changed and we are faced with all sorts of pump clips. They fit into many sorts of areas, some informative, some less so; some humourous, some bland; some works of art, some look to have been designed by a child; some a credit to the brewer,some less so. What do I mean ?

Before I start getting deeper, it may be useful to consider what the drinker actually wants from the pump clip. If I see a clip saying mild, or bitter,stout or porter, I roughly know what to expect, and I assume that other drinkers who drink in real ale pubs do too. If the pump clip says amarillo, chinook, mount hood or brewers gold, I have enough knowledge of the product to know that this is likely to be a single hopped beer and in some cases, what taste to expect from it. This is not true of all drinkers though. They are unfamiliar with the ingredients in their pint, nor what style they are likely to encounter. However, I like the simple style which tells me the brewery, the strength and the hop, succinct and to the point.

The same is true of seasonal beers; spring,summer and autumn beers all have their own styles and mention on the clip gives me a rough idea of what style the beer is, and what to expect. Back to the beans analogy, if the label says curried beans, that's what I expect in the tin.

The issues start with beers that have all sorts of weird and wonderful names. I know that brewers want to be different from each other and often have beer ranges to reflect that, but sometimes the poor drinker does not quite get what he expects. Locally we are lucky, we know what style of beer to expect from Empire, Goose Eye or Mallinsons, and if the style varies from the norm, then the pump clip makes it clear. Its when we encounter less familiar breweries that the trouble starts. Abbeydale make loads of very good beers, but often the clips and the names, give little evidence of what to expect. Sometimes I have been hoping for a light beer and ended up with some more best bitter coloured, or worse. Fernandes likewise. Many of the Summer Wine beers have caught me out too. And the list could go on.

May be the way forward could be to follow the example of Castle Rock, who are a brewery we do not often see around these parts. Their 'Preservation' series of beers are monthly specials which show a bird or animal on the clip but in smaller print around the outside of the clip it does explain what style of beer the drinker can expect, it is a help. More so than many breweries who just have a name with no explanation.

Lets face it, if you are in a supermarket and buy a tin with no label, you do not know whether you have your tin of beans or they are peaches instead. The drinker is often faced with the same choice, effectively buying blind, even though the beer has a pump clip, often it does not describe the product. May be a little more thought should go into naming the beer, and informing the drinker. How much more informative it would be to just have words like 'light bitter' or 'dark and malty' added somewhere on the clip to advise the unwary, and to save me buying a pint of something I don't like.

I am not having a go at the brewers here. I know they strive to be different from each other and their ranges of pump clips reflect this, and lets face it, I do enjoy ranges of viaducts, buses, birds, animals, stars, and engines and the interest they create around the bar. I like to be able to recognize a Yorkshire Dales pump clip and tell it apart from an Elland one across a crowded bar, all I would like, sometimes, is a gentle prod in the right direction so I know what beer to expect. It cannot be so hard, can it ?

(Ps due to technical problems, there are no images to illustrate this article, normal service will hopefully be resumed when he returns from his holiday !!)


Bob said...

Alternatively you could just ask the person serving you what the styles is and if it's any good...

Baron Orm said...

I think this post raises some very interesting points, especially that the average drinker has no idea about the flavours of hops or the difference between stout & porter.

I vote to have my 'baron ratings' displayed on the pump clip so that people know what it smells,tastes & finishes like ;)

Phil said...

I do agree. I always try the latest from Abbeydale, because they're always interesting at worst, but it would be nice to have half a clue about what you're going to get. Case in point: the fifth or sixth Abbeydale beer I tried, which was Brimstone - to my complete surprise was a lovely dark malty bitter & a beer of great beauty. Of course, when the next Abbeydale beer came out it was pale, dry, smoky etc etc, and to my mind nowhere near as pleasant.

HardKnott Dave said...

Interesting points. It a curious thing marketing beer, especially real ale. I might well reference this in a post I'm planning.

Steveg said...

As you will no doubt be aware, my main whinge about pumpclips (bypassing the less than savoury beer names that pollute the bar on occasions) is the apparent belief of the clip-maker that we are all endowed with perfect eye-sight, have a magnifying glass to hand and have probably been to Specsavers! What do I refer to....the ABV of course! Speaking as a responsible car driver, it should be a crime of the highest magnitude NOT to inform the poor hapless recipient of a beer as to the potency of the liquid he intends to purchase. As to other concerns such as what does it look and taste like, If in doubt I would normally ask for a taster. Rant over...Thankyou!

Anonymous said...

Steve makes a very valid point, and one that I overlooked,along with several pump clip makers. I suppose it doesn't matter what the beer is called if a couple of pints cause you to fall over. I agree that sometimes the abv is so small as to be unreadable, and I have known cases where it is missing altogether. May be there should be a standard font or size for the vital information to help the optically challenged drinker. Timbo

Sapphire Blue said...

As a slight aside.
Castle Rock (to whom you refer in the item as not been seen often round here)
The delightful Harvest Pale was on in the Field Head Quarmby on Friday.

It did not last long!