If you’re new to being a nationally syndicated beer writer, like myself, it’s easy to dramatize things unnecessarily inside your head. Deadlines tend to loom larger in your mind than they have any right to, possibly due to the ominousness of the term. The Sun column is 600 words, after all, and I’ve been churning out something like 3000 words a week for about six months. Taken objectively, it’s not really that big a deal and it’s surprising how quickly you get used to the concept of working on a schedule.
Another thing that I had sort of mentally over prepared for was a meeting I had Tuesday with some Molson representatives. Initially, I was fairly surprised that they were interested in talking to me. After all, I have been pretty scathing when it comes to their marketing strategies and I would think that my bias in favour of craft beer is pretty clear.
It’s easy to cast large breweries as the bad guys; The “evil empire,” if you will. It is, after all a period in history when large corporations are essentially able to lobby governments for whatever they want. Recently, there was a rumour of merger between AB InBev and SABMiller, which would have combined the largest and second largest brewers in the world into some kind of giant, bland beer-Voltron.
You see, the problem is that the narrative structure of the situation doesn’t really favour them. All I know for sure is that in the movies, the good guys tend not to start out with all of the resources and huge amounts of money and publicity and the ability to influence politics. The good guys are the underdogs and people are conditioned to think about anyone who’s an underdog as a good guy. It could be Luke Skywalker or Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles or pretty much any main character in a Pixar or Disney movie.
Of course, that’s not the reality of the situation. It’s just the way that it’s portrayed.
I went and sat down with the Molson guys and was not exactly shocked to learn that they don’t dress in black or have red lightsabers and that there was no immediate evidence that they were in the thrall of some unspeakable ancient evil that lies dreaming in R’lyeh.
They’re just some guys. Pretty nice guys as a matter of fact. Obviously driven by an agenda, but I suspect that’s more of a contextual thing than an intrinsic quality. These are people you could hang out with.
The thing that struck me most about the meeting was the brief lamentation that brand loyalty seemed to be a thing of the past. Gone, apparently, are the days when people would choose a beer and then drink it for the next fifty or so years. It’s all this darn choice that exists.
Which is a bit of a weird statement to espouse considering that the beer that they wanted me to try was Molson M, which adds another variety of pale lager to the Molson family of products
Molson M already exists outside of Ontario. I’m relatively sure that it launched in late 2009 in Quebec. I say this because I remember seeing a booth for it at Mondial in Montreal in June. I also remember that that booth was relatively sparsely populated. It’s not really their fault that that was the case in Montreal. If the choice is between a two dollar sample of a new Molson lager and a two dollar sample of something from overseas that you can’t get at any other time of year, I’d say the choice is pretty obvious.
The claim to fame is that M is microcarbonated. I don’t know what that means. The technique is patent pending, so they were unable to elucidate on the off chance that I was planning to distribute their secrets via twitter.
I can only speculate that their method is either:
a) using carbonating stones with smaller than usual openings that impart a very fine amount of CO2 over a longer period of time possibly ending with a higher than usual pressure? I dunno.
b) Tiny magical French-Canadian pixies with incredibly small straws blow continuously into the tank, creating exceptionally wee, elfin bubbles. (Not a union you want to anger.)
I’m not sure that it really matters, though. The problem is this: No one that they’re going to be marketing this beer to is really going to care a whole lot about the science behind its carbonation, and people who might have some interest are going to be skeptical since it’s still patent pending and it can’t be discussed publicly.
In truth, as mass produced pale lagers go, it’s just fine. There’s a little bit of spice and green apple in the aroma. I think I prefer it to Canadian. It’s certainly drinkable. It is, however, markedly similar to some of their other products. The packaging is supposed to set it apart as more urbane and sophisticated than its counterparts. I’m not sure it matters whether it is “premium” or not. I suspect the problem is that it’s another pale lager in a market dominated by pale lagers. In the same way that everything looks like a nail to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a pale lager to a man with a focus group.
I think that in a best case scenario it causes a slight uptick in sales and establishes itself as a brand. Probably what will happen is that it will slightly dilute sales of the other products offered by Molson resulting in a slight net loss in sales of their other brands resulting in the overall sales figures staying about where they are.
I guess we’ll find out when it launches next week.