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The Oakes Weekly - Hallowe'en Special

A Disturbing Story With Very Dark Subject Matter
Oakes Weekly October 31, 2002      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

<P>When I was 17, right around the end of high school, perhaps a couple of weeks after graduation, my friends and I were going somewhere to do something. The details are kind of vague at this point, because whatever it was we were up to, that's not the reason I remember the day. The reason I remember the day is because we were hungry and looking for some dinner. We were on the Lougheed Highway in Burnaby, a large suburb of Vancouver. I lived in Burnaby as a child for a number of years, actually. It has two parts - north and south. Nobody really lives in the central part, where the Trans-Canada Highway, Lougheed Highway and Burnaby Lake bisect the city. Since few people actually live there, food options are limited. But there was Fogg 'n' Sudds. So we stopped there. The Fogg was a restaurant, but one that also happened to specialize in beer (it still exists, but the passion for beer is long gone). So in we went, and it came as a bit of a surprise to us minors that the hostess immediately looked at us and asked "You guys look like you like beer."

<P>Sure, what the hell. Truth is, the only beers I'd ever had were Kokanee, Blue and Bud - hated them. But the prospect of being served booze in a licensed establishment was pretty cool (the Fogg later developed a reputation for serving minors until they got busted a few years later). So I looked at the extensive beer list. I wanted something exotic, but it was pretty much all exotic for me. So I went with a name that I suppose I'd heard before, and wasn't too expensive. I ordered a Guinness. I then went across the street to the bank machine, because if somebody was going to pour my underage ass beer, I'd better be prepared.

<P>I came back with a big pint of black sitting before me, with a thick head of foam. "Now that's what a beer should look like!" I exclaimed, pretending to know what I was talking about. My friends told me I'd missed the best part - the cascade with which I was soon to become very much familiar. I took a sip - I loved it. My early days at the Fogg were filled with the odd and interesting - MacEwan's, Okanagan Old Munich, Sam Smith's Nut Brown, even Samiclaus - but Guinness was always a part of the evening.

<P>Like a lot of beer lovers, I held a soft spot in my heart for Guinness for years. I wondered why some of the crusty old homebrew guys despised it so much. Eventually, I started to see their point of view, and now I only drink Guinness one day a year (I'll give you one guess).

<P>I wrote a paper in grad school on Diageo, the multinational beverage organization borne of the Grand Met/Guinness merger in the late 90's. At the time, I wondered what was going to happen to Guinness, because I knew that the brand was very strong, and could be leveraged in all sorts of ways. It is now apparent the way in which Diageo is using the Guinness brand. They are trying to make it an international version of Rickard's Red.

<P>Consider the following: First, Diageo mandated that Guinness should be served at 4 degrees. This is far too cold a temperature at which to serve a stout, especially a nitrogenated one, if you want to actually taste anything. Many pubs served it warmer, but this new decree was introduced with a certain amount of pressure to conform, and now Guinness is always served cold.

<P>Now they have introduced Guinness Extra Cold. This is the same beer as regular Guinness, but served at 1C. That would be, for those not familiar with Centigrade, teeth-shatteringly cold. At 4C, Guinness is kind of watery. At 1C, it is just plain icy. Why serve a stout so cold? Because lagers are served cold, and Guinness is repositioning itself as a lager.

<P>Need proof? A couple of years ago, Guinness had an ad campaign promoting the virtues of waiting patiently for its trademark cascade of foam to settle. This was marketed as something visually stimulating, an anticipation builder leading to a tasty pint of stout. Now there is a dispensing system that pours Guinness quickly. No minutes-long cascade of foam, just a quick blast of ice cold black stuff into the mug.

<P>In neutralizing the flavour through excessive chilling, and eliminating the visual appeal of a pint of Guinness, Diageo has stripped the beer of two of its most important components. I loved Guinness for years, even while I was progressing through hundreds of other beers, Guinness was a staple. The flavour and the visuals were a big part of that. All that is left now is the black colour and the brand. If the Guinness of my university days were ice cold and dispensed instantly, I doubt I would have held on as a regular Guinness drinker near as long as I did. How many years will it take before "Pale Guinness" is introduced, and the stout phased out altogether? That's the direction in which they are going.

<P>A classic beer has been lost in Guinness Stout. How many beer lovers got their start with Guinness? More than any other beer, I'd be willing to bet (at least on this side of the Atlantic). Diageo has forgotten why Guinness was so successful in the first place. It was different. It was unique - flavourful without being intimidating. The lagerfication of Guinness has reduced this distinctiveness considerably. Not only is Diageo moving into territory already occupied by fierce, well-funded competitors like Anheuser-Busch and Heineken, but they are leaving a whole in the market for approachable, but flavourful mainstream beer. A hole Interbrew is more than happy to fill with boatloads of Hoegaarden (and even this is presuming Heineken doesn't wake up and realize the opportunity they have with Murphy's). It is not too late for Guinness, but the future looks bleak for this once-proud product, at least in terms of prestige if not sales.



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