I look at a corked and caged bottle of imperial stout and recognise it as something more than a bottle of beer, it’s a representation of how much care has been put into the product by the brewer, a big flashing neon sign that says “we think this beer is special”.
But is that the desired effect? Or does the brewer simply want to change the way the customer drinks the beer, or perhaps I’m being cynical here, simply get a bigger mark up on their beer?
At the other end of the spectrum, another way to increase your profits is to produce a beer which has the appearance of something which you can passively drink without too much thought, a beer which is for everyday drinking - ‘fridge beers’ as I call ‘em. Without changing the flavour of a beer some breweries will try to change our overall perception of it through packaging, with the desired end-goal of encouraging us to drink more of it.
It was the can of Flying Dog’s Snake Dog IPA sat in my fridge that got me thinking about this. Even at a not-exactly-session-strength 7.1% it strikes me as an everyday drinking beer because of the packaging – a lawnmower beer the Americans call ‘em – something which is there to be drank and enjoyed rather than savoured and obsessed over.
It’s an impression that carries over to my experience of the beers themselves, but is that a residual feeling left over from my perception of the packaging, or has the bottle design been chosen to suit the no-fuss, drinkable style of the beers?
How much can we really separate the impression given by the packaging, branding, history, from the flavour of the beer itself? Isn’t it all one experience, no matter how objective we try to be?
And, lone behold, my honest impression of Meantime beers is that of subtle refinement. Not shouty, not always exciting you could argue, but always good quality, with a sense of class that other breweries don’t often achieve.
The interesting question for me is how much do you notice packaging in beer? Not just the obvious gift-boxing of expensive beers, but the subtlety of shape, form and branding of the bottles.
Because if you don’t notice it, then it may be having even more of an effect on you than you’d think.