Thursday 21 May 2009

Exclusive News - Pimp My Handpull

You heard it here first folks - Wells & Young's has pimped the traditional handpull.

Starting with Bombadier, and moving through the brands, the brewery will be making the poor old handpull more appealing to those who do want to drink decent beer but are easily distracted by shiny lager marketing.

I'm impressed with this bold move, whether you like the design or not you have to agree that the handpull is well overdue an update and if it means that cask beer will be on in more pubs then hoorah!

It would be lovely to frequent a style bar with my mates and have a pint rather than being forced(!) into drinking cocktails or wine for a change and apparently swishy joints are throwing their doors open to this concept already.

So, tell me what you think - are you pro pimping the handpull? What would you do differently? Can real ale ever be sexy? Will Kate Moss consider cask beer the next must-have accessory? Am I getting a little carried away?!


The Beer Nut said...

I'm very far from being any kind of cask beer traditionalist, but I think it looks awful. I think the shiny-font arms race is just going to make pubs less visually appealling.

Plus, there are presumably going to be knock-on effects for guest beers: they're not going to have big fancy handpulls, so if all the prospective drinker's attention is focused on the beer from the big brewery with the big marketing budget and the big shiny font, guest beers from breweries that don't play that game are going to suffer, I'd have thought.

Competing for the customer's attention at the tap is a race to the bottom, IMO.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a great idea. I mean, more traditional pubs can keep the preferable old school pump whilst the bars can wack this new one in.

I'm with you on this, the thought of walking into a style bar and finding a cask ale is great. I cannot stand the lagers served in Britain so a nice nutty pint would be great.

Fingers crossed, eh?

Unknown said...

Hi, I work for Wells & Young's.

I hope you don't mind me commenting with the hope of reassuring you 'The Beer Nut'.

Firstly it's important to say that we are NOT doing away with our existing pumpclip. This is not a replacement, but an addition to our range. Pump clips will always have a place especially in outlets where cask is already popular.

Our objective is to get more people trying cask in more pubs. CAMRA published a stat that 65% of UK adults have never tried cask, but of those, 4 out of 10 that try it convert to it. Our own research suggests that for people who are not currently cask drinkers there is an image problem. Research (and sales data over the past 30 years) suggests that shouting louder at the bar does get people to try cask - and then they stick with it.

So, our aim is to widen the appeal of cask, and we very much hope that we won't put off existing drinkers - being able to respond on forums like this is really important to make sure that we are not misunderstood.

I'd like to reassure you of two crucial points:
1. The beer is unchanged. It is exactly the same cask conditioned liquid.
2. The method of dispense is still a traditional handpull, we've essentially just put a frame around it and lit the logo area. After a year's hard work I don't want to trivialise what we've done, but the brief was to maintain the handpull and improve the display.

With regards the comment about big vs small breweries, I hope this will reassure you somewhat. In the market at the moment, the HUGE international breweries are outspending all the cask brewers including ourselves. Tastes are changing, and Cask sales are starting to grow again, but at the bar the lager and smoothflow brands still grab attention away from our great, traditional British beers. Our intention is that by widening appeal for cask to new outlets, we'll get more people into pubs drinking cask beer in general. Far from closing off the market, we hope to grow cask beer and encourage non drinkers to give it a go. By doing so we hope we will actually increase the opportunity for smaller brewers as well in the longer term - especially as variety of flavours is so important in our marketplace.

I hope this reassures you a little, but please do let me know if not.

Thank you

The Beer Nut said...

's okay, you don't need to reassure me as I don't think there's a Bombardier tap anywhere within 100 miles of my front door.

I'm interested in the data about "shouting louder at the bar does get people to try cask - and then they stick with it". What other "shouting" techniques have been tried, 'cos I don't think I've ever seen something as "loud" as this.

"Far from closing off the market, we hope to grow cask beer" -- and I'm sure this will grow your cask beer, which is the point of it all and fair enough in a free market. However, it seems to me that breweries who aren't going to be pursuing "shouting" techniques will suffer from having "quieter" handpulls. Even if they aren't sharing space with one of the new Bombardier fonts.

Here, where virtually all draught beer is kegged, one of the three brewers who control 99% of the market between them decided a couple of years ago it would upgrade its fonts to taller, illuminated ones. Another of the brewers followed suit, making even taller, brighter, fonts. And the third responded with yet more elaborate, space-hogging, shouty fonts. I expect the second lap of this arms race to start any day now. In the meantime, in the attempt to shout louder than the others, bars have just become uglier: with a forest of big, showy, nasty, ice-clad fonts yelling for the customer's attention. It's horrible.

Once you start shouting over the top of the Heineken and Stella, the Heineken and Stella will try to shout louder than you. It's a race to the bottom.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your response. The 'arms race' (great description by the way) has been going on since the early 80's and it's continued. Cask hasn't been involved in that time, and it has made a real difference to sales. I don't think not competing is a serious option long term, but I totally respect and understand your concerns - I stick by our objective to grow total market and thereby create opportunity for others. I hope you will bear with us and see that we are as good as our word. Thanks for the debate, and I hope you can buy Bombardier near you soon!

Fatman said...

Sharp points, well made as ever from Beer Nut.

In the context of the arms race, I like what Wells have done; it looks better than the competition. Fair play.

But I worry about what it will dispense - if you're spending wads of cash on presentation what about ingredients? We've seen plenty of flash presentation before dispensing little flavour. Do we want to take cask down this route?

Another concern is the number of style bars who haven't the logistics, skill or interest to serve good cask ale (alright, Bombadier is pretty much bright off the dray and it takes a cretin to mess it up) but just want it because it looks cool. Now that doesn't do cask any favours at all.

In summary: I almost admire Well's attempts here to spread the word but I very much doubt their methodology. In getting folk to appreciate cask it is necessary to get them to come to you to some extent. And that may mean waiting until they've got fashion out of their system.

michael-j said...

firstly, if it's an attempt to get more people to try cask ale, then it's a shame that it's not a beer with a more neutral name and without an England flag in the design.

secondly, the points about badly kept ale are important - there are already many pubs and bars in London (and i imagine the rest of Britain's the same) with a solitary pump of badly kept big name ale - e.g. London Pride, Bombardier, or similar. i'd rather see interesting keg or bottle offerings as an alternative to the lager, John Smiths and Guinness.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree that the handpull is well overdue an update - I like the simplicity of a black, or wooden handle, so this is a bit showy for me.

I do quite like the fact that it looks like a set of cricket wickets - seems to fit well with W&Y's (perhaps slightly unjustifiable!) claim on all things English :~)

On the negative side, I presume there's more energy used both to make & power the thing, & I do worry (as a craft-brewer, trying to get my cask beers on to the bar) that having a branded pump in a way might "lock" an all-too-rare handpull to one brewery's beer.

Not that bigger breweries should (ahem) supply & install dispense equipment for smaller breweries to later sell their beers through, but I do think that the hassle of removing the behemoth branded handpull & replacing it with an unbranded one, might lead to a reduction in beer diversity.

Oh & talking about slightly unjustifiable claims - did anyone else spot how they launched this? "WELLS AND YOUNG’S REVEAL BIGGEST INNOVATION IN CASK BEER…EVER" from -

My vote might be for the microscope, pH meter, coopering, steel casks, plastic casks, race spiles, cooled lines & cellar cooling, or indeed the handpump itself maybe, but a big plastic lit handpull - no :~)

Dubbel said...

There is nothing more attractive to me than walking into a pub and seeing a vast array of traditional wooden handpumps taking pride of place on the bar. Leaving aside the fact that I don't like the design, I believe all of the concerns voiced above are valid. In particular Anon's ascertion of "locking" valuable handpumps to big name and all-too-often uninspiring ales.

Hopefully this is just more headline-grabbing akin to GK's bizarre Northern/Southern switch device and won't prove too commonplace in traditional pubs.

Good Burp said...

That handle is sexy. But if I am drinking a tradional ale, I would prefer and old world tap handle. I hope Young's and Fuller's don't turn into the AB of English Ale advertising.

Rob Sterowski said...

I saw a picture somewhere with a bank of unbranded, gleaming chrome handpulls that would be quite nice if wooden handpulls don't match the feel of a pub.