by Mark Tichenor
One of the things I miss about being a kid is that loud, colorful ecosystem of toys, food, and TV cartoons in which I dwelt. The TV shows I watched, spawned the toys I wanted, which in turn begat the breakfast cereals I was always pestering my long-suffering parents to buy.
For the most part, that cycle is something we outgrow, but there is some deep-rooted part of the psyche which longs to return to that comfortable old habit. There must be, because there is no other rational way to explain the proliferation of theme beers.
Theme beers, for the uninitiated, are middle-of-the-road craft beers run through the worlds most cynical marketing departments, and tied in with popular television shows or bands. It’s Smurfberry Crunch in a bottle, and the fact that consumer demand exists for them is enough to shatter all faith in the human species.
Let’s start with Warnog Ale, from the Canadian-based Federation of beer. This marketing company cum brewery with an “official partnership with the Star Trek franchise” contracts its ale from a brewery in Indiana, slaps a Klingon logo on the can, and sells it to people who take science fiction way too seriously. In case you’re down on the Klingon Empire,
Warnog also offers Vulcan Ale. Either way, it’s probably best not to wear a red shirt when consuming them.
If that isn’t enough of a cynical pop-culture ploy, you might want to try Philidelphia-based Dock Street brewing’s “Walker,” A beer “inspired” by hit AMC series “The Walking Dead,” and-oh you vegetarians are gonna love this-brewed with real brains.
Billed in their press release as an “American Pale Stout” (do styles still exist or are beer terms now put together by pulling tiles out of a Scrabble bag), Walker contains cranberries for tartness and coloring, and uses smoked goat brains added before sparging to “provide this beer with subtle smoke notes.”
At least Dock Street Walker teaches us that, despite observational evidence to the contrary, goats have brains. Beyond that, this mishmosh of gimmicks promises little of relevance to the drinker, and only the most tenuous connection to the television show after which it is named. Definitely a beer that appeals to zombie consumers.
These are but two of the proliferation of theme beers designed to catch consumers’ escapist preferences in priority over their taste buds. There is also a Harry Potter beer a Hanson beer (mmm-hops), and a Game of Thrones beer. I expect ‘50 Shades of Ale’ is just around the corner.
Folks, they are laughing at us. This type of beer marketing need not promise quality beer, or interesting flavor. Craft beer skyrocketed through a dizzying growth cycle with no end in sight, and apparently that is because we will buy anything and consider it amazing, even if it only comes in a can with our favorite spaceship painted onto the side.
Craft brewing was founded by people who tasted their beer and found it wanting. It was built by people trying to make something better. It has evolved into a series of beers whose flavor profiles are irrelevant. It is the Cola Wars all over again, on a smaller scale. Ultimately, how is this any different from how the much-maligned ‘big multinational breweries’ vie for your attention?
Ultimately, we all need to ask ourselves why we buy craft beer. Is it for the contents or is it for the can?
Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org