Once upon a time, every case of Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale consumed outside of Nova Scotia boldly proclaimed “Brewed only in Nova Scotia. Since 1820”. Where the beer was brewed – or, perhaps just as importantly, where it wasn’t brewed – was an absolutely key part of the story.
The notion of this India Pale Ale that’s so steeped in tradition…. brewed in this rather idyllic (and old by cdn standards) seaside place…. was able to command a premium positioning and price. Keith’s IPA allowed its drinkers to tell themselves (and, more importantly, others) a story about a taste for quality and tradition… about a certain honesty and respect for how ale should be brewed. You get the picture.
This week Labatt, brewer of Alexander Keith’s and subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, announced they are going to start brewing Alexander Keith’s renowned IPA in British Columbia. Metronews.ca reported Labatt’s marketing VP Richard Musson explaining the move with:
“As we looked forward five years we’d see the brand getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And you start to say, 'well does it make sense to transport beer from one side of the continent to the other?'”.
Now, suddenly, where the beer is brewed is no longer a key part of the story. It doesn’t matter. We’ve moved on, etc. The article continues with:
“Everyone always knows Guinness is Irish, although a lot of it doesn’t actually come from Ireland,” Musson said. “We’re never going to take the Nova Scotia out of Keith’s. Without Nova Scotia this brand wouldn’t be so successful.”
Right. I mentioned earlier the story Keith’s drinkers tell themselves, and now we know the story Keith’s brewers tell themselves.
When most all mass-produced beer in Canada tastes more or less the same, the story is all you’ve got. It’s all marketing. Every bit of it. And now a critical element in the story is no longer true. Oh well.
The slope towards mediocrity is a slippery one. As Seth said a few years back, “Once you start compromising, when do you stop?”
Time will tell how this plays out for them. There are a lot of variables, naturally. All I know is that, were I Labatt, I wouldn’t have been so quick to give up that part of the story.