As it seems every year, Saint Paddy’s was going to come and go without a related post by me. I seem to say this every year, and then pull one out at the last minute, but this year I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to pass this time.
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
I wasn’t really feeling a review, and I thought I’d already beat the “Saint Patrick’s Day snob” thing to death over the past couple of years.
So all was quiet until the other day when I saw a TV ad for Guinness’ Blonde American Lager. Now this beer didn’t catch me by surprise, I’d seen it on the shelf before, but what did catch me off guard was that I realized upon seeing this ad that I’d seen more of them for this beer than Guinness’ iconic stout.
And then on Saint Patrick’s day a Washington Post article was being shared around Facebook that suggested the beer to drink in different countries if you wanted to look like local. And of course, the author suggested Guinness for Ireland. And although that should seem so right, it kinda didn’t.
While it’s true that Guinness is still the number 1 brand in Ireland, the truth is that the classic dry stout and its smaller siblings Murphy’s and Beamish are getting a bit of flogging on the beer market. That’s because the majority of beer drinkers on the Emerald Isle are now lager drinkers.
That’s right, while ordering a Guinness at a pub may put you in good company amongst stout drinkers, it will still mean that you’re out numbered almost 2-to-1 by people drinking yellow beer. That’s because sadly, almost 60% of the beer drinkers in Ireland now chose a lager as their beer of choice.
And that probably wouldn’t be bad if lagers like Harp were leading the charge, but in reality, the lager surge is actually being driven by such not so native brands as Carlsberg (#1) Heinekin (#2), and Carling. Yeah, the last time I saw Carling on draft – I was in Ireland.
Yep, the country that boosts that every pub has a Guinness tap should also be forth coming that you’re just as likely to find some combination of the above lagers and on any given night, those beers together are outselling Guinness.
Some may think that this isn’t surprising, large foreign beer producers trying to push the quaint homegrown beer out of the market like a nerd on a playground. But one must remember that Guinness itself is owned by Diageo, the largest producer of spirits in the world and themselves the owners of some brands you may have heard of – Johnnie Walker, Oban, Talisker, Lagavulin, Cragganmore, Smirnoff, Popov, Ketel One, Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Captain Morgan, and Seagram’s . So no one’s out muscling Guinness in the liquor stores, especially in their own backyard.
No, this transition is purely organic, a reflection of the change in drinking habits in the younger drinkers across the country, and it’s not the only place Guinness is seeing sales slip.
Guinness sales fell 2% in the split year of 2012-2013 (June to June) in the US, and the company watched them fall another 6% in the following 12 months. With that in mind, Diageo decided to market Blonde American Lager to target the large lager drinking segment of US beer drinkers.
But is this a good thing? The maker of THE most notable stout in the world, stripping down to an American lager? Let’s taste.
THEM: BAL is apparently the first in an on coming series of “fusion beers” where Guinness will look at ingredients a brewing techniques around the globe an pair them with some Irish tradition – specifically, Guinness’ yeast from Dublin. BAL was brewed in partnership with City Brewing in Latrobe, PA (yes, you’ve probably heard of that town before, “33”).
The ingredients are all American with pale 2-row, and biscuit malts supplying the backbone while Willamette and Mosaic(TM) hops bring in 21IBUs and those Irish beasties get the beer to 5.0%ABV.
ME: BAL pours golden with a white head that tames down to some nice lace. The nose is a very nice combination of malt and biscuit, the hop character is subdued just like in a European lager but there are notes of grass to be had. The first sip brings some of the hops to the forefront, but again they don’t slap your tongue in any sort of way. This beer is well balance, with a nice supporting structure of malt in the middle, along with notes of bread and fruit; and ending in a pleasing crispness that doesn’t over power.
In keeping with the intention I try to maintain here at tDoB of reviewing a beer just on the beer, this is actually a very nice, and well constructed lager. It’s got a good balance to it, and definitely enough malt/hops to elevate it above the American mass produced lagers. If you’re looking for a good lager to accompany you in your weekend activities, you could do a lot worse.
However, if I were to slide a bit out of the above convention and look at this beer overall, the real question about American Blonde for me isn’t how, it’s why.
Guinness already tried this to a certain extent when they released Black Lager a while back. And although that beer did initially see a bump in revenue for Guinness, it didn’t sustain it very long and I sadly see the possibility of Blonde going down the same road.
People will of course be curious at first, but at $9-$10 a 6-pack, there are other options out there. I don’t see Joe Budweisers making a step up to this beer, nor do I see Joe CraftBeers (many of whom have abandoned brand loyalty for the thrill of always chasing something new) staying with it long.
However, if this beer is indeed a part of an on going series maybe Guinness can keep grabbing the attention of the curious but flighty beer buyers with each release and start to reclaim some of their dwindling sales.
Time will tell. And time for another beer.