Cold comfort

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There can be little doubt of the biggest story in lager in recent years: the extra cold revolution. Even outside of lager, everywhere you look there...

There can be little doubt of the biggest story in lager in recent years: the extra cold revolution. Even outside of lager, everywhere you look there is demand for cold serves. The booming success of pint bottles of cider poured over ice has been followed by wine pioneers trying to introduce rosé and champagne drinkers to the joys of those little frozen cubes. However, it was lager that first tapped into this call for cold.

There are myriad technologies, and much disagreement over just how cold draught lager should be served.

However, the one common denominator is the agreement that lager marketed as Œcold¹ sells. A good job too, considering the dearth of innovation elsewhere in the category and the way standard lager was suffering before Coors, through its Carling brand, came up with the first major extra cold draught lager in 2003.

Barracuda marketing manager Myles Doran calls extra cold draught technology ³the biggest innovation in as long as I can remember².

Punch director of marketing Geoff Brown says: ³We are trying to get every pub possible to sell in that format.² Around 65 per cent of Punch¹s estate now has extra cold lager available.

So what are the reasons for drinkers demanding colder lager?

³A growing number of consumers won¹t settle for less than a perfect pint: they want cold beer and want to know that¹s what they¹ll get when they order a pint,² says Steve Kitching, commercial and field operations managing director at InBev UK. Labelling products as Œcold¹ has given them this guarantee. ³One reason for the success,² Steve says, ³is visibility; new eye-catching fonts and point-of-sale material, plus the occasional dual stocking of the original lager and the extra cold version.² Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) confirms the importance of visuals in the extra cold proposition. ³We invested in the HIT (Head Injection Tap) technology in the early 2000s,² says Shaun Heyes, S&N head of customer marketing, ³but we really cracked it when we developed the condensating font, which had the cold visual cues.² The rise of cold serves in the cider market has had the effect of bringing two long alcoholic drinks (LAD) sectors, cider and standard lager, closer together. The majority of brands in both now see low temperature as a crucial selling point, and the success of this development in cider has only served to strengthen its importance in the minds of lager brewers.

Geoff says: ³The line between lager and cider will increasingly blur. People will drink LADs purely for refreshment. Those who used to drink Carling and Stella are now also drinking Magners.² S&N has a unique experience of having major brands in both markets, as it owns Foster¹s and Kronenbourg as well as Strongbow and Bulmers Original.

And Shaun believes that, rather than cider and lager cannibalising each other¹s market share, the growth of cold serves can only benefit both categories. ³Cider is not really eating into lager. This is all about strong brands getting stronger,² he says.

There are some brewers, however ­ notably those that have not pursued this route ­ who question the need for extra cold. They believe there is a danger of losing focus on flavour and other quality points.

Anheuser-Busch (A-B) UK marketing director Vicki Kipling says: ³While the demand for cold beer will always be present, the extra cold category will inevitably have a seasonal appeal which won¹t necessarily ensure customer loyalty to the brand outside of the summer months.² A-B¹s views are typical of those that believe it is not necessary to serve lager at very low temperatures ­ not least because it can mask the liquid¹s flavour. ³Ultimately it is the reassurance of receiving a quality beer that is the key to successful brand performance,² Vicki says.

Others see the split between extra cold and original forms of standard lager as an unnecessary complication, ultimately damaging to pubs¹ efforts to consistently achieve a perfect temperature for lager. Heineken UK sales director Richard Bradbury, for example, says: ³I don¹t think it suits pubs well to offer beers at two different temperatures. It¹s up to brewers and retailers to decide on an optimum temperature.

³Temperature delivery is still inconsistent. It frequently means two different temperatures in two different pubs.² The inconsistency that Richard points to is made worse by technological limitations. There is a school of thought that extra cold technology is taking up a disproportionate amount of behind-the-bar and cellar space.

Steve says: ³There has been an impact on outlets trying to accommodate the extra kit required to develop the colder temperatures.

³Retailers are coupling new brands into the existing system, in effect Œstealing¹ space in the python and, as a result, most of the lines going through it are not being sufficiently chilled.

³Other issues include less room for barstaff to store glasses because of the space required by chillers, with staff resorting to using clean glasses straight out of the dishwasher. Both issues mean that although the beer has initially been chilled to the right temperature, the work is undone at the point of service.² At the same time as more and more pubs are buying into the concept of extra cold draught lager, brewers are making efforts to come up with varied ways to serve lager a degree or two lower.

In the bottled sector, Carlsberg ran trials at the tail-end of last year serving its lager, Elephant, over ice, but the concept seems to have stalled.

It has not put Coors off ambitious innovation in bottled lager with its Cold You Can See ­ thermochromic ink on bottles and cans turns blue when the beer reaches a certain cold temperature. Coors¹ Arc, a draught lager with an icy, crystallised pour, has failed to take off, but the same brewer is still hopeful for its Sub Zero ­ which gives drinkers a pint with soft ice crystals on the surface.

Many dismiss this experimentation. Geoff says: ³The problem with ice dispense techniques is that the technology is incredibly expensive and not very reliable, which will limit it for a while.² ³Lager over ice is clasping at straws,² says Myles, ³the equivalent of watering beer down. Super chilled gives you that cold injection perfectly well.² The extra cold story is clearly one that provokes much debate. Whatever your opinion on it, it looks as if the concluding chapter is far from written.

Related topics: Events & Occasions, Beer

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