Saturday 18 February 2012

De Koninck - my Belgian gateway beer

Most beer drinkers have experienced 'gateway' moments, where they've tried that one beer that has opened their eyes to something completely different, be it a different country, a beer style or something more subtle like a hop variety. Those moments continue to happen for me but this post is about one from many moons ago.

The first time I tried De Koninck was in the Dovetail in Clerkenwell, probably about 8 or 9 years ago on one of many Thursday night beer adventures with an ex-colleague. When we discovered this pub, it was like a whole new world of beers had been opened up to me. I'd had Belgian beers before, usually picking them up out of curiosity while filling the car with cheap lager in Calais hypermarkets, but had struggled to understand them, let alone enjoy them. It was quiet in the Dovetail that night and the barman, who was passionate and knowledgeable, took time to explain the styles and let us taste a few before deciding. 

One of the beers they had on tap was De Koninck's amber ale. I loved it from the first sip. Yes, I've had many better Belgian beers since but this is one I'll always look out for when visiting.

De Koninck is a brewery with a long and eventful history. Having opened in 1833 in Antwerp as 'De Hand' (a hand logo still appears on the bottle and famous 'bolleke' glass), it took on the name it has now when Carolus De Koninck stepped in when its founder, Johannes Vervliet, died in 1845. The brewery changed hands several times through the years but was always family run, until it was acquired the the juggernaut that is Duvel Moortgat in 2010. 

Other than updated branding (left), its new owners have left the traditional amber ale alone and it continues to be widely available throughout Belgium.

In Antwerp, you can order the beer by simply asking for a bolleke. This is the name given to the distinctive glass, shown below.

You'll be hard pushed to find a beer bar in Antwerp that doesn't offer a bolleke. It's very much a staple in the city which has a great beer heritage and many fantastic beer drinking establishments (including of course the world famous Kulminator).  On visiting for the first time in 2009, the first thing I did on leaving the train station was find the nearest bar in the square opposite and do just that, with a big smile on my face!

250ml bottle, 'bolleke' glass and beer mat

So onto the beer itself. This was a bottle purchased from the excellent Beer Ritz, for the bargain price of £1.87.  The beer is amber as they come. I've tried to show that in the photo (left), in which I'm holding it up to the light (you can also see the hand logo in this shot).

The nose is one of banana cake, biscuit malt and some distant floral notes. These aromas carry through to the taste, backed by subtle roasty malt notes and those classic Belgian yeast characteristics. 

This is not a challenging or complex beer like many of its compatriots. It's an easy drinking, straightforward classic amber ale, weighing in at a modest (for Belgium) 5% ABV.

Its big brother, De Koninck Tripel (also known as Cuvee), is an amplified version of the same flavours and aromas, weighing in at 8% ABV. 

What 'gateway' moments have you experienced in beer drinking? Is there one beer you look back on fondly as being the one that opened your eyes to something much bigger?

Thursday 9 February 2012

Durham Brewery White Stout - analysis of twitter launch

In my last post I previewed an event Durham Brewery had come up with to launch their new beer, White Stout, both in pubs and on twitter at 8:30pm on the 8th February. The idea was to get as many people as possible drinking and sharing opinions on White Stout. This post analyses how successful that was.

This post won't discuss the beer itself. If you'd like to read about that, Barl Fire has written a great post about it which you can read here. Also well worth a read is Phil Hardy's post about the fantastic beer and cheese matching event he set up on the evening here.

If you've read my previous posts, you'll know I like numbers and analysing data. If it can be munged into an excel pivot table, I'm game! After the event, I greedily snaffled a week's worth of tweets mentioning White Stout, or using the #whitestout hashtag and set about trying to make sense of it all. For the curious out there, I did that with the Windows version of Archivist, which lets you search using the twitter API and spits the results out in a tab delimited text file, which excel will suck in with a few clicks.

The analysis below covers 1332 tweets which were sent between 08:52 on 2nd February and 22:00 on 8th February.  The below chart shows the distribution of those tweets by date (note: you can click on any of the images below to see them full size):

So the above tells us, unsurprisingly, that the bulk of those 1344 tweets (983 to be exact) were sent on the 8th. Carrying this forward to midnight shows there were actually more than 1000 tweets sent on the 8th. That's a lot of tweets. So let's break those down by hour. The below graph shows how these 983 tweets were distributed between midday and 10pm:

For clarity, 20 on the x-axis above covers the period between 20:00 and 20:59. So there was a huge spike in that hour - which is where our launch time of 20:30 lay. Let's look more closely at that. The below chart shows the number of tweets per minute during that hour:

So the volume of tweets actually peaked at 20:39, where there was one sent just about every two seconds!  Who was sending them? The below pie chart shows the distribution by username throughout the whole period, with the top 20 odd tweeters called out by @name. It's followed by a list of users with the number of tweets sent total:


Looking at the above, the top 10 users sent a total of 664 tweets to their cumulative count of 5115 followers. Now, consider that a total of 162 twitter users took part and you start to get a feel for the reach of those tweets - probably well in excess of 10,000 people saw a #whitestout tweet! In summary, this event was a massive success and I believe #whitestout could well have trended if a certain England manager hadn't resigned an hour or so before the event kicked off.

Now onto the fun part. I used wordle to create some word clouds which show the words used most often in those tweets. The first one below covers all the tweets and isn't filtered, other than removing the tag itself:

The second cloud below, to me is the most fascinating part of this analysis. It takes the descriptive words used in tweets around the time people were opening and tasting the beer and aggregates them, again, the larger the word the more frequently it was used. To me this is like the 100+ people all talking loudly in the virtual #whitestout pub, sharing their views on the beer - the very essence of what the event was trying to achieve:

So there you have it, a number and word crunching view of the how the night went down. If you took part, what did you think? Is this an effective way of using social media to promote beer and engage with consumers? If you're a brewer, would you consider doing the same or something similar in future?

Thursday 2 February 2012

Durham Brewery White Stout twitter tasting

The innovative Durham Brewery have come up with a fabulous idea to promote their latest beer using social media. As they describe on their website, at 8:30pm on Wednesday 8th February, they're encouraging twitter using beer drinkers to crack open a bottle of White Stout and share their thoughts interactively.

Twitter is a great tool for this type of engagement. A lot of TV shows encourage viewers to interact while a show is on-air to great success, with hashtags often driven to pole position in the top trending topics. There's already a strong beer community on twitter and lots of interaction of an evening but typically, we'll be drinking different beers. This event will be really interesting to see what happens when we're all drinking and tweeting about the same beer. Last year's beer bloggers conference featured live blogging during a tasting session which was fun to follow (if a little challenging with having to refresh multiple browser tabs) and this idea is a nice extension to that, using a media which is far better suited.

The brewery will be represented by Manager Elly, Director Steve and Brewer Sean who will be present online and physically installed in a participating pub to engage real-time with those taking part.

The hashtag #whitestout has already seen plenty of action since the event was announced last week. As of 8am on Thursday 2nd February, it had featured in 98 tweets from over 20 individuals. The below chart (created with Archivist) shows the distribution of these:

distribution of tweets using #whitestout

There's also a nice upward trend forming, with six days still to go before the actual event. The graph below shows this growth:

 tweets per day

The general content of those tweets is positive, as shown in the graph below which plots frequency of words used:

 frequency distribution of words in tweets using #whitestout

So what of the beer itself? Durham Brewery tell us that "two hundred years ago, before the porter brewers commandered "stout" to mean stout or strong porter, a stout beer was a strong beer. It did not have to be black. We have re-created the style using modern hops and a full malt body". Brewed with maris otter malt and columbus hops, it's described as a "very drinkable strong ale".

The beer is already getting attention and Richard Fletcher wrote this great article for Journal Live in which he comments on the history of stout and the idea of innovating with traditional recipes.

It's bottle conditioned and weighs in at a hefty 7.2% - ideal for sharing during the event.

To take part, get following the profiles of those linked above. They'll tell you which pubs will have the beer on, or if you'll be taking part from home, where you can get your hands on a bottle. Then at 8:30pm next Wednesday, join the action by tweeting using #whitestout and share your opinions with like minded people.

After the event, I'm planning a follow up post to comment on the proceedings and analyse the activity it drove, so check back next week and tell me what you thought!

Are you planning to take part? If so, will you be in a pub or at home with a bottle? What do you think about using social media for this type of event? Have you seen it used successfully elsewhere?