I received an email yesterday so brazen and cynical in its scope that it left me briefly stunned. It begins:
Just in time for the holiday season, Guinness introduces the perfect option for beer connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike with Guinness The 1759, a limited edition ultra-premium amber ale. [Their bold.]
In this one sentence are two fascinating details: 1) the name of Diageo’s latest is “Guinness The 1759,” which I think must be bizarre even in Irish-English, and 2) Diageo announces a category heretofore unknown to beer drinkers, “ultra-premium amber ale”. Surely this must augur even more fascinating details? It does! Carrying on:
This latest innovation from Guinness brings artistry and elegance to the beer category by combining the famous Guinness yeast with both traditional beer malt and peated whisky malt – the very same used in the world’s most deluxe Scotch and Irish Whiskies – for smooth and quality tasting beer.
You know something deeply suspicious is afoot when the fifth-largest drinks company claims to be “innovating,” and suspicions mount when the reader discovers that peated malt seems to be the sole innovation. Let’s hold our horses, though – something more must be on the way, right? Glad you asked:
This unique beer is the first from Guinness that uses a cage and cork mechanism to seal the bottle (typically used with champagne) and packaged in a stylish back velvet lined gift box. Only 90,000 bottles will be produced, which makes this commemorative release the chance to be part of Guinness’ brewing history.
Wonderful! In addition to the extremely rare use of whisky malt*, this “unique” ale will be packaged in the same manner as Champagne! And sold in a gift box! And will be sold in small quantities for no other reason than to justify an obscene sticker price! (Thirty five bones. And so you know that this beer will retain its exclusive, just-for-the-one-percent cachet, Guinness brand manager Doug Campbell promises that “We will brew it one time only and basically throw away the recipe afterward.” Which is quite a statement, given that Diageo also claims the beer is based on a 200-year-old recipe. Once they’re done with this beer, they’re throwing out all the old log books!) But wait, can there be even more? Yes:
This is the first offering of the new Guinness Signature Series™ which offers a range of limited edition luxury beers. This series gives beer drinkers more options for different occasions, from fine dining to exquisite gifting.
“Which is to say this isn’t rare or special at all, just the first in a series of scams we plan to run on what we imagine are endlessly gullible rubes willing to fork over $35 for an amber ale.” (That last bit is, despite being in quotes, only what I imagine went through the email-writer’s head as he put the finishing touches on things.)
This is probably the most shameless email I’ve ever received, and the beer is definitely in the chutzpah sweepstakes as well. But this debacle isn’t actually Diageo’s fault. It’s the poison fruit of wildly over-priced craft beer – resulting from a combination of fan lust and brewer manipulation. A company like Diageo, with a brand as valuable and important as Guinness, would be stupid not to play the same game. It represents a moment of decadence inevitable with anything so heavily hyped.
It’s a shame, too. Some beer really is expensive to make and necessarily limited in quantity – Rodenbach, Cantillon, and Cascade (among many other fine and reputable American craft beers). But you have to know something about beer to appreciate that, and in the not knowing, there is room for the unscrupulous to make quickie beers, pop them into a glitzy package, and jack the price up 500%.
* Not rare.