Hofmeister may need more than the bear essentials to succeed

So, George The Bear is back. It’s hard for some of us oldies to fathom, but there are those under, say, 40 who can’t actually remember Hofmeister and, therefore, do not feel the cultural jolt supplied by the return of both the bear and the beer whose marketing campaigns it used to front.

Younger viewers may also struggle to remember a time when cask ale was widely considered to be the preserve of cranks and oddballs and when the beer market was dominated by a default-popular spectrum of pale straw liquids that included Carlsberg, Carling, Foster’s, Harp, Castlemaine XXXX, McEwan’s (Lager, not Export) and Kestrel.

Some of those brews, of course, are still around, but with their emperor’s new clothes long-since detected by the eyes of a more savvy but less weird beer-drinking elite.

XXXX, McEwan’s and Harp, like Hofmeister, have all long since disappeared from view. So too did Kestrel until former Charles Wells marketing boss Nigel McNally dragged it out of retirement four years ago.

Though it’s achieved the odd supermarket listing, Kestrel has hardly taken the beer world by storm at a time when the market has undergone its most dramatic upheaval and upturn in fortunes in living memory.

Kestrel’s underwhelming presence – in a market where the noise is being justifiably made by creative, skillful and genuinely “craft” brewers from the UK, US, Belgium, Italy, Brazil, France, Holland, New Zealand, Ireland and others – should surely sound out a warning to the British entrepreneurs (including former Britvic marketing boss Andrew Marsden) who are behind the Hofmeister relaunch.

It’s little surprise that the dreaded word craft appears three times in the Hofmeister launch press release (along with one “crafted”). Whether it is or isn't craft is a debate almost too boring to begin. More pertinently, the list of attributes of the new Hofmeister read like a tick box list from a ’90s beer NPD focus group:

  • Premium, check
  • Refreshing, check
  • Reinheitsgebot, check
  • 5% abv, check
  • Bavaria, check
  • Bloke dressed up as bear wearing a gold lamé suit and a pork pie hat, check

Hofmeister 2.0 may yet turn out to be a very fine example of its type – and, one would hope, a lot better than the original – but the question really is: who needs it when there are plenty of reliable, clean, crisp, flavoursome niche-ish lagers established in the marketplace. Names like Budvar, Brooklyn, Veltins, Schiehallion and Schneider spring to mind, but there are plenty of others, including gems from small-scale brewers like London's Orbit with its wonderful Köln-style Nico.

Those who remember Hofmeister the first time round will recollect that it was one of the more cheap and insipid lagers of its day and struggle to be convinced by a new pimped-up version, however amazing it might turn out to be.

Many of those who don’t will be happier exploring a horde of new-breed lagers from youthful breweries or splurging their cash on the likes of Beavertown’s Lupuloid IPA or Siren’s Caribbean Chocolate Cake stout.

As Kestrel's McNally rhetorically asked The Grocer in its Hofmeister coverage this week: “Why would someone swap their existing brand with something that has not been available for more than a decade?”

He, more than anyone, will know the answer to that one.

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