Adding Value With Marketing Gimmicks!

Alex Fossi, June 11, 2013

Several years ago, Miller Lite released the same beer it’d been making for decades in a new bottle -- the much-hyped Vortex bottle. I made fun of this idea among my friends, because the name and design both suggested that one should not just be sipping on a beer; rather, one should be receiving a twisting maelstrom of beer to the face. Now, that sounds unpleasant, and also is not possible to achieve without some serious glassblowing skills. A few lines around the inside of the bottle will not, in fact, create a vortex of beer.

Nonetheless, the next time I was out to buy cheap beer, that's what I bought, because I can't help myself. Advertising gimmicks work on me. Coors added a vent to the top of their can? Bought it. Did I have any expectation that it would help me drink Coors Lite faster? No, of course I did not. In any case, was that even an issue for beer drinkers? There was no point in my drinking history where I was sipping on a cheap beer and thought, "You know what? I really wish I could get more of this in my mouth, posthaste."

Still, I bought a case of those vented cans, and the reason why is simple: given that all of these beers come in at around the same price, a new and useless gimmick is just enough to put one over the top. If nothing else, it's a topic for conversation. If you're on a date and there's a lull in the conversation, you can just casually mention to your date that you brought beer that has a name tag on it. There’s no way they wouldn’t be impressed, right?*

Now, some gimmicks do have their uses. To be sure, they don’t improve the beer itself; no, the beer will remain shitty, regardless of whether it has a punchable hole in the lid to improve airflow or features color-changing piles of rock.

One example of a cheap beer gimmick that I do like, though, is Keystone Lite’s Canhole case. On these cases, there’s a round hole you can punch out.  When you finish a beer, you get to do precisely what you most want to do with an empty beer can: crush it and throw it as hard as you damn well please at a box with a hole in it. That’s what I call added value. Container modifications are mildly interesting, but throwing crushed cans at stuff provides me with endless entertainment.

I’ve observed that these gimmicks are generally restricted to “macro” (a.k.a. “cheap”) beers. Craft breweries would prefer to let their product do the talking, I guess. When the beer you’re selling is good, there’s no need for marketing it with slightly altered cans or bottles with absurd monikers.  Recently, though, I came across a new can design from Sly Fox. As you can see at the top of the piece, their Helles Lager can looks just a little strange from the top view, though it’s not immediately clear why.

My assumption when I bought this was that it was just a super-wide-mouth can or something.  I deemed it irrelevant, since if it’s in a can I’ll probably pour it in a glass anyway, so who cares about the can design.  When I actually popped one of these open I was fairly surprised, as this is what happened:

That’s bizarre. I’m so used to the standard beer can that I was in shock for a moment, just standing there staring at the can. Seriously, the whole top is gone? I was hesitant to drink from the can at first, since I was worried at first that the interior rim would be jagged metal. Luckily, Sly Fox is not run by morons, so my hesitation was misplaced.

Now, I’m not wholly sure this can qualifies as a gimmick. The idea behind it is that it simulates drinking out of a glass; you can smell the beer as you drink it, and airflow into the vessel isn’t restricted to the same small opening you drink out of.  It’s certainly an improvement over your standard can. I’d still say you’re better off pouring it into a glass -- you won’t have any head on your beer in the can, which is a slight but not insignificant issue.  Still, this can would be great for situations where glasses aren’t convenient: picnics, ballgames, sneaking it into your niece’s piano recital this coming Wednesday, etc.

The beer inside isn’t bad at all, either. It’s not my favorite lager, but given that it’s a little cheaper than most similar options it more than meets expectations. The Sly Fox looks red-orange in the can, which is a bit misleading -- in a glass it’s more of a transparent golden color. Those familiar with lighter German lagers will recognize the style. It’s sweet and malty, though it’s still pretty crisp on the palate. It’s also pleasantly hoppy, which some lighter lagers fail to achieve, and drinks very easily when cold. The sweetness can get to be a little much as it warms up, but truth be told, it’s not the sort of beer that would take me long enough to drink that that’s a problem. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be something I’d buy all that frequently, but as I’ve said, I’m a sucker for can gimmicks. This particular gimmick does have some actual merit, so this Helles might make a few appearances at outdoor events this summer. It’s a solid lighter beer, and a good alternative to the hoppy pale ales and IPAs that form the bulk of my warm-weather selections.

Now, if we could just get a punch-out hole on the side of the case...

*Please don’t actually do this.

Sly Fox Helles Golden Lager

Appearance – Pours golden yellow with thin, quickly vanishing head, some light lacing.  3.7/5

Smell – Very malty with hints of spice and sugar.  3.5/5

Taste – Sweet and bready, lightly hopped, caramel aftertaste.  3.1/5

Mouthfeel – Pleasant light carbonation, clean and crisp.  4/5

Overall – Solid example of a German-style lager, drinks easily and has a decent flavor.  Definitely better when colder, so not a beer to tarry on too long.  3.6/5