“Brewed in the shadows of Pendle Hill” says the crisp new strapline, branded indelibly into Moorhouse’s well-worn hide. For years, the Burnley brewery has enjoyed steady business with a loyal and local customer base who would never dream of straying from their beloved Premier. Now, with margins squeezing every last drop of profit from wet products, bottling and distribution have become more of a focus than ever to the business in order to stay afloat in this age of high-competition.
In a previous blog post, I mentioned the appointment of MD Lee Wiliams, the former Marketing Manager behind Thwaites’ foray into craft. Their IPA 13 Guns has become one of their most popular beers in gastro pubs around Lancashire – of which there are seemingly hundreds. Wainwright too was an exercise in the power of the rebrand, an unassuming pale ale given new life by association to a Northern hero and clever visuals.
For Moorhouse’s, the product wasn’t the only reason a rebrand was necessary. It would be an understatement to say that the sexy-witch branding of old was detrimental to the brewery’s reputation. Plenty of beer lovers found it tone-deaf and increasingly outdated in a modern world; many contacted the brewery over the years to explain their unhappiness – that the beer was fine, but the labelling was not. The days of the accepted and ubiquitous use of women as bar-dressing without comment or creative alternative have gone. All breweries now know the general consensus – that degrading their customers in any way leads to negative publicity and an impact in sales. And if they claim not to, this is through sheer ignorance, stubbornness or stupidity. (Cask Marque’s recent Twitter turd a la Robinsons
shows that there are still pockets of resistance to common sense and courtesy, however the backlash was encouraging, if not exhausting for all concerned who just wished they wouldn’t have to keep repeating themselves.)
|New pump clips – a better view of the photography inside the images
But back to Moorhouse’s.
“When I joined, Moorhouse’s was a strong brand, tied into the provenance of the local area,” said Lee when I met with him a couple of weeks ago. “But we are guilty as charged. Our branding was indefensible and really could have happened sooner. What I wanted to make sure of was that when we did this, we did it right. I wanted Moorhouse’s to set out its stall, to bring in a new brand ready for the future. We hold our hands up.”
|New Moorhouse’s branding – local photography and witches’ familiars.
Doing away with the Moorhouse’s witches is a solid first step in bringing a traditional brewer into the modern world. Another interesting development is the brewery’s designs on using their temperance roots to inspire more experimental beers. Larger breweries have a tendency to promise experimental hop bombs and deliver four indistinct versions of session pales, so it’ll be interesting to see where these sarsaparilla/ginger/juniper/low ABV plans lead to. One such beer they’ve already begun trading in bars and pubs across East Lancashire is Malkin, a 4.1% keg beer (yeah, keg from Moorhouse’s) brewed with Citra, Eldorado, Calypso and Cascade hops that’ll also be – get this – sold in little crafty cans. It’ll be followed by further additions to their keg range, and a lager.
|A bit of background – Malkin Tower was where the Pendle Witches were said to have summoned the devil.
But back to the sexism. When I spoke about visiting Moorhouse’s to brew on their new 100l kit – an installation they’ve acquired to test out batches of brand new crafty beers – I realised the extent of the disappointment people felt over the old branding. I was glad that other people were speaking out for me. I’m not a confrontational person, even from behind a keyboard. I’ve been taking notes from the people I admire who do the most in the name of equality in the beer industry and hope I can do better in the future. Sexism in the beer industry isn’t going to go away overnight, but the constant reiteration of our expectations is doing good things. I hope this rebrand stirs up conversations around this important issue in the places that it matters – not just online where we agree with each other, but in CAMRA meetings, pub lounges and supermarket aisles.
I’ve recently taken the plunge and gone totally freelance. I rely on being paid to write these days – I know, mad right? – so if you enjoyed reading this post, or any on this blog, please consider buying me a pint over on ko-fi. It really is appreciated!