People often see supermarkets as the one-eyed monsters of the brewing industry, so it’s perhaps appropriate that Morrisons has at least in part been responsible for a great leap forward in the fortunes of Cyclops, the scheme to put independent tasting notes on to the reverse of bottled beer labels and cask ale pump clips.
The system was introduced by Leicester brewer Everards in 2006 and adopted by others in the industry – but the last 18 months has seen a sudden surge in the numbers accredited by the scheme, with an increase of almost 20% to 1,526 beers from 245 breweries.
The Cyclops board – which consists of representatives from Everards, Cask Marque, SIBA and Camra – says that a move by Morrisons to insist that every bottled ale in its stores has Cyclops tasting notes spurred more brewers and beers to sign up.
The retailer is experimenting with Cyclops notes on shelf edges in a test in six stores and is looking to roll it out to the wider estate.
The test also involves Morrisons merchandising beers by style rather than brewery, and it sees Cyclops as a way of providing additional help to consumers in navigating their way through such a merchandising scheme.
Everards quality assurance manager Mark Tetlow – who initiated the scheme – says Cyclops was also boosted by having a presence at this year’s SIBA Beer X conference, where brewers could get a beer Cyclops-ed on the day.
Tetlow says: “If anything there had been a slight dropping off in the numbers joining. When we first started we were getting 20-30 new beers a week and that was down to three or four. We needed another push to get it to the next level.”
He adds: “Wholesalers have also helped to get brewers behind the scheme. More and more of them are saying to brewers that they want to sell beers that are signed up to Cyclops. It’s great for them because they can have a ready-made set of tasting notes to put in their lists.”
The scheme uses pictograms to denote sight, aroma and taste, with single word tasting characteristics listed alongside. There are also ratings out of five for bitterness and sweetness.
The tasting terms are based on standard descriptions used by professional brewers and tasters, with the more esoteric ones stripped out. Importantly, they’re an independent assessment of a beer’s characteristics, not the brewer’s own.
Tetlow says: “We try not to make it too techy. There’s no point going on about acetaldehyde or phenolic flavours when butterscotch and smoky will do just as well and provide something that people understand and can reference. “The whole idea is to make beer more accessible and take out the more flowery language that is used in marketing and brewing.”
The scheme is not without its critics but its strength lies in its simplicity, says Tetlow. “If we do get resistance it’s never criti- cised on cost,” says Teltow. “Sometimes a bit of politics creeps in – ‘why is Everards telling us what to put on our beers?’ “Some people also say that’s it’s difficult to add in things like food matching but the beauty is that it is very simple system, and there’s nothing to stop people adding that information on their labels if they want to.”
For retailers, Cyclops isn’t something they can use across their shop’s range because there isn’t universal take-up across the industry.
The only way they can is if they’re powerful enough, like Morrisons, to put pressure on their suppliers to fund their own Cyclops accreditation.
Leigh Norwood, owner of Cheltenham independent Favourite Beers says: “It’s quite a nice idea and has visual image which I like. It’s heading in the right direction but it really needs the industry to come together to standardise things across the board.
“There’s definitely a need for some sort of system though because people do buy blind. I reckon 50% of our customers just buy on the name or the brewery.
“But I’ve not noticed Cyclops on that many of the beers we sell, so it doesn’t really help us to sell more beer.”