In the year before COVID, global beer consumption topped 189 million kilolitres. That’s a headache-inducing (both literally and figuratively) 332 billion pints and then some. Naturally, there are many brands vying for a share of this lucrative market – but many of them have not made time for slow thinking. They speed toward new product ideas and marketing campaigns seemingly for profit before purpose, and target people just to consume.
Partnering with Red Rock Brewery, the I Wish team and Geir Berthelsen set out to bring our distinctly slow way of working to the brewing process. The result was an award-winning range of slow-crafted beers made carefully and consciously in the heart of Devon. They’re to be enjoyed, sipped, and shared, but they’re also a testament to how slowing down to think can lead to faster execution in business (and life).
Here we explain how dropping the tempo can lead to more purposeful products and brands – not to mention better beer!
The marketing used by beer companies typically evoke images of relaxation, refreshment, and time spent with friends. In fact, the oldest evidence we have of beer comes from a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet showing people gleefully drinking it from a communal bowl.
For the major alcohol producers, the business is no longer about crafting a great product to enjoy. Instead, their focus is on engineering a story that can sell as many bottles as possible. Stella Artois, for example, capitalises on 600 years of Belgian brewing tradition, yet it’s been mass-produced by a fully automated production plant since 1993.
We live in an age of career consultants. The great and the good who advise their clients on how to make and sell wondrous products without ever having created something for themselves. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, but we wanted to do things differently.
The mantra of ‘practice what you preach’ has been lost in the sea of forgotten phrases. We also love beer but recognise that even this industry has taken several wrong turns.
Ad agencies concentrate so hard on driving consumerism that their marketing bears little resemblance to the goods they seek to sell. They want quickly produced products to be made cheaply and sold again and again, regardless of whether they’re actually any good.
Our goal was to create something authentic that stood up to scrutiny. No baseless advertising claims. No story without substance. Just good, natural beer that’s made to be enjoyed – not mass consumed.
To that end, we focused on the following three core areas throughout the entire process. The outcome was a high-quality beer that had no need for the shiny façade of advertising.
Hops, barley, and spring water are all established staples of the brewing process. Human time is equally as vital to a successful brew, and yet it has been neglected as an ingredient.
Our priority was to put genuine love and care into this product, creating something that could be savoured and enjoyed. To value that commitment, we quantified the time put into our beer and championed the importance of slowing down to produce something better.
Our plan centred on creating something truly authentic that would stay true to the claims it made. So, we poured our efforts into making a beer with purpose and spirit.
Our brewery was hand-built, literally a stone’s throw away from the spring water source. From the hops used to the hand-drawn label, we steadily found ways to tantalise and intrigue each and every sense. The result was a drink with depth that should be enjoyed slowly and deliberately.
We also committed to only serving the end product within a matter of miles from the site on which it was produced. This ensured that the beer remained loyal to its environmental credentials, never allowing its brand to become a fiction that reality couldn’t match.
Paying homage to the organic ingredients of our beer, we also found ways for it to fit in with life’s natural rhythms.
The original dark wheat, honey, elderflower, and blackberry flavours of the range are inspired by the four seasons, and there is little waste throughout the entire process. The water we use comes from a local spring, and the spent grist of hops and barley is recycled as fertiliser and animal feed.
It’s the purest example of a circular economy and it means our output is genuinely sustainable.
For every 100 litres of beer brewed there are 20 kg of spent grains, hops, and yeast. While that may be true, we were also left with more insight than wastage.
First, we learned and proved that money is better spent creating a fantastic product than crafting a phoney story to sell a mediocre one. Our slow beer has gone on to win awards and we can sleep at night knowing that the claims we’ve made are true.
The entire project also serves as an important reminder that we should stay true to ourselves. It isn’t possible to influence the world overnight, but that was never our ambition. Instead, it’s better to take pride in doing little things as well as possible – chipping away at bigger challenges as you go.
Most crucially, this slow beer stands as evidence to the value of slow thinking. We may have painstakingly considered every aspect of the plan before starting, but by doing so we could leap into action with fast execution. This is the spirit of the Greek term Festina Lente (to ‘hurry slowly’) in action.
It just goes to show that by taking time to plan, you can prepare yourself to move at the speed of light.
Albert Einstein once said that if he had an hour to solve a problem “he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” That’s the exact approach we took to brewing beer, and our slow thinking yielded marvellous results.
The problems we set out to tackle in the beer industry are no different to those found in countless other sectors around the world. People no longer have time to properly experience their surroundings, but there are grains of hope in the sustainability movement and emerging circular economies.
Our work is sometimes seen as a catalyst for bright ideas. We do that by focusing on slowing down – not speeding up. It’s a way to see the world through a qualitative lens when the tendency is to concentrate only on quantitative goals.
They say it’s best to live fast and die young, but we prefer to think slowly and live happily. For Geir, the slow beer project is about showing that the fast way to a good product or a good lifestyle is to slow down. The way you eat or drink is as important as what you eat and drink, therefore "drink slow and experience more." Or in broader terms, “live slow and experience more.”