Monday, 17 January 2011

Keeping an eye on 'Cyclops'?

The other day, I had a nice chat with Nick Arthur, Director of Operations at Everards.

It was one of these modern-world 'chats' which didn't involve any speaking, merely the tapping of glass screens or plastic keys. It's amazing how I don't think twice about calling these 'conversations' any more. Amazing, but also a little bit worrying, I think.

Ironically, though, it was the entire concept of communication and the expressing of ideas in new ways that Nick and I we're chatting about.

We got onto this subject because Nick happened to mention that he was involved in the industry initiative known as 'Cyclops', which, although you might think you've never heard of - you probably do know what it is, and here's a visual clue...

It's basically a unique 'system' by which the buyer of a beer can assess the drink he/she might be about to plump for before the transaction takes place. Presumably to increase the chances of buying a beer you want and (perhaps more significantly) avoiding the disappointment of being lumbered with a pint or bottle that you absolutely don't.

As you can see, there's something of a 'three wise monkeys' thing going on, with the three images of an eye, a nose and a mouth, each being followed by an ultra-concise description of the beer's appearance, smell and taste.

There then follows an 'assessment' of sweetness and bitterness, both of which which are graded from 1-5 with the aid of further illustrations.

Now, I ask you, where is the harm in all of this?

Well, perhaps it's all good.

But, it did occur to me after my chat with Nick that, although I was already aware of this Cyclops system, I also knew that I had never once referred to it when buying a beer, which made me wonder who might be doing so. Someone certainly is, because the whole thing is seriously catching on.

Personally, I like the sense of mystery when dealing with the unknown - in beer and in life - but if I did want some information I'd either ask the (usually pretty well informed) person stood behind the bar, or I'd read the words on a bottle's label. After all, like most grown ups, I do tend to read the words these days rather than look at the pictures.

Perhaps if I was in a desperate hurry, with no time for a chat or a bunch of elaborate descriptive language, I might need a speedy indicator of the beer I was about to let myself in for - but usually, when pressured for time, people tend go for what they already know, rather than taking risks at high pace.

The Cyclops website also talks of how those selling beer can benefit from the system, to help familiarise them with the drinks they are serving. But if I felt that the staff at an inn or a beer retail outlet were informing me of a beer based merely on a standard formula of graphics and adjectives, I reckon I might feel a little miffed. Particularly when I could have learned that much myself from the Cyclops information printed on the pump clip or the bottle label.

There's more to it, though, than just this issue of reductive convenience.

If I were in a restaurant and a Cyclops-type system was shown next to each item on the menu - whether in the absence of a written description of each dish or in addition to it - I think I'd feel like the whole dining-out experience had been watered down just a little. Or that some of the humanity had gone from it, or the mystery, or that I was just being patronised.

I wouldn't want a novel I was buying telling me how much pathos (between 1 and 5) I should expect for it, or how the book had the 'whiff' of a nice Dan Brown.

However, for some reason, reading the short 'pitch' on the back of a book has never caused me much of a problem, and it really only does the same job, in effect.

So, what's my problem with Cyclops?

Is it that it feels more like a picture book than a tool for adults to properly glean information? Or is it because it standardises the whole beer drinking experience, and deprives each beer of its individuality, allure and sense of mystery? (The Cyclops website states that the system's primary intention is to "de-mystify beer"... Can you imagine the whisky trade embracing this?)

Or perhaps its the way that Cyclops makes subjective opinions look like hard facts - causing those who disagree with the data to feel like they're experiencing the drink incorrectly. Even the name 'Cyclops' conjures up an image of some omnipotent, infallible machine.

But, then again, maybe Cyclops is exactly what huge numbers of people really need and want, and its just that I haven't met any of them yet...

If any of those people are reading this now I'd really love to hear from them.

But then, I wonder whether such people will have made it all the way to the end.

Perhaps I should have included more illustrations.


Ketsbaia said...

Wow. Just had my attention drawn to your quest by WoodfordesAle on Twitter. Best of British to you. I find it difficult enough to do a beer a day in December on my Beer Advent Calendar blog, so am mightily impressed you're going to keep going for the whole year.

Baron Orm said...

I think there are two problems with Cyclops:

1) It costs the brewery money to get their beers reviewed

2) Why can't the brewer select which words they think best describe their beer?

Maybe it's time to create a free 'open source' version of Cyclops - I know that a lot of breweries are doing their own similar thing like St Austell...

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Ketsbaia - Nice of Woodforde's to send you along! Your site looks good, and it seems it has lingered into the new year... are you planning to continue further on your beer journey? (My plans to do so are somewhat 'fixed')

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Orm! Greetings to you! - That's an interesting extra point, it hadn't occurred to me that there was a cost, which I imagine is shared by all who adopt it. They do stress that it's a 'non-profit' enterprise, which I guess implies which way the money flows!

Odd, as there are far cheaper ways of promoting their wares (as you and I know only too well!)

Ketsbaia said...

Thanks, Hearty Goodfellow. The plan is to update it at least once a week for the rest of the year before kicking the calendar off again in December. Should be possible. I'll be following your progress with interest, though.