Category Archive: Beer Talk

5 Reasons the beer you are drinking today has changed, or not!

Gateway BeersI was reading a recent article about the Story of Little Creatures Pale Ale and how it is one of the most popular Gateway Beers around which is no surprise. It’s a really interesting read and the writer asks the question “is it the same beer” that people fell in love with when they first drank it all those years ago or has it changed? The brewer basically replies “It is absolutely the same”.

When a link to the story was posted on social media there where a chorus of people who said it was all a lie and that the beer had undoubtedly changed, which got me thinking. What leads us to think a beer has changed, when it hasn’t? So here is what I came up with.

5 Reasons the beer you are drinking today has changed, or not!

  1. You forgot !
    Do you have a photographic memory? Can you recall the EXACT way the beer tasted 5 or 10 years ago when you had it? I doubt it. Sometimes I can’t remember what a beer tasted like the next morning, so I am damned if I can remember what it tasted like 5 years ago.
  2. Your tastes have changed
    One thing I know for sure is that your palette changes over time. I remember the first time I tried a stout about 20 years ago and I thought I was drinking boot polish. Now I love them. When it comes to hops, what I used to consider a hoppy beer, I would now consider bland because I’ve tasted so many beers with a high IBU now. Little Creatures is a great Pale Ale, but when you compare it to some of the new bolder varieties, it can be quiet bland
  3. Your mouth has changed
    Try this. Take a mouthful of your favourite beer, then eat some nuts and have another mouthful, then eat some salami and have another mouthful. Do they all taste the same?  Try the same beer the next day afterwork, or after a meal. Does it always taste the same? I doubt it, and this is a beer you know hasn’t changed.
  4. It’s the location
    Ever had a Bintang in Bali? I haven’t but people reckon they taste great. It’s not because it’s a great beer, but there is something about being in that place, on holidays, in the sun and sucking back a cold one, I believe. For me it was Lowenbrau in Germany, that beer never tastes the same as it did back there.
  5. It’s nostalgia
    You have heard this before in many conversations. Your parents said it was better back in the “good old days”, or your favourite rock band sounded better on vinyl than it does on your Ipod. This one is full of emotion because it really does take us back to something we loved.  So if Little Creatures was your epiphany beer, that moment in time was special, a bit like your first kiss (or other romantic moment). As time goes on and you have lots more great beer moments (or girlfriends) but the first one holds a special memory in time.

So what ever the reason, if in your mind you believe it has changed then for you it probably has, but brewing is a science and if the brewer tells me it hasn’t changed, then you really got to ask yourself, what has changed?

If your head is full of memories of a great tasting beer, then hold on to those. If you don’t enjoy the same beer today, that’s fine, move on and enjoy something else, but for most people Little Creatures will still hold a place in their heart, much like their first girlfriend. Cheers !



What happens when a small brewery sells out to a multi-national

There has been a lot of talk recently in the beer industry about when a small brewery sells out to a multi-national company. Just recently Lion has bought out Byron Bay Brewing, last year Asahi bought out Mountain Goat and American favourite Ballast Point was bought out by Constellation Brands for $1 Billion.

Unless you are a shareholder or an economist, you probably don’t care what happens to these businesses too much, BUT if you love craft beer like us, you do will definitely care what happens to the BEER ! So what does happen? Well before we answer that questions, let’s clarify something, this article is an an OPINION, it is not based on any hard core statistical analysis, so just keep that in mind.

Well the first thing that generally happens is that the decision sparks some sort of outrage (or at least fervent discussion) about what this will mean to the beer. The hard core craft enthusiasts will say that that is the end, it’s all down hill from here and may even refuse to buy the once loved beer on principle alone. Whilst we don’t really subscribe to that theory, it does carry some weight because one of the things people love about a craft brewer is that is basically a hand full of local people, working really hard and by supporting this beer, they are supporting that local business and community. Of course when the take over comes in, the money is now going back into a big commercial enterprise which may run their operations off shore, so local money ends up going overseas.

That leads to the next logical argument which is that it becomes all about profit. Many small business owners around the world work countless hours in their business sometimes with no wages for years and when they finally start making a profit, they pour all of that money back into the business. This is common in most small businesses and is in most cases how they can afford to grow. When a big company steps in they are looking for commercial opportunity to expand their range, their brand, their appeal, but most of all to expand their profit making capabilities. One of the main motivations is to impress their shareholders so they can continue to grow. So how does this effect the operation of the business and the beer? Well it could impact on the brewery in a number of ways. Firstly, lets look at the positives. The small brewery now has some serious financial backing which would allow it to invest in to new equipment, increase production, employee more staff and even move into new premises. The down side could be that with a focus on profit, the new owner looks at ways to cut costs, with the real fear being this could be in the ingredients or brewing process which would effect the precious output which is of course the beer we (used) to love. To date, in the takeovers that we have seen there is little evidence to support this although there are plenty of conspiracy theories out there that say the beer has changed since the take over.

So what else can happen? In our opinion, the real change and danger of a takeover occurs when the new owners want to change the direction of the business they by out. Whilst most brewers looking to sell out, would probably try to be true to the brand they worked hard to develop, even after the sell out the fact is that sometime down the track, this can happen. Probably the best example of this is the Western Australian brewer Gage Roads.When this beer lover visited their brewery in Freemantle more than 10 years ago, they were at the epicenter of Craft Brewing in Australia. They were all about the beer with their direct-to-the-drinker brewery, where you could tap one of the freshest beers in the country and although by today’s standard the range was quiet limited, at the time they were well ahead of the game.

So what happened to Gage Roads? Well around 2010 they sold a 23% share of their business to Woolworths, and whilst this does not constitute a total buy out, for the sake of the argument, the case still stands. Woolworths saw the buy-in as an opportunity to buy up a supply line and ensure good access to the brand, as craft beer sales grew. With power to wield over the brewer, it soon become apparent that Gage Roads would become the equivalent of a exclusive brand beer for Woolies and distribution was limited to Woolworths owned stores including Woolworths Liqour, (now defunct), BWS and Dan Murphy’s. For the next few years, things seemed to remain unchanged and in this article written in 2012 things sounded good (at least for investors) with increases in sales for Gage Roads although in the warning to investors about risks, it says “The down side is that Woolworths holds the upper hand in the relationship and can force Gage Roads to sell its products cheaply thereby reducing Gage Roads margins and profits”

At this point of time, we would have probably argued that the BEER was still the same and although the company structure might have changed, the new owners hadn’t had any major impact on the actually beer. But then something DID change, with the continued growth and demand for craft beer, came more competitors, but even that growth shouldn’t have changed Gage Roads direction. What did appear to happen though is with all these new brands fighting for space on a Woolworths shelf, Gage Roads brand positioning seemed to move. They were no longer a unique product and with Woolworths facing competition against their old friends at Coles, they could use the exclusive brand as promotional tool and started to discount the brand. Of course this increased pressure on pricing now starts to impact on the brewing process and inevitably corners get cut and the quality of the BEER gets compromised.

In our opinion the final change  came with the official re-branding of the beers, which came with not just a new look label, but a whole new range designed specifically to fit into this market. At was at this point when the BEER finally became the victim in all of this and the once quality craft beer, became a common mega-swill beer just like the multi-national beers.  If you have tried any of these beers, you will almost certainly agree, that they are no longer “craft beers”.

This article written just this week, looks like it signifys the final nail in the coffin for the brand with a further 16% decline in sales in the past 9 months and negative cash flows. Unfortunately whilst  “The company partly blamed a market-wide decline on mainstream, commercial-style beers for the drop in contract sales” we think the truth is much different. It is clear to us, that the part ownership of Woolworths had a significant effect on the BRAND, and the DIRECTION of the company and this ultimately lead to the BEER not being what it once was.

So whilst there will no doubt be lots of discussion and varying views on these sort of takeovers, we think one thing is pretty clear. At the end of the day, it is the BEER that matters and if the BEER continues to be of a high standard, most drinkers will continue to support the brewer. When that changes, well it’s game over.

Update 10 September 2016.

The Gage Roads story continues with them looking to by back shares from Woolworths. It just goes to show, you should never sell your soul. Read the story here.

Another update 8 February 2017 – Return to Craft.  Maybe you should never have left?



Craft Beer… or is it?

With the dust settling on the 2015 round of Local Taphouse’s Hot 100 Beers listings (#H100Beers), we are once again faced with cries of outrage from Craft beer fans across Australia. They are bemoaning the success of Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale, Feral’s HopHog and several high ranking “Crafty” (a derogative label for the craft ranges produced by the larger supermarkets and mainstream breweries) beers.

Even before it begins, it is a forgone conclusion of this style of competition that those beer lines with national distribution, mass appeal and accessibility would naturally feature highly in what is ultimately a popularity contest. Just as you would expect the most popular girl in a 90s teen angst movie to take out prom queen, so should you expect the same of the H100Beers.

The question put forward by these outraged Craft beer fans is thus: “Why is that <insert macro-brewed beer> included in the competition?” inevitably followed and without pause “It’s not Craft!”. Of course, we are to believe they know exactly what Craft means and its just not that. Frankly, if they stopped for a second to receive an answer, then the answer is that there is no definition of what Craft beer is. So there is no reason as to why the macro breweries wouldn’t be eligible to put forward their Craft offerings for voting on.

In fact, I’m going to take it one step further. With no definition of what Craft is, there really is no such thing as Craft beer, so it follows absolutely that there really is no such thing as a Craft brewer. Ultimately, “Craft” is a simple marketing term that makes people feel that it is something tangible–but it’s not tangible at all.

When the argument arises and I ask people to define the difference between a Craft brewery or a non-Craft brewery. I am usually presented with 4 unique differentiating areas of interest: the taste, the philosophy of the brewery, the inputs to the process, and the output levels (size of the brewery).

The Taste

This is based purely in the eyes (or the mouth) of the beholder.  But everyone is different. How is it possible to quantify taste. Taste is subjective and quite simply put, you can’t classify things based on subjective data. For example, my personal dislike of smoked porters roughly equates their appeal to me as the appeal of a can of Fosters Lager on Australia Day to that afore-mentioned beer geek.

One beer geek’s IPA at the former warehouse refitted out as a brewpub with 16 different varieties of hardwood provides the same or similar level of enjoyment as the XXXX Gold means to Joe down the street kicking back on his porch after a hard afternoon mowing the lawn in 40C temps.

Taste that appeals to a multitude drives popularity and is at the essence of what starts these arguments. Taste is the worst possible measure to use if you want to define Craft.

The Philosophy of the Brewery

You’ve likely heard this one before. “X brewery bases their decisions on the quality of the beer and Y brewery is only concerned with the bottom line”. Somehow, Craft beer is beer that is made solely for the love of it, with no respect for the money.

Sorry to burst this fantasy guys. While most brewers are in it for the love of brewing, any brewery that doesn’t concern themselves with the bottom line would not be around for long. All commercial breweries are businesses and all businesses base all decisions around the bottom line, and some more than others. If you don’t think there’s not even the most rudimentary number crunching going into every batch of beer from your local brewery then you really are deluding yourself.

Suppose that a brewery decides on a philosophy to pick only the highest quality products, that sounds fair right? Well they must still concern themselves with being able to sell that beer at a profitable price. The sales must always exceed the cost of production and distribution, plus cover the lease/mortgage, and pay the staff. But if the price to the customer becomes so high as to dissuade them from purchasing then you’ve failed and you have beer sitting around long enough to go off, and no customers.

If you don’t take care of the money, its not a business, its a hobby that you are doing at home supplemented by your income from your day job, or it will be again soon enough. Breweries are businesses and the number one philosophy is to make money so that they can continue being in business and producing their product. The only breweries that will take a cut on profits for a brew will do it on small batch brews. The reason they do this is because putting out an experimental brew or limited release is a way of marketing their brewing abilities which also allows them to nudge you into trying the rest of their range of profitable mainstream brews.

Philosophy isn’t Craft, it’s either marketing or idiocy.

Inputs to the Process

This one I love more than any other. “Mainstream Lagers use cheap adjuncts like sugar”.

Sure, mainstream lagers use sugar, but it’s also the reason we call them adjunct lagers. I would point out though that they also use Malt, Hops, Yeast and Water and last time I checked that’s the basis of any beer, mainstream or otherwise. Been that way for quite some time, much longer than you or I, and that is not going to change.

Adjuncts have long been used in brewing. In fact, if they weren’t then there would have been no need for the Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian Purity Law of 1516) which dictated only the use of 3 ingredients up until the discovery of yeast in 1857 (but that’s another story). Any brewery outside of the region covered by the Reinheitsgebot has always used adjuncts in their beer.

Examples of this include: Monks in Belgium use Candy sugar in their Belgian Strong ales; a popular Sydney brewery, Willie the Boatman, recently used corn in their “Albo” ale (named after Anthony Albanese, member for Grayndler); even Vinnie Cillurzo (of Russian River, Pliny the Elder fame) has gone on record recommending the addition of sugar to assist in drying out IPAs. This list really could be endless.

Fact is, that there really isn’t a brewery of any size that doesn’t use adjuncts, which includes every beer that has ever been considered a Craft beer.

The Size

The overall output of a brewery.

This one is laughable. We already have descriptors to categorise a brewery based on size and we don’t need another. Referring to a brewery as a macro or micro brewery is based solely on total annual production of beer, that is, the size of the brewery.

In the United States, a brewery becomes a macro brewery when production exceeds 6 million barrels (just over 700 million litres) per annum of beer. Ultimately this is a line set to determine tax treatment–there are benefits if you produce less than 2 million barrels (234 million litres), and better benefits if you produce less than 60 thousand barrels (or 7 million litres).

The largest Australian owned brewery, Coopers, sold a massive 78.8 million litres of beer last year. Sounds impressive hey? Some hard core beer geeks would probably be piping up right about now saying Coopers isn’t a craft brewery. However, this equates to a production output of only 670 thousand barrels. On the other side of the world is Lagunitas, who no one seems to have any problem with being called Craft even though they produce 640 thousand barrels. In fact, Lagunitas were about to build their 3rd brewery, to be in full production in 2017, bringing their business to a potential capacity of 1.9 million barrels (3 times Coopers production), before the recent Heineken buy in.

Bear in mind that of those 78.8 million litres of sales by Coopers–a good chunk of that is actually beer brewed under licence and not Coopers product anyway.

So truly size doesn’t matter to Craft and there is nothing like a bit of context to invalidate that argument.

So what is Craft Beer?

Well the simple answer is what make a Craft beer has always been a grey area and it will probably always be a grey area. It’s up to you what you call it and you can call it what you wish. Just don’t attempt to dictate your “Craft” definition to everyone else because if you think there is a definition of Craft beer, you really just bought the marketing.

What to do? Well drop the capital “C” because the truth is that beer making is a craft and all beers are crafted, and deal with it. Just call it what it is – Beer! And enjoy the simplicity of that.

Post by Dave “Crofty” Croft.
Follow him on Crofty’s Beer Blog


Controversy over the Hottest 100 Beers

On reflection of the controversy around today’s “Hottest 100 Beers” here a few things to consider.

    1. The word “craft” still has no clearly defined meaning so in this case it obviously applies to “all brewers” so despite there being a number of beers from big brewers, it is good to see that it was not dominated by them and the little guys were represented well.
    2. Regarding Dan Murphys involvement, it is not clear what their “sponsorship” involves, but it appears it is linked to the promotion of the event and given that they are probably the largest retailer of “craft” beer nationally, you would expect the brands that they sell to be well represented.
  1. This leads to the topic of distribution. Obviously not all brewers get the same level of distribution, so it going to be hard for some of them to get noticed, BUT if you have a look at Pirate Life’s results, it does show that they can still rate well, even with a limited distribution.
  2. Regarding the voting. Those of you that voted will know that you basically just vote for your top 5 beers and it is basically a popularity vote. What I mean is that there is no rating system for each beer, or voting for best beer in a style, or anything complicated like that. It is just like asking someone “what is your favourite beer?”
  3. Considering all of the above, it is no surprise that beers like S&W Pacific Ale, Feral Hop Hog and Little Creatures Pale Ale all rate well. They are readily available and appeal to a wide range of palettes and rate well on the “happiness factor”.
  4. This of course leads to the most controversial issue of comparing gateway beers like Fifty Lashes to “true craft” beers like Brew Cult’s Milk and 2 Sugars. If we are honest, we would all say, that MA2S is not a gateway beer and none of us would have switched to that straight from the Commercial Beers we drank on tap when we started. We have all traveled a journey from Crap to Craft and along the way have all had our fair share of Fifty Lashes or whatever the equivalent gateway beer was for you. I think what this list shows is the diversity of the great beers that we have now in Australia, when you get the likes of Little Creatures, James Squires and Pirate Life, all ranking in the top 10. Which leads me to my final point.
  5. If there were any thoughts of this being rigged or controlled by the “big guys” consider Pirate Life’s amazing performance. For a small independent brewery, with limited distribution, to get 3 of their beers in the top 15 in their first full year of brewing is an amazing result and one that should prove the doubters wrong. No doubt I have overlooked some aspects, but I think considering everything, it was a pretty good result. Over to you !

Read more about the Hottest 100 Beers here

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