Beerlines

Insights on beer marketing & PR by a beer-war vet

Archive for the 'James Squire Brewery' Category

13 July
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Crown chases lost gold

So Crown Lager – or rather CUB’s Crown brand – has launched another line extension. This time as Crown Golden Ale.

The launch was well covered by the Herald Sun plus a solid review by Matt K at Australian Brews News (he has some unresolved issues with the Crown brand).

After the hefty consumer backlash to Crown Lager’s new taste (aka reformulation) as well as the failure of Crown Pilsner and Crown Gold, you’d think CUB would be treating Crown with more respect. Being gentle – softly softly – with such a key brand.

golden-ale-bottle-only

Crown Golden Ale in its black and gold livery

But no..

So .. this latest brand refurbishment for Crown prompts me to ask:

  • Is Crown Golden Ale filling an identified demand/niche or just line extending as CUB tends to do reactively when a brand is under serious pressure e.g. VB Original Ale?

Trend watching: OTL (other than lager)
Answer? Maybe it’s the strength of CUB rival James Squire’s Golden Ale.

Or could it be that CUB has spotted the trend in the UK where ‘golden ales’ are chalking up surprising growth in recent years?

The Guardian quotes Tesco ale buyer Chiara Nesbitt who notes: “Over the last five years ale has made a resounding revival as a flavoursome beer that is now appealing to a younger generation of beer drinkers. Golden ale with its light and refreshing taste is playing a major role in this revival as it is the beer lager drinkers first generally try if they want to switch to ale.” (my emphasis)

In support of this view, CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale in the United Kingdom) defines golden ales as a “.. new style of pale, well-hopped and quenching beer developed in the 1980s as independent brewers attempted to win younger drinkers from heavily-promoted lager brands.” (my emphasis)

Sneaking its way into craft?
Many beer experts will claim golden ale as being a style which has its origins in, and is now ‘owned’ by, the craft beer segment. I tend to agree.

So is this just CUB nudging the style boundaries and giving a hat-tip to a popular craft beer?

I think so, but does it matter? Read more…

08 March
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Beer provenance revisited: lack of transparency still a hot issue

On the matter of beer provenance I must highlight and hat tip the role Matt Kirkegaard, arguably Australia’s leading beer commentator and blogger, has played in bringing this issue to prominence.

After penning my previous post I came across an earlier post and podcast by Matt about beer provenance concerns. I urge you to read and listen to this interview with Dr Chuck Hahn by clicking on the RBN pic immediately below. Maybe miss the preamble and start 10 minutes in.

rbn chuck

While contacting Matt, beerlines took the opportunity to quickly interview him on beer provenance and secure an update on his thoughts.

Beerlines: “As Editor of Australian Brews News is provenance becoming more important? If so is there any variation between small and big brewers?”

Kirkegaard: “It’s an interesting question.

“As our shelves become more cluttered with a wider array of beers, consumers are looking to brand values as much as flavour to aid their selection.

“It’s here that provenance can really matter. It’s also here that large and small brewers can be pushing things a little too far and muddying the provenance waters.Byron_Bay_Pale_Lager_Carton_6_x_4_330ml

“While it’s very easy to point the finger at beers such as CUB’s outright deception with Byron Bay Lager, or LION’s highly dubious labelling of Kosciuszko Pale Ale, they can quite rightly point their fingers at smaller brewers who have taken the ‘we don’t hide it, but we just don’t advertise the fact’ line when it comes to own their own contract brewing.kosciuszko

“It really doesn’t matter to the quality of the beer, but the unwillingness to be open gives everyone the right to hedge a little and that hurts craft.

Unwillingness to be completely upfront .. lowers the craft bar
“While in one sense I can understand their thinking, it’s the craft brewers’ own unwillingness to be completely upfront that allows the debauching of the craft beer market by the likes of Coles’ Steamrail brand for example: indeed one beerlines used in earlier posts.

new dan murphys_1480

“When Coles can point to their product and say, quite honestly, that it comes from the same brewery as Mountain Goat’s Steam Ale and Summer Ale, and Mountain Goat offers nothing to differentiate their beer .. well, it lowers the craft bar. Read more…

27 March
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Matilda Bay and Squire pump up their line-ups

Maybe it’s just me? But have both the big brewers’ major craft brands started to pump up their brand line-ups?

Matilda Bay Brewing promoted its line-up of beers and ciders today with a nice splash in Mumbrella.

New Matilda Bay line-up promotion as featured in Mumbrella

New Matilda Bay line-up promotion as featured in Mumbrella

Meanwhile, out in the streets this week, James Squire (Malt Shovel) – the other big brewer’s craft brand –  featured its line-up prominently in outdoor advertising.

James Squire struts its line-up in the streets

James Squire struts its line-up in the streets

Not sure who wins this ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ show down.

It’s fun though ..

One thing is for sure. With both the big brewers strutting their brand portfolios like this, it helps build the creds of the craft beer segment generally.

To borrow from the footy announcers: “It’s gotta be good for football craft beer!”
Cheers!

20 October
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Will big retail replace big brewing?

Swan Brewery’s closure was announced by LION this week. 

I could go on about how sad that is in many ways.

Instead, taking a bigger view of the beer market, I suggest that in that swan-song we can hear chords of big retail replacing big brewing in Australia.

In many respects Swan Brewery was a dinosaur. It reflects the entitled view of ‘owning’ state markets that the big capital city breweries had for decades. Indeed, almost all these big breweries – like Swan, Tooheys, CUB and Castlemaine Perkins – were constructed to produce enough beer for 100% of ‘their’ state’s market.

And why not? In the good ol’ hey days (not so long ago in the 1970/80s) Swan had over 95% of the Western Australian market and Castlemaine had almost 90 of Queensland for example.

But times changed and those breweries haven’t.

It’s been a challenge for them. On the one hand, the tradition of owning mega-brands, market dominance and the advantages of economies of scale. While on the other, pressured for flexility to create small batches of new styles and innovative beer brands.

Hard to do in one brewery where you’ve already invested heavily in the biggest brewing equipment available on the planet. Hard to have both mindsets in the one company.

I’m not saying that Swan’s closure means we’ll see more big breweries in Australia ‘rationalised’. However, no matter how you spin it – they got their marketing wrong.

In that market you can almost hear brakes screeching as big brewers rapidly seek more flexible operations.

LION has invested in smaller craft breweries, notably Little Creatures and James Squire. CUB took over Matilda Bay. Both of them are rapidly topping up their traditional big-brand portfolios with small craft and niche boutique brands from both domestic brewers and international.

This sense of urgency to ‘get niche’ is almost palpable.

Big retail: big threat
One very big reason for this urgency by LION and CUB is because of Woolies and Coles.

Big retail and the colossal impact they can have on brands has been a big threat to the big brewers for years.

Now that competitive tension is really out there for all to see.

Retailers have tried in various ways, year on year, to squeeze more and more profit from the brands of the big brewers. They’ve tried just about everything including bringing in their own imported premium beers.

Now retailers are becoming brewers. Well .. almost.

Four new Sail & Anchor craft beer brands in pride of place at Dan Murphy’s

Here’s a recent case study: Woolworth’s through its Dan Murphy’s owns the Sail & Anchor brand. They also have an interest in another WA brewer, Gage Roads. Dan Murphy’s has just released a clutch of new ‘craft’ Sail & Anchor beer styles/brands which have been brewed under contract at Gage Roads.

Own the brands: not the brewery
It’s a great position to be in: own the brands but not the brewing equipment as well as owning almost all the retail. And given that LION’s website focuses exclusively on ‘brands’ as opposed to breweries (and all the heritage that used to go with them) perhaps that’s their plan too?

So who will own the title for ‘BIG’ in future? BIG brewer or BIG retailer?

Clearly the tectonic plates of beer market ownership are shifting. Maybe that’s a good thing. One benefit is that as the big guys battle for niches, their marketing has a halo effect for small craft brewers like Cavalier or Mountain Goat.

Woolies Lager?
One outcome of bigger retail power in the beer market that I am not looking forward to is homebrand beer. The huge UK retailer Sainsbury’s provides their version of Crown Lager for example. Shudder…

Cheers!

 

11 June
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Porters: the new black

I’ve tried a few porters over the past few cold weeks in Melbourne. What a delicious sampling it’s been.

Porters are an interesting style of dark beer with a rich history. I especially love the historical link of the porter name to a letter in the London Chronicle in 1760 by Obadiah Poundage (sounds like one of Dickens’ characters) where he noted: “The labouring people, porters etc. experienced its wholesomeness and utility, they assumed to themselves the use thereof, from whence it was called Porter..”

While the history creates a delightful backdrop it’s the brew that’s the substance of this post.

And on the matter of taste I agree, largely, with James Smith of Crafty Pint: rather than provide detailed tasting notes, it’s better and simpler to provide a guide. Individual tastes vary so much and intensities are hard to put into words. The breweries usually provide details if you want them.

Here are my thoughts. But first:

Why drink porter?

Porters are an adventure; they are mysterious. They open up an entirely new landscape in beer land.

I found porter a great way to broaden my beer palate (not pallet). After decades of lagers, porters provided me a new and rich range of beer flavours. Not to be confused with their more robust cousin stout – which can be challenging – porters have a quaffability and  sessionability to them.

Porters are approachable and drinkable.

Taste profile
A quick read of the labels highlights the tasty allure and mystique of porters. Chocolate, coffee, toffee, dark, roasted, rich, caramel and vanilla – see what I mean?

Bottom line: porters are dark rich and smooth: often creamy. That depth usually goes hand in hand with higher alcohol: many porters are over 6% ABV.

I do recommend drinking these rich brews with a slight chill but not cold. Let them warm up a bit if they’ve been in the fridge to bring out the depth of flavour.

Six Pack Sampler
All of the six porters pictured are excellent to my porter palate

Five of the six are from Australia. The tallie, Shallow Grave from Heretic Brewery, is from California. It is a majestic example of the style: perhaps a bit sweeter than the others. It’s certainly the warmest at 7% ABV.

Of the Australian lineup, ‘Red Truck Porter’ from Lobethal Bierhaus in South Australia was a standout: indeed an award winner. There was, in a good way, a Vegemitish depth to it. As an aside: I tried two from different bottle shops in Melbourne, both were bottled June 2011.

I know dark beers can have much longer shelf life than lagers and can benefit from ageing but one bottle was excellent while the other tasted papery and dull: not ageing as well. To be fair: it reflects a challenge all craft breweries have in spreading small batches of packaged beer to a big market. Doesn’t put me off my porter pursuit!

Holgate’s porter really has cocoa and vanilla in it. These flavours stand out on first taste but blend in swiftly to enhance the overall richness of this super porter. You could drink this as an accompaniment to rich ice cream. Called the Temptress; it’s aptly named.

Red Duck Porter was highly drinkable: I enjoyed what I thought was its extra bitterness compared to the others.

Wicked Elf from The Little Brewing Company in NSW is a fine exemplar of the style: smooth and rich but engaging, drinkable and moreish – especially at 6.2% ABV.

James Squire Jack of Spades was perhaps the least complex of this line-up to my mind. Highly drinkable nonetheless. Perhaps this reflects a lower ABV compared to the others. It reminded me a bit of White Rabbit Dark Ale.

I look forward to conducting a similar sampling of fresh porters on tap. Until then: this lineup of packaged porters is a good insight to the style. Hope it interests you to try a few. Enjoy …

Cheers!