Beerlines

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

Archive for the 'Thunder Road Brewery' Category

30 March
Comments Off on Craft beer winning the ‘eye level’ war in retail

Craft beer winning the ‘eye level’ war in retail

For decades major brewers have competed and paid heftily to secure choice, high-profile positions in major retailers’ bottle shops and liquor barns.

The visual customer-facing beer war at POS
Every customer-facing cubic centimetre was precious turf. It was (and remains) a very competitive visual war for beer brand presence in major retailers.

And the big brewers were all over it! They owned it – they thought. Indeed, they devised their own science to prove it: ‘space planning’ and ‘planograms’ and whatever.

The most highly sought after POS placements in retailers’ fridges are, of course, at eye level. The grab-and-go slot.

So for years, what have we seen at eye-level? Usually six packs of VB or Tooheys Extra Dry or XXXX Gold; the result of big brewers with big brands paying the big retailers big bucks.

Craft now dominates at eye level
But a trip to Woolworths’ owned BWS shows how times have changed. Craft beers are front and centre.

This pic from BWS South Melbourne was central to the fridge fronts. There was no VB or Carlton Draught in this frontage at all. Those brands were back in the cold room.

bws2

Clearly BWS is on top of consumer interest at retail. And the consumer increasingly wants something new to try: an interesting brand or style to drink and brag about.

Okay, quite a few of the craft brands in this BWS are Woolies’ own private labels (often called faux craft) and clearly the retailers are making better margins, but the takeout is clear: craft has won this particular POS battle.

Big brewer versus big retailer – control of the POS
For years the big brewers believed this key point of sale in retail was theirs.

That sense of entitlement, I suspect, has rankled the big retailers for some time.

These facings must seriously be pissing big brewers off no end. Especially, as you can bet many of these small craft brewers are paying nowhere near as much for the privilege.

Interesting times at POS. And for that .. Cheers!

16 April
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Who owns CUB’s heritage beer brands?

For CUB I think it’s now a case of too many beer brands not enough breweries as its heritage beer brands go to court.

Since the early 1900s Carlton & United Breweries (CUB), now owned by SAB-Miller, has taken over dozens of Australian breweries. This includes the original five Melbourne brewing firms which amalgamated to form CUB in the first place.

One of many famous heritage brands taken over by CUB

One of many famous heritage brands taken over by CUB

There must be hundreds of brands. From well known capital city brands to small regional brews; how is CUB going to keep them all legally under its wing given the requirements to release them to the public regularly? That’s a big task even for a big brewer.

So what’s happening at the bar?

Overnight news, here in The Age, sees local craft brewer, Thunder Road Brewery (TRB), seriously elevate its pitch to secure heritage brands from CUB. Beerlines has covered this before i.e. How to make Carlton bitter.

They’re off to court!

If it weren’t for the fact that this is now actually going to court I would say it was just more drum beating by TRB to get free publicity at the big guy’s expense. Their recent release of Terry’s Ale, based on an early Carlton Brewery beer recipe is a fine example of this.

Is there a serious case?
I’m no lawyer; here comes the ‘but.’ But as I understand it, unless CUB actively keeps those brands alive and seen to be available commercially – if only for limited release every three or so years – then CUB’s ‘ownership’ is exposed. Then such claims as Thunder Road is making have some chance I believe.

And I’m not so sure CUB will have done that. As I said, CUB must ‘own’ hundreds of heritage brands given its history of takeovers. CUB would need to re-release a heritage brand every few months to maintain its claim of ownership across all of them.

See you in court
As Thunder Road is seeing CUB in court, they obviously believe they have a case. They will need good counsel; CUB has a reputation as seriously aggressive litigators when it comes to defending its brands.

Thunder Road’s cuckoo approach to brands
Finally, from a brand-building perspective I question where Thunder Road is going. If it wins the right to take-over some CUB heritage brands then what? How much of TRB’s long term brand and marketing plan relies on the heritage of breweries long closed? What of Brunswick Bitter and its own brands? What of the central Thunder Road brand itself?

So will CUB retain ownership? The answer has the makings of a mini-series based in Melbourne. All good for bringing beer into the news that’s for sure. And for that – Cheers!

 

24 March
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Terry’s Ale: a renaissance for Carlton beers

Thunder Road Brewing’s revival, or renaissance, of Terry’s Ale went public this past week. And a fine launch it was at Young & Jackson pub in Melbourne.

Terry's Ale goes public at Chloe's Bar at Young & Jackson

Terry’s Ale goes public at Chloe’s Bar at Young & Jackson

The historical venue, at Chloe’s Bar, was a perfect setting for the launch, or rather relaunch, of this old recipe.

The nostalgia of the event was capped off by attendance by the authors of the history of the Carlton Brewery, Mike Bannenberg and Andrew Bailey.

Indeed it was Andrew who discovered the brewing handbook of Alfred Terry which ultimately led to the rebirth of an ale in his honour out of Thunder Road.

A blast from the past
The brewers tried valiantly to recapture the ingredients from the 1800s using rare versions of hops and sugar. You have to try it.

Andrew Bailey (centre) presents Alfred Terry's book to fellow ale fans at Y&Js.

Andrew Bailey (centre) presents Alfred Terry’s book to fellow ale fans at Y&Js.

I found it a complex brew; it was no euphemism to say it was interesting. While clearly a great feat in brewing I looked forward to a cleansing Brunswick Bitter after one or two Terry’s.

Thunder Road (and Terry's Ale) brewer Marcus Cox chats with beer writer Charles Coll at the Y&J launch.

Thunder Road (and Terry’s Ale) brewer Marcus Cox chats with beer writer Charles Coll (and shirt) at the Y&J launch.

Where next for Thunder Road?
Thunder Road is clearly cutting some profile with their renaissance efforts and public jabs at CUB’s claim to heritage beer brands. From a PR point of view this is getting good coverage. But, behind this profile, is it building the Thunder Road brand? I think that question is worth another post and maybe another Terry’s Ale.

Cheers!

02 February
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Renaissance beers

Amid the current froth and bubble about craft beer provenance (beerlines included), it’s inspiring to see breweries revitalising traditional brands.

Perhaps driven by this undercurrent need for beer-brand authenticity and tradition, there’s a renaissance of historical beer brands underway.

Topically, Thunder Road Brewing features on the front page of today’s (Saturday) The Age newspaper. (Great PR BTW.)

Terry’s Ale: a Carlton tale
The article announced this inner Melbourne brewery is bringing back to life a beer recipe created in the 1870s for the then Carlton Brewery.

Alfred Terry: pic from The Age article

Terry’s Ale will be crafted in honour of Alfred Terry, the brewer whose recipe the Thunder Road brewers discovered.

While Terry’s in not taking CUB’s legals head on, it certainly smells like Thunder Road Brewing is trying to get under their radar. TRB complained last year about being prevented from procuring CUB’s older beer brands.

A few years ago CUB released a renaissance McCraken Brewery Ale: one the original Melbourne breweries united into CUB in 1907. Perhaps Terry’s might prompt a rethink. CUB’s very heritage-looking website would suggest they are paying more attention to their history. Good stuff.

Mike (left) and Andrew at the old Carlton Brewery with The Brewery. [pic from The Age article]

As an aside, this initiative reminds me of the passion and enthusiasm of Melbourne-based beer label collector/designer, brewing historian Mike Bannenberg. Mike collaborated with Andrew Bailey to create The Brewery; a beautiful book on the Carlton Brewery.

Grafton Bitter
Just last month, Thunder Road Brewing Company also announced the reintroduction of the heritage beer Grafton Bitter in the town of its birth, Grafton N.S.W.

Known as “The Pride of the North” Grafton Bitter – and the Grafton Brewery that produced it – was “enormously successful in the years after the brewery commenced operation in 1952” according to Thunder Road.

Parisienne revivals through a Monocle
Coincidently earlier in the week I noted a great article in Monocle magazine (p.60 Feb/13 edition) about the revival of two beer brands from Paris. Sorry I can’t link to the article yet; there is a podcast about it though.

1953 saw the end of the Demory brand (Bières Demory Paris). Now it’s alive and well thanks to effort of passionate brewers – and now bar owners – keen to “bring the vintage theme into the present day.”

Demory: new and old

 

 

 

 

1969 saw the Gallia brand disappear in a takeover: now broadly available.

Vive la Renaissance!
The renaissance of these brands deserves a resounding “vive!” Not just for recapturing lost heritage but for deepening a broader interest in beer: a trend craft breweries have, mainly, led over the past decade or so.

Vitally, each renaissance prompts drinkers to ask: Who brewed this? What style is it? Where is it from? What’s its history? Does it taste good?

And for that I say “Cheers!”

15 July
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Local and fresh: welcome back!

Fresh cloudy beer with a green swirl of fresh hop particles. Crikey! Just the thought would once see beer drinkers avoid a pub like the plague.

Fresh Alpha Pale Ale with a swirl of green hops to prove it!

A bit heady I know – but this glass underlines a shift in Australia’s beer market. Some call it a revolt. Where once the nearest brewery was only the big one in the state capital, now we have smaller breweries: local breweries. In Melbourne, for example, we now have many new, interesting and tasty brews from city-based craft breweries: Cavalier and Thunder Road Brewing to name just two standouts.

Local and fresh: words that beer drinkers are reacquainting themselves with.

I dropped in to Matilda Bay’s new Port Melbourne brewery yesterday with a fellow beer fancier. Within walking distance of home: it’s local and, as you can see, fresh. (And ‘yes’ I know it’s owned by CUB.) The treat of the visit was a glass of Matilda Bay’s Alpha Pale Ale straight from the fermenter. It was cloudy; floral; a bit raw; and delicious. To underline this there was a green swirl of fresh hop particles at the bottom of the glass as the top pic tries to show.

Fresh from the Bay.

There were three taps offering Matilda Bay brews straight from the fermenter: Alpha Pale; Double Stout and The Black Thong. We sampled them all. What a treat. Our fave was the Alpha. Read more…

17 June
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How to make Carlton Bitter

It was ballsy. I loved it. Thunder Road Brewing Company (TRB) in Melbourne’s inner suburb of Brunswick had a swipe at major brewer Carlton & United about CUB’s claim to heritage brands.

Classic David and Goliath. The media lapped it up: which I suppose was the point. See the press clip below and the original by Eli Greenlblat here at The Age.

As seen in The Age: Brunswick vs Carlton

Brunswick Bitter: building its own heritage
CUB’s heritage brands and their labels are fantastic. What brewer wouldn’t want them? While I empathise with that envy and admire the PR pluck of TRB, they face a long and expensive road trying to get them.

BB on tap at the Builders Arms

The old labels are ‘heritage’ because they were successful brands.

Brunswick Bitter can do the same. Build its own heritage. It can; it’s a great beer. Indeed, as Crafty Pint notes, the brew, “..tips its hat to Australia’s brewing heritage, this time with the ‘From 1876’ a reference, we assume, to the Brunswick Brewery that opened in that year.”

I recently tried it on tap at the Builders Arms Hotel in Fitzroy.

The Builders Arms

It has the hallmarks of being a great Aussie tap beer. It’s balanced, approachable, refreshing and drinkable (indeed ‘sessionable’) but with more character than your average mainstream front bar draught. It was served too cold however and was better after warming a few degrees. Hey .. it’s Melbourne in June!

TRB doesn’t need CUB’s old brands. Every beer tap they gain today in the highly competitive draught beer market will worry the big brewers much more than a back-room tiff with lawyers. Every single tap.

Cheers!