Beerlines

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

09 February

Does beer provenance make a difference?

The title of this follow-up to ‘Australian owned: does it make a difference?’ was going to be ‘Australian made: does it make a difference?’

But I’m diverted by growing rumblings of a more fundamental issue: and that’s provenance.

Often used in connection with wines, the provenance of a beer, I understand, relates similarly to transparency over where and how a beer is brewed and, sometimes, who brews it.

I hear of a growing number of beer outlets where the owner/manager is choosing to serve only beers with very clear provenance.

Priggish about provenance
Indeed, some are taking a strict, verging on priggish, line on provenance.Soup-Nazi

This will surely upset some brewers both big and small.

For big brewers like CUB/SAB-Miller and LION, provenance concerns may rule out serving a beer brand which was not brewed at its home brewery: preferring brewery of origin as it were.

This may apply to a few global brands sold in Australia: Stella Artois, Heineken, Becks brewed in Australia or Asahi brewed in Thailand are candidates.

Concerning the big guys also, this thinking may extend to brands like Matilda Bay’s (i.e. CUB) Fat Yak ‘craft’ brand which, I understand, outgrew Matilda Bay’s new Port Melbourne home and is brewed at scale at CUB’s large Yatala Brewery in SE Queensland.

For smaller brewers this strict interpretation of provenance might rule out those who own a brand but choose to contract brew or cuckoo brew elsewhere via commercial arrangement. The craft brewer Doctor’s Orders admits it is a cuckoo brewer for example.

Breweries are the equivalent to terroir in wine making
“What I offer is breweries and all that goes with that. It’s like terroir with wine. I’m much less interested in the wine maker or the brewer in this case,” said one hotelier who was particular about this.

Faux craft fail whales
I don’t think there are any surprises that provenance concerns were quick to exclude contracted ‘craft’ brews by big retailers like Coles and Woolworths.

Often with cartoon-like branding, the thin credentials/provenance of many of these brews clearly deserve disparagement as ‘faux craft’ beers.

new dan murphys_1480

Does provenance make a difference?
For me: yes.

My time in brewing exposed me to many prolonged frustrations experienced by brew teams trying to match beer brand tastes from one continent to another.

Have you ever tried Foster’s in England? Ok – probably not. QED.

Or even within Australia; Castlemaine Perkins’ brewers for example could never brew Swan Premium at Milton – it always tasted like XXXX (funny that). And VB or Carlton Draught in Queensland are decidely different to their Victorian-brewed equivalents: to my taste anyway.

And let’s face it: why is there such a strong parallel import market for the original Stella and Becks and other global brands?

It’s because those who loved the original taste aren’t getting it. And ‘yes’ of course, there is the issue of knowing that it’s not the ridgy-didge original anyway.

Brewers always say drink fresh local beer. I fully endorse that.

However I’m also fine drinking a Heineken or Guinness if it comes from the brewery of origin – aged though it may be.

Transparency rules: inform inform inform
There will always be purists and ‘beer nazis’ who will never rest. From a marketing communications perspective however, what the consumer wants most is transparency.

Don’t try to be tricky with me. Don’t make the print small. Don’t hide stuff I might be interested in.

Be open; make a clear effort to over-inform.

Little Creatures Geelong
Provenance, as I said, relates to transparency. I’ve appreciated the openness and transparency which Little Creatures has displayed in opening a like-named brewery in Geelong. The label is up-front about its Geelong origins.

But it begs the question.

I wonder what those who are very particular about provenance think of Little Creatures having multiple breweries. Is it any different to Stella being brewed under licence here?

Cheers!

02 February

Australian owned: does it make a difference?

Back after a sabbatical, I note Coopers Brewery signage re-emphasising its Australian ownership.

Not surprising in light of CUB and LION – the majority of the national beer market – now being foreign owned.

I question how much of an influence this appeal to national loyalty is with beer drinkers.coopers sign

Years ago national, or rather state, loyalty would have been far more important to the parochial beer consumer.

Not any more.

For a number of reasons, not least is so many brewery ownership changes and global brand swaps in recent years, consumers can barely keep up!

Ownership is no longer as influential
Who owns Corona or Cascade? Who owns Little Creatures or Löwenbräu? Who owns Stella Artois or Stone & Wood?

Who cares?

I doubt we’ll see again the outcry and consumer backlash created when the traditional big state brewers like Swan, Castlemaine Perkins, Cascade and others were bought by interlopers from interstate or overseas.
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I’m not dismissing loyalty – in this case nationalistic – as a marketing influence: albeit I think it a waning one.

But as modern beer consumers increasingly choose from an expanding personal portfolio of preferred domestic and global brands and styles to suit various drinking occasions, I question the value of putting too many marketing dollars behind appeals to Australian ownership.

Parochialism is not dead. It’s just not guaranteed state-wide anymore 
While Coopers is talking more about ‘national share’ and pitching itself against the foreign-owned big guys, many new and emerging craft breweries are securing solid local loyalty and support.

I mean really local: local local: micro local.

In many ways the beer market is coming full circle.

As the big breweries aspire to globalised ownership clouds, savvy craft breweries are reclaiming local grassroots.

And to that: Cheers!

16 April

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!

 

27 March

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!

24 March

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!

20 March

CUB tells Foster’s to F off!

Good signs for brewing, quite literally, at Southbank in Melbourne’s CBD.

On the busy corner at 77 Southbank Boulevard, Foster’s corporate signage has been pulled down at its HQ of many years. The F word has gone, making way for a return to the traditional roundel logo of Carlton & United Breweries (CUB).

The earlier stainless steel Foster's corporate

The earlier stainless steel Foster’s corporate: pic from ABC Radio AM website

The new/old CUB sign replaces Foster’s at the Southbank HQ

The move will ruffle a few feathers. Some old guard Foster’s corporates, going right back to its foundation in John Elliot’s days, might wince.

At the end of the day however it was simple physics. Foster’s Group Limited never created the critical mass required to be a global player. Pity; it could have.

Good to see CUB back though. Great to see that SAB-Miller stuck with the more familiar and established logo and did not go with that silly overly-designed (glass of friendship) CUB logo devised under CEO John Pollaers.

Bringing it back to the consumer
SAB-Miller now faces a similar challenge to that faced by Lion Nathan when they took over Bond Brewing i.e. In the wake of very high profile corporate ownership changes, how do you bring the traditional brand back to the consumer?

Answering this question is even more challenging nowadays with corporate ownership made so much more public and transparent through online and social media.

We will watch and see and perhaps have a Carlton Draught every now and then to plot progress.

Cheers!

 

02 February

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!”

01 February

Beer biffo: a great start to 2013

Forget the surprise election announcement!

It was beer biffo that captured the news. Perfect timing to kick-start beerlines for 2013.

The biff? Hardly missable across the fraternity – but too juicy not to recap.

Through Australian Brews News, editor Matt Kirkegaard maintained a constant barrage of challenges to CUB/SAB-Miller over the matter of Byron Bay Pale Lager’s provenance.

[He’s still nudging them painfully in the ribs about Crown Lager’s increasingly mysterious heritage.]

In the one corner, with almost zero-tolerance, Matt pleads for complete transparency and authenticity regarding a beer brand’s provenance.

His plea, at heart, defends what he sees as the unique point-of-difference that most ‘real’ craft breweries have over the big guys when it comes to positioning in the market; that’s being small and acting small.

In the other, CUB/SAB-Miller says let the consumer decide.

It’s an epic stoush – although stereotypically big and bad verus small and good –  with some delightfully provocative language throw around; I just love Jamie Cook’s comment on CUB’s corporate comb-over. And as Jamie brews at Byron Bay with his Stone & Wood team, I suspect he has a keen interest in .. well .. CUB’s keen interest.

Craft Provocateurs
Brew News’ provocation of this debate will – eventually through the wonders of social media – nudge consumers to think more about the beer they’re drinking, or about to buy, which they believe is craft beer.

Not all – but some. Hopefully all opinion leaders.

Cheers!

01 December

CSR: Cavalier Social Responsibility 2

Excuse my returning to this initiative which I raved about earlier.

But it deserves it.

Despite their scale, Cavalier Brewing has punched well above its weight with its Cavalier Courage. Indeed there are some CSR lessons here for the big brewers .. well, any company really.

Cavalier Courage
It’s an easy drinking craft beer just in time for summer: just released in a 330 mL bottle. More importantly it’s been created to raise awareness and funds for Motor Neuron Disease.

There’s lots about this effort that’s commendable for obvious reasons. However, I was especially impressed that the Cavalier team designed the label too. Courageous: but it’s worked (in my view).

In case your not up on your Greek myths, the label features Sisyphus, who was punished and condemned to roll a boulder up a hill only to see it roll down every time. As there is no cure yet for Motor Neuron Disease there are unfortunate parallels in Sisyphus’ plight and those suffering with MND.

Cavalier Courage is a 4.5% ABV Blonde Ale brewed with summer Saaz hops; they provide a fruity bitterness perfect for the summer to come.

Cheers! Again, well done Cavalier. Congratulations for this courageous effort.

PS: I was privileged to be invited to the launch of the beer at Virginia Plain in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane.

25 November

Sizeism and craft beer

Sizeism is discrimination based on size.

When it comes to craft beer it usually translates to ‘big is bad’ antipathy.

The sizeism word jumped out to me in an article about coffee in the February edition of Time Out Melbourne. It was about big versus small coffee companies and ended with:

“So maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to get on our high horses because a brand isn’t new and tiny. Remember friends: sizeism is wrong.”

Having worked for big brewing I know that ‘big’ provides an easy target. But, as the guy from Genovese coffee noted, you usually get bigger if you get better.

And so it is with craft beer.

Big is often positioned as bad. Much of that angst is just sizeism. An earlier post highlighted the beneficial halo effect of big retail and big brewing’s venture into the craft segment.

Big smoke & mirrors: faux craft
Where ‘big’ does itself no favours is when it pretends to be artisan and small.

On this point, regular commentator Crafty Pint highlights what the editor calls ‘faux craft’ beers. Crafty’s recent enewsletter pointed to faux craft call-out examples by Phil Cook’s Beer diary in NZ and an article by Denis Wilson ‘Big Beer dresses up in craft brewers’ clothing‘ in the US.

I’m not sure whether it’s the size or the subterfuge, or the combination of both, which clearly gets up the nose of these commentators. Which ever: their bullsh*t radars are pinging loudly.

Transparency rules
In an increasingly networked market where Googled social media will quickly uncover a brand’s provenance, pretentious smoke and mirrors – faux craft – is stupid.

Consumers respond positively to honesty and transparency and negatively to deception and obscuration. No surprises there. So .. if a brand is owned by big brewing then deliberately trying to hide that fact is not only stupid it also smells – and consumers have good noses.

Cheers!