Beerlines

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

09 March
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From bigger towards better: people powered beer

I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt with ‘people powered media’ on it.

As a PR I Googled that: immediately thinking of beer of course. I came up with an interesting blog post titled ‘Co-op Breweries: Craft beers in the New Economy‘ by Joshua Nelson. Fascinating ….

beer coop

This is an interesting trend: co-operatives I mean – especially when applied to beer! Economic democracy in the post-industrial era and all that.

While there a many thousands of co-operatives globally, there are few focused on brewing.

In the US there are notables such as Black Star and Fair State as well as relative newbies such as Flying Bike Cooperative. So only a few. Do you know of others?

Equity for punks? Drink like you own the place
With CUB and LION now gobbled up by foreign beverage and food companies SAB-Miller and Kirin respectively, how many Australian breweries are now on the Australian Stock Exchange? Any?

Given the success of Scots brewery Brew Dog’s ‘Equity for Punks!‘, perhaps there are lots of good reasons to co-operate when it comes to beer.

Fresh local beer in which you have a co-operative interest or, as Fair State Brewery’s website says, Drink like you own the place. And to that ….cheers

 

02 December
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CUB weakens Foster’s Lager. Why?

I was attracted to the bright blue pallet load of Foster’s Lager at Dan Murphy’s.

But what caught my attention was the alcohol content of Foster’s Lager now at 4%.

[UPDATE/CORRECTION 7 December: IT’S CLASSIC!! A case of reading the fine print! This brew is called Foster’s Classic and apparently is being sold exclusively through Dan Murphy’s; the comments at this web site about how ‘Classic’ it is are worth a read. Thanks to beer writer Matt Kirkegaard for the heads-up.]

fosters 4 percent

Previously, as you can see from the pic below from Carlton & United Breweries‘ website, Foster’s Lager was 4.9%. (Perhaps CUB should update its website.)

That’s a whopping 18% reduction!

fosters

Brand histories ignored
Why is CUB, or rather parent company SAB-Miller, doing this?

Okay.. Foster’s glory days are long over. Nonetheless it’s fair to say it remains an iconic beer brand recognised globally as Australian.

So has CUB learned nothing from the consumer backlash when they did this to VB? Remember CUB’s letter of apology in the press when they ‘fixed’ it?

Have they not checked their history and wondered at the demise of other strong CUB brands like Abbots Lager, Reschs Pilsener and Brisbane Bitter when alcohol was sneakily reduced?

CUB has recently cut the alcohol content of Cascade Premium too.

Perhaps Foster’s Lager is set to be yet another discount brand fighting on price. Call me nostalgic but that would be a sad end to this famous brand.

Cost cutting your way to growth
There is only one reason this is happening of course. It’s to reduce the Federal Excise the brewery has to pay which is based on alcohol content. Okay .. it’s the job of business to reduce costs. Consumers understand that.

What they don’t understand is a decision to ignore them and to reduce the essential ingredient and, invariably, the taste of a brand they prefer – or used to prefer.

SAB-Miller’s global webpage says it has “A commitment to growth.” Perhaps they’ve not heard the marketing truism which states “you can’t cost-cut your way to growth.”

However I suspect those making such decisions at CUB are not listening: certainly not to consumers. Pity.cheers

 

13 July
3Comments

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…

09 February
1Comment

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!

16 April
0Comments

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
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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!

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!”

01 February
2Comments

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!

03 November
1Comment

VB reborn or VB back to the future?

I like the new VB advertising.

Not because it goes back to the ‘good old days’ but because of the relevant, fundamental beer values it appeals to. Marketing/advertising jargon would probably refer to beer drinkers’ special ‘need states’ like ‘thirst’ and ‘reward for effort’ etc etc. Whatever ..

Unlike Carlton Draught’s recent effort, of which I was under-whelmed because it was just a joke with a brand attached, I’m impressed with VB’s new TVCs.

Previous brand management of VB at CUB decided that the blue-collar, ‘reward for effort’ message for VB was worn out.

There was no doubt that, like other brands, it needed to be refreshed and updated. But not trashed! To throw decades of equity out and reposition it with the benign (nil need state) ‘The drinking beer’ .. well enough said.

So is it VB reborn or VB: back to the future? Enjoy the new TVCs while you ponder that question.  Cheers!