Weekend Reading #39

This edition looks at beer trends in the US, opinions on Matilda Bay Brewing and XXXX new Pale Ale …

I love lounging in bed on weekends and catching up on all my favourite beery reading. From the American craft beer scene, local beer news and anything else that tickles my beery fancy, there is a lot of excellent reading material out there! Every weekend (though I may miss the occasional one due to forgetfulness!) I’m posting a list of the articles and blogs that have enjoyed and hope that you will too!


 

This apparently weekly post has been a little MIA of late, my apologies, hopefully things get back on track from here on in!

Nielson | Tapped In: Craft and Local are Powerful Trends in the Beer Aisle

Though it’s from the US it is still interesting to see the trends especially beyond just the mainstream versus craft beer categories. This looks at where people are buying their beer, what qualities are important to them and, most interestingly, what those qualities – things like “craft” – actually mean to them.

Beer Diary | Wellington Bars from inside and out

Phil Cook reflects on two recent articles in the New Zealand media on craft beer in a nice demonstration of when mainstream media starts to understand craft and when they don’t.

Australian Brews News | XXXX God Serves Up New Pale Ale

Ah, it is hard not to screw your nose up at something like this. I’d like to think it’s not because I’m a beer snob but because I don’t think it’s smart from a branding point of view.

VB tried this a few years ago, buried in the back of my beer muddled memory is some sort of tall and skinny bottle with a faux vintage oval label with the words “Victorian Bitter” something something on it. Anyway, my point being that VB tried to move their brand into the craft beer space and it didn’t work.

It doesn’t work, in my opinion, because you have a brand that is so entrenched in its roots that to change it, or to even try to change it, alienates exciting drinkers and confuses the rest. Either way it is not doing much for sales.

Maybe I’m wrong but I see the same thing here, XXXX drinkers like their XXXX, why would they change? Do XXXX even want them to switch to the Pale Ale?

“The craft beer market in Australia is starting to really take off …” – sorry, but the craft beer market has already taken flight, the take off was a while ago.

Ale of a Time | Matilda Bay: A Branding Mess

Beer is Your Friend | Matilda Bay: A Tale of Too Many Beers

Two great posts from two of my favourite beer writers on the muddle that seems to be Matilda Bay.

Once a brand that way very well respected and had a clear identity as WA’s pioneer of craft beer it has since become a bit of a nothing brand. It doesn’t seem to stand for anything, there’s no clear messages I can see and the portfolio of beers seem to keep increasing, each one more vague than the other. It feels like they’ve taken the approach of “the more darts we throw at the board, the greater the odds one will hit the bullseye”

I’d love to see Matilda Bay reclaim its identity and be the welcome drink to craft beer that it was for me when I started looking for beer with flavour, not just beers to get drunk on cheap. I drank Redback and Beez Neez and from there I found James Squire Golden Ale and then on to Little Creatures Pale Ale. I have a soft spot for Matilda Bay and I just hope they don’t kill off Alpha. That’s a pretty damn good beer.

 

 

a trio of ales

On Saturday night I had what you might call “a tale of ales” – Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale, Golden Nail and Feral Hop Hog. As I tucked into each of these beers I realised that in many ways they are a tale of a different part of craft beer in WA and even my own craft beer journey …

I’m not sure what the collective noun for many ales would be. A hop back of ales? A tank of ales? A headache of ales perhaps? On Saturday night I had what you might call “a tale of ales” – Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale, Golden Nail and Feral Hop Hog. It wasn’t a conscious decision to get these specific beers instead my partner and I had been doing food shopping at the Bunbury Farmers Market popped into Dan Murphy’s on the way home. We happily grabbed the last 6 pack of Golden Nail, there was a 2 for deal on the four packs of Alpha and, frankly, it’s hard to go past the Hog without it leaping from the shelf and begging to be taken home.

As I tucked into each of these beers I realised that in many ways they are a tale of a different part of craft beer in WA and even my own craft beer journey …

a trio of ales

Matilda Bay Brewing – their story, my stories and their Alpha Pale Ale

The short version of the Matilda Bay story starts in 1984, brewing at The Sail & Anchor in Fremantle and this is generally considered the birth of craft beer in WA. It came about when a few friends wanted to make tasty, hand crafted and full flavoured beers. A lot of years, cash and beer and several moves later the brewery is now in Melbourne.

I was lucky to be able to go through the Matilda Bay Brewery in WA before they shut up shop and moved east. They had these big beautiful copper tanks that looked amazing. There was also a big occupational health and safety poster on the wall with an extreme close up of an eyeball with a nail in it. Who on earth brings a nail gun to a brewery?! Anyway, moving along …

The story of Matilda Bay is fairly well known however I have to giggle when I read this from their website:

They purchased a small pub called the Freemasons Hotel in Fremantle, Western Australia, installed a brewery and reopened as the Sail & Anchor Hotel. The brewery at the pub enabled the guys to control the quality and presentation of the beers and talk directly to the growing legions of converts.

I don’t giggle to make mockery of them or because I disagree, I don’t at all. I have a lot of respect for Matilda Bay. I only giggle because the way Phil Sexton, co-founder of Matilda Bay, once told the story to me, well me and a group of other people …

In 2010 I was working for Little Creatures Brewing which was then still part owned by Phil Sexton. I was a sales rep and during one of our sales conferences we were lucky enough to do a beer tasting with Phil. He picked a small range of beers and we sat, tasted the beers and we all asked a LOT of questions of Phil, hammering him like some kind of beery interrogation. After all how often do you get to pick the brain of someone who co-founded the likes of Matilda Bay, Dome Coffee and Little Creatures?

Taking a break from the sales conference and playing footy across from the brewery (2010)
Taking a break from the sales conference and playing footy across from the brewery (2010)

I remember asking Phil what had made them decide to buy a pub? I had braced myself for an answer filled with strategic thinking and powerful foresight. Instead Phil laughed and replied with a very simple answer – no-one wanted to buy their beer, if they wanted to sell their beer they were going to have to buy a pub so they could sell it themselves. It was hard to imagine Phil Sexton rocking up to bottle shops and bars and his beer being rejected by all of them. But that’s what happened.

So they bought a pub and you might be wondering, like I was, why that one in particular? Why The Sail & Anchor? I asked Phil. He smiled and simply said, “because it was the cheapest”.

Brilliant! I love this answer because it removes all the marketing spin and business awe and takes into account a) sheer determination b) dumb luck and c) a ‘screw you, I’ll find another way’ attitude that I think makes for a far more entertaining story than the one on the website.

But what about the beer?

Well Redback Original is my nostalgic favourite of the Matilda Bay line up. It brings back fond memories of my dad drinking it at The Sail & Anchor after a morning of him, me and mum wandering through the Fremantle Markets. However if you’re talking about flavour and taste then it’s gotta be Alpha Pale Ale. Piney, tropical fruits, pineapple and just a seriously tasty pale ale. I know my craft beer heart isn’t supposed to like Matilda Bay beers since they are one of the big brewers, the enemy, etc etc but this is a damn good drop.

Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale

Me + Redback Original Wheat

There are so many great stories around beer and breweries and people but often the best are the ones that are personal, that mean something to you. Here’s my own story around me + Redback Original Wheat

Redback Original Wheat
A beer almost as old as me …

Define difference between beer and craft beer?

 

As someone who really, really likes beer and lives in Australia there is a certain amount of *tsk tsk* about liking anything associated with Matilda Bay Brewing (aka Carlton United) and Malt Shovel Brewing (aka Lion Nathan). Yes, they are the certainly the two big players in the world of beer but it doesn’t make them evil or villainous. Judging from their photo in the 2011 Beer Lovers Guide to Australia, the guys at Matilda Bay are nice, smiley and happy people who probably really like beer too. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting Dr Chuck Hahn a couple of times and he’s real nice too. Most importantly, just because they are the “big boys” doesn’t mean they make bad beer.

I have fond memories of Matilda Bay’s first born, Redback Original Wheat Beer. It reminds me of Saturdays spent with my parents in Fremantle. Dad always parked in the same car park near Myer despite the fact it meant we had to walk past the giant fake white pointer shark head that stuck out from one of the loading bays. I have yet to find anyone else who remembers this thing and I worry that my imagination is trying to scare me. Either way, I hated it. It scared the pants off me. I think Dad thought it was funny but thankfully Mum was a little kinder and would be sure to hold my hand as we went past. The rest of the Saturday would go pretty well – we’d shop around a bit, stop at Cully’s Tea Rooms for coffee and party pies and a good long stroll around the Fremantle Markets. We’d emerge from the markets to The Sail & Anchor and stop in so Dad could have a pint and I remember it was always Redback Original Wheat.

The artistic stylings of my boyfriend and I whilst drinking some single hop IPA at The Sail & Anchor

I’ve always loved wheat beers, from when I discovered Hoegaarden whilst working at The Belgian Beer Cafe Westende, and even now. The more I’ve journeyed through beer the further I’ve travelled away from Redback. However, one sunny day recently I made a quick decision to get a pint and get reacquainted with an old friend.

I am not even sure what prompted the thought in my head. I hadn’t walked past the beer taps. I knew the pub had it (since I had previously worked there) and perhaps I had walked past a table who were drinking it and it slipped into my subconscious. After all, they do have the branded glasses and they are rather striking in a sunny beer garden.

With the first sip it was banana! Someone had smushed a banana into my beer glass … and it tasted lovely with a little sweetness in there too. It’s by no means a heavy beer, very light on and so it easily falls into the refreshing category. This isn’t a bad characteristic either. There are hints of spice too but to be honest I was so happy sitting in the sun with friends that I didn’t focus solely on the beer and just happily gulped away.

What does make me sad is that Matilda Bay Brewing no longer brew in it’s home town of Fremantle, having moved away to Melbourne some years ago. I was lucky enough to do a brewery tour through Matilda Bay in 2005 before it closed the doors. I remember two things – lots of copper and an occupational health and safety poster that had a close up of an eye with a nail in it. With such a rich history in Western Australia, being the first craft brewery (to the best of my knowledge) around, I found it sad to see her leave for the East Coast.

Call me sentimental but I’ve known this beer since I was a kid. And whilst it’s not my favourite beer in the world (and really, who could pick just one) and I don’t rant on about how sensational it is like I do with Mountain Goat, Feral or Sierra Nevada, it still has a place in my beer drinking world.

Redback Original Wheat

4.7% abv

Kristallweizen

A German style filtered weissbier (meaning “white beer”) brewed with malted wheat and barley using Saaz and Pride of Ringwood Hops.

Weissbier …

This beer style has had a rollercoaster ride over it’s long history, going from massive popularity in its early days until it’s brewing was outlawed by a Bavarian Duke. He wanted to be the only one who was brewing wheat beer and he and his family had his way for 200 years. Over this time demand for wheat beer steadily declined. With profitability down the family put the right to brew wheat beer up for grabs. Other people tried brewing wheat beer but sales continued to fall, no one wanted it, opting for Bavarian Lagers instead. However, one brewer who purchased the rights to brew weissbier persevered and eventually saw great success. For whatever reasons weissbier production in Germany went from 3% in the early 1950s to holding about 1/10 of the overall beer market in the country and continues to be an ever popular category, brewed all over the world.