Sunday, September 23, 2007

beer wars

Like sex, religion and politics, beer can be an emotive issue. Everyone has opinions and like most matters pubwise, everyone thinks they're right. My bar is affiliated with the Fosters group. Nominally Australian, I believe Asahi and maybe Scottish & Newcastle own large chunks of them and they produce the local drop of choice in Victoria, Carlton Draught. Draught is a solid unpretentious lager that wouldn't meet any European standards for brewing but cellars rather nicely and maintains flavour at almost freezing temperatures. Which is exactly what you want out of an Australian beer. When you sign on the dotted line with Carlton you get access to the rest of their range - Vic Bitter, Melbourne Bitter, Boags & Cascade (both lovely Tasmanian drops), Stella, Asahi, Corona, Kronenbourg and the Matilda Bay range of artisan brews. You can also take on their array of shithouse spirits but unless they throw an absolute truckload of cash at you, you'd be ill advised to do so. They aren't bad to deal with in a lot of ways, they aren't nazi about stocking the whole range and will let you keep other breweries lines in the fridge, with one exception - the old enemy.

The old enemy is Tooheys. Tooheys falls under the Lion Nathan umbrella and if Fosters are the crusty old patriarch of Australian brewing, these guys are the schoolyard bully. They mounted an incursion into Victoria in the 90's which almost destroyed the industry and certainly went a long way towards ruining a lot of excellent traditional boozers. Being predominantly British owned, they went for the British industry model and all hell broke loose. They bought literally hundreds of hotels, remodelled them with blonde wood and chrome, spent millions on state of the art beer dispensing systems and proceeded to try and flog their brews to a reluctant public.

This had a number of consequences. Their flagship beer of the time, Tooheys New tastes weird to Victorians. A mate who is a brewer claims this has something to do with hop oil, but brewers do speak a fair bit of shite so I won't swear to this. Anyway, their machinations were deeply unsuccessful and they had to flog all the pubs off at vast losses a couple of years later. Unfortunately this still left a whole raft of the renovated pubs. Horrible places where a steak sandwich cost $18 and and stale Becks came in a schooner (a vile glass that is neither pint nor pot). It also created unreasonable expectations in the punters - they wanted to see frozen fonts, a vast array of beers on tap and a pub would be judged dingy if it didn't look like an Ikea catalogue. So a great many lovely stinky corner pubs tried to emulate them and have either gone tits up or lost their identity in the process.

One interesting aspect of the vast array of beers on tap phenomenen is peoples willingness to be dazzled by them but their unwillingness to drink them. A theme pub not far from my venue who turn over vast sums of money and have literally 5000 heads through a week reportedly took 4 months to empty a keg of Boddingtons. I wouldn't like to have been the punter who choked down that last pint. Or the glassy who had to mop up the ensuing vomit.

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