Boundary Road’s ‘The Resident’

Spike's portrait on theresident.co.nz

Spike's portrait on theresident.co.nz

First, let’s just go ahead and stipulate that Brian — ‘Spike’ — Buckowski is a totally stand-up dude and a talented brewer. I’ve heard absolutely nothing to the contrary and it was pretty clear from the blog of his travels that he was an open-minded and enthusiastic traveler to our little country at the bottom of the World and I’ve had Terrapin (his home brewery) recommended to me rather highly. I genuinely wish I’d bumped into him and been able to share a beer. Second, I’ll emphasise that I haven’t — yet — tried the beers that resulted from his ‘residency’ at “Boundary Road Brewery” / Independent Liquor. Maybe they’re great. I sure hope they are, because my curiosity simply won’t let me not try them.

For now, the brewer and his beers aren’t the point. I’ll even readily concede that the ‘residency’ itself was a good idea. Boundary Road’s beers are pants; on their best day they’re bland and uninteresting mega-scale buckets of cheap swill — and at their worst, they’re weapons-grade vileness of the sort you’d hurl at the footsoldiers of an oppressive regime. Maybe the whole project started in the mind of someone with sincere and genuine intent. But it doesn’t look that way anymore, after the marketing department had their way with it. The problem here — say it with me now — is brandwank.

The Brewery blurb

The "Brewery" blurb on theresident.co.nz

It’s not even a real brewery, for fuck’s sake. The “Boundary Road Brewery” is a recently-developed imprint of Independent Liquor, an outfit for whom I think the phrase Industrial Alcoholic Beverages Manufacturer is a far better fit than “brewery”, given that they also make a bewildering array of RTDs and will sell you some in a three litre box — among other reasons I chronicled in my ‘Chosen One’ write-up not so very long ago. They’ve also got some pretty-amazing gall if they can straight-face the claim that “here the great tradition of independent New Zealand brewing continues…”, given that they’re now a subsidiary of Asahi — a buy-out which is the only reason they’ve got the scratch to fund this kind of stunt in the first place. They’re on a well-resourced mission to take up a seat beside Lion and D.B. in the local market (in more ways than one), but they’re trying to pretend they’re just another humble-and-battling little guy. Hell, there’s even a small suggestion that Spike didn’t realise the real nature of the “brewery” until he walked in the door.

And then it’s all introduced with a surprising degree of wank and implied insult to the already-existing and honestly-independent parts of the local scene with a slickly-produced video that’s well worth a close viewing:

  • The halo around the gate is partly to obscure the reality of “Independent” as a sprawling industrial site, not some cutesy little place “nestled in the foothills of the Hunua Ranges”.
  • “A brewer the likes of which this country had never seen” is pretty fucking outrageously insulting to the talents of the locals, frankly. And if you just want to be pedantic and claim they didn’t mean a slight on the quality of local brewers — just on their mere local-ness — then I can point to Sam Caligione, anyway. Another renowned American brewer,1 he came here a few years ago for an honest-to-goodness collaboration with Epic.
  • Athens, Georgia is the home of REM. Which is a fine and worthy thing to be. I’ve never — until now — heard anyone call it the home of craft brewing.
  • Other than a few give-away shots, the editor really does deserve credit for keeping up the illusion of “Boundary Road” as a little self-existing thing, rather than a column in the balance sheet of something humongous.
  • The pilot-batch recipe for Resident IPA does seem to have a decent whack (what, 5g/L?) of New Zealand hops — particularly Sauvin and NZ Cascade — and so could be good fun. Depending on the faults / recipe changes the big-batch brings, of course…
Garage Project 'L'il Red Rye' tap badge

Garage Project ‘L’il Red Rye’ tap badge

That, and despite their enthusiastic claims, red rye beers aren’t “new to this market”. Granted, the only one that springs immediately to my mind is Garage Project’s short-run ‘L’il Red Rye’,2 but if Independent are going to go to all this effort to lecture the local craft beer industry, we’re probably entitled to have them pay attention. Given that their stated “project” is “to introduce new ideas and recipes into the NZ craft beer world” and their other two ‘resident’ beers are a pilsner and an IPA, they did kind-of oblige themselves to hype it up, but The Google isn’t exactly difficult to use, is it? The worst bit of that, though, is how — when their error was brought to their attention after a few people pointed it out today, myself included — they just cheerfully threw Spike under the bus and blamed him for not knowing, rather than apologising for not checking. It’s all just a bit sad.

And aggravating. Because there’s a lot of money behind this, and going by what I hear from the front lines of retail, they’re reaching a lot of people. More than a few voices in the beer community are just glad to see someone other than the Big Two doing well, and are optimistic that this’ll expand the reach of the craft sector. The Lion / D.B. duopoly justifiably draws a lot of ire, but “Boundary Road” / Independent aren’t trying to kick that over in any laudable way; they’re just here to take their slice. Their price point makes it clear that they’re aggressively pursuing people who aren’t ordinarily “craft beer” consumers, and they’re targeting them with a) massive distortions riddled with cynical bullshit and b) beer that’s often just fault-riven and dire. Neither horn of that dilemma should be any comfort to anyone fond of good beer and interested in the long-run growth of the sector. And the people who push this stuff are so practiced at it — and our media so lazy / overworked (depending on your sympathies) — that the odds of any kind of reality-check in the inevitable, free, and uncritical coverage these stunts get is essentially nil.

Again: the “Resident” range might be worthy, as beer. I’m looking forward to finding out, and will do my level best to try it fairly. But the project remains a con. This is one of the real problems with relentless brandwank; even when the product itself is praiseworthy, it can perpetuate a whole bunch of truly depressing trends. Try as you might, you can’t attach an explanatory note to the money you hand over when you buy this stuff and there doesn’t exist a line-item veto over which aspects of the company budget your money supports. If you’re in, you’re in — as much as you’d perhaps prefer to side-step the marketing department and just pay the brewer directly.


1: Moreso, if anything — no offence meant to Spike, but Sam and Dogfish Head are legendary on a whole ’nother scale. And you’d think the ad-men might’ve known about that, given that Dogfish Head brewery was one of the dummy answers for their multiple-choice quiz’s question on where Spike came from.
2: Which I had back in January of this year, while I was still a Malthouse employee, sitting at Hashigo Zake on my night off. Now, I’m an employee of the people who made it and the place I drank it. Things change. But I suppose it’s worth noting that I’m not on the clock (for anyone) right now, and wasn’t when all this came to my notice.

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24 Responses to Boundary Road’s ‘The Resident’

  1. greigmcgill says:

    Now, I love a good rant as much as (probably more than) most people, and I mostly agree with you on this one, but as I mentioned yesterday on the twitters, I have a couple of misgivings here.

    The first is that these boys CAN actually brew. Not all their beer is terrible. You seem to be going on a poor experience with “The Chosen One”, and to be honest, that *was* terrible and I wanted it to fail. A whole ton of brandwank to give us… yet another industrial lager. Still, what followed was often surprisingly good. Sure, the Chocolate Moose is so bad as to go in the “what the hell were they smoking?” basket, but the 18th Amendment and the Bouncing Czech are both quite delicious. Better than many beers I’ve had from many of our craft breweries. Maybe they took a while to dial in? Either way, I’d suggest grabbing some Bouncing Czech and reevaluating before damning the whole company.

    The second is that, as you mentioned, some people believe this could be positive for craft beer. Now I hope you know me well enough to know I’m anything but an apologist for the duopoly who have, without a doubt, taken flavourful beer to the brink of ruin in New Zealand and are now doing everything in their power to prevent it returning. No, most of the exhibited behavior of our two beloved behemoths is the antithesis of everything I stand for with regard to beer. I don’t know why but there is something different about Boundary Road. I think it’s that they are doing what many craft beer geeks have been (honestly?) asking for. That is, they are a big company who seems to have the ability and desire to brew some good beer, and are doing so. Sure, their motivation is to carve off a big market hunk in a growing market, and sure, their target customers are those who might just about think about drinking an Epic Lager to “check out this craft beer thing”. But so what? If Epic Lager is a gateway beer, why can’t Bouncing Czech be?

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, in fact, I think you’re almost completely right. All I’m saying is that we should praise the good, while caning the bad. Anger over brandwank makes it too easy to forget the good. Big is not always bad, and small is not always good. Let’s just hold them accountable for the bollocks, as we should be doing to any company, large, small, beer, or bread.

    • Phil says:

      I’m not just leveraging my horrendous run-in with the Chosen One — there were two other Independent-brewed beers in that session from their main stable which were equally faulty and disgusting, and not long after writing that I had an unfinishable Flying Fortress (which stunk as bad as the Stoke Amber earlier in my Diary), and a few days ago (too recently to’ve written up, yet) I did try the 18th Amendment and thought that was also alarmingly atrocious (it nearly became the first Diary beer to be drainpoured since my first Moa Pale Ale).

      I’m all for trying to look past the aggravating brandwank so you can enjoy a good beer. I still recommend plenty of Moa beers, as much as it pains me to send money their way for the reasons in my last paragraph, above. But I can’t come close to agreeing with you that there’s anything different about “Boundary Road” (at least, not in any postive way) — they’re lying about who they are, they’re lying about being “independent”, and all the bullshit and nonsense in their ‘pitch’ just makes it obvious, I’d argue, that they’re not remotely sincere. (You know, in my Honest Opinion.) This isn’t a company “with a desire to brew some good beer” in any sense that I feel comfortable applauding.

      • greigmcgill says:

        Then why do they make some good beer? Why not just do what Lion and DB do and make Export Gold and Steinlager and then spend the marketing dollars teling us they are good? There’s the difference.

        • Phil says:

          I’ve had Steinlager that was orders of magnitude more enjoyable than anything I’ve ever had from Independent. Ditto plenty of Mac’s beers. (Though I am struggling to cite recent and properly likable D.B. product, I’d emphasise that I haven’t had a broken or faulty beer from, either.)

          And anyway, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

  2. Raffe says:

    I generally see where both of you are coming on this one, especially regarding the brandwank. Phil, you seem to have a bad run of their beers, and while the Chosen One is awful in its lack of ambition, I agree with Greig that Bouncing Czech is a pretty good pilsner, and better than any of the core Stoke or Monteith’s range. I’d like to try it against Hoprocker.

    The issue of price is an interesting one – the six-packs are in the same range as Mac’s/Montieth’s/Stoke, as that is obviously where they are pitching the product. So is this a zero-sum game, or will the market expand to accommodate 4 brands in this ‘sub-craft’ segment? And would this hurt what we would determine proper ‘craft’? Genuine questions, as I am not sure.

  3. Fernet Dan says:

    I think that independant can see the writing on the wall that we are coming for their RTD’s in casks and that the end to selling swill as candy water is nigh.

    Unfortunately for us they are lazily following 42 below’s brand heavy model (mirrored slightly off of the absolute and Bombay sapphire) and (now Moa model) of build a brand and deliver a product that “fits” into the marketing.

    This is the only evidence I can bring to this

    http://www.campaignbrief.co.nz/2012/07/boundary-road-brewery-launches.html

    Don’t get me wrong advertising driven beer can be a good thing. I think that Wellington in a Pint may prove this point.

    However the cynic in me thinks he can see what Boundary Road is doing. When a minimum price per standard drink measure is introduced they will already have a “premium” prooduct in the market.

    Anyhoo I

  4. stuartm says:

    I had a hunch that Boundary Road must have some cash behind them, or backed by someone bigger, but they’ve got some good beers and at a good price point so I don’t mind.

    But what I really wanted to say was that your rant makes it sound like your judgement of their beer is clouded by your hatred of their marketing. I’ve had a couple of 18th Amendments and it is a great beer – not even close to consider pouring down a drain. In fact it’s quite telling that the only beer you’ve considered “drainpouring” is from Moa – another company who’s marketing you seem to despise.

    I’ve read your blog a bit over the last year and usually find it to be a good read, but this post has really dropped my opinion of you. Maybe you should stop and think why we like to drink good beer in the first place.

    • Phil says:

      Sorry you feel that way, Stuart. But I really do try to drink a beer fairly, even when the marketing annoys me. If I didn’t buy / enjoy things just because aspects of the advertising irritated me, I’d quickly starve if I didn’t die of thirst beforehand. I think it’s still worth calling out the rubbish, though.

      I happily recommend things like Moa’s Imperial Stout (and ESB, and last year’s IPA Challenge beer, once it’d mellowed, etc., etc.) on a regular basis. The (one) Pale Ale I tipped out wasn’t because of the marketing, it was bad; chunky and lacking entirely in aroma. I was grumpy about spending that much money on something so flawed, and that was a factor in giving up on it, but it was inherently flawed. As I’m sure I’ll write about in due course, my 18th Amendment started bland, didn’t seem to be within shouting distance of “APA”, and smelled increasing faulty as it chilled. That was my experience, and it was nothing to do with the marketing.

      And this post itself intentionally avoids talking about the beers, as beers, at all — because I haven’t tried them yet. When I do, if I like them, I’ll rave about them (especially at their price!). The levels of deception and nonsense in the campaign behind these beers was just such that I wanted to push back a little.

      If that went over the line for you, then fair enough; but these posts don’t happen often.

      But yes: cheers to good beer. Let’s have more of that!

  5. Hugh says:

    Brandwank twists my undies, so I understand your ragism, but the point remains, how good/bad is the beer and will boundary rd bring anything new to the game? Bringing Spike in is a bit of fun, but will his recipes be ‘optimized’ by the accountant… I don’t know.
    It is worth noting that Independent contract brewed Bean Rock in the early 2000s, it was a well made drinkable beer, with hops init and everything.
    Anyway, I will not be selling any B.R at my craft beer megawarehouse thats for sure.

  6. Yay, another beer debate – much better than collective group hugs. Brandwank is everywhere, even in ‘craft beer’ but what I really dislike is unoriginal brandwank. I’m rather sick of these slightly ironic casual kiwi kitsch clever dick marketing shtick campaigns – it’s the ‘BBQ reggae music’ of the NZ advertising world. What also grinds my gears about Boundary Road is their paint-by-numbers approch to beer – they have a label generator app on facebook and it perfectly sums up their method. Use a template, insert kooky stock image, insert kooky name, rinse and repeat. They also typify the the beginner home brew attitude to brewing – instead of perfecting the basics, they add all kinds of weird shit to a). hide faults and b). impress mates with your ‘innovation’. I mean, I respect their ability to extract cash from naive beer try-hards but ple-ease!

  7. Andrei says:

    I recall the Boundary Road campaign advertising for punters to choose between their “IPA” and “IPB” recipes. To be in with a chance to participate you had to answer a multi choice question “when is hops added to beer?” If you answered “in the fermenter” you were wrong! Needless to say their IPA is an appalling, utterly misleading rendention of the style – one thing is clear, they sure didn’t add hops in the fermenter. It couldn’t claim to be a pale ale, let alone an IPA. It could however pass as a perfectly respectable pale premium lager (yawn). It’s blatantly obvious to me that it is a product intended to mislead fringe/curious craft-beer drinkers, and can only be damaging to genuine craft beer breweries. I was suspicious about this new Boundary Road stuff when I first saw it on the shelf, so I’m happy to see they are being called out for what they are – fake.

    • Andrei says:

      I should clarify, I’m talking about the Mumbo Jumbo IPA, not Spikes IPA

      • Phil says:

        I completely agree, and the “fakeness” is precisely my problem with them. There are other beers that claim to be unique when they turn out not to be, and there are other beers that fall short of their boasting — but this stuff is in another league because it completely lacks any kind of honesty / fair dealing / genuine intent.

        It’s just not okay to perpetrate outright bullshit on your customers, even if (and it’s still an “if” as I haven’t had these things yet — maybe I will on the weekend) the end result is non-horrible. There’s a big problem with snobbery in the craft beer segment, to be sure, but calling shenanigans on a campaign of lies and distortions isn’t remotely close to “snobbery”.

  8. Stu as "Stu" says:

    I’m still smarting that Spike got this job instead of me. Looking forward to trying the beers. My only thought of that youtube ad was that it reeked of low brow comedy… I don’t really mind what they claim.

    I emailed Boundary Road to ask if I’d be eligible and replied saying they’d prefer an overseas applicant (they were nice enough to include a ps. saying “love your beers, especially PKB”).

    All in all I don’t really care what the brewery looks like or how the beer is made… I just judge on the final product. I’m pleased to see these guys creating an extra element in the “macro craft” space and shaking things up a bit. Mac’s have been pretty awesome over the years, in my opinion, but they are pretty stagnant in regards to seasonals and development now (even though the beers are pretty solid) and Monteith’s have been pretty average for a long time.

    I expect some pretty good things to come (directly and indirectly) from Boundary Road. Sure, they are a multinational, but another player can’t be a bad thing when there is only two to start with… I have seen pretty good eveidence that the market share they are currently taking is from Monteith’s. And the kind of people who will drink these beers a lot are probably not the kind who would drink single bottle craft beers now.

    Cheers
    Stu

  9. Stu as "Stu" says:

    Update.
    Tasted the IPA and the Red Rye…. both were very good. In fact, thinking about it now makes me want to have another. My only minor critcism would be that they could get as much (or more) flavour out of both beers at a significantly lower ABV. So, why not lower the booze?

  10. Raffe says:

    Boundary Rd Bouncing Czech vs Heineken, from the work fridge.

    I take back what I said earlier about the Bouncing Czech, this batch is far worse with an unpleasant metallic bitterness, mixed vegetal aroma and linigering astringency. The Heineken, despite its inherent blandness, is pleasant by comparison and free of flaws.

  11. Stephen says:

    Raffe I agree. I bought a 6 pack of Bouncing Czech in January and, somewhat surprisingly, thoroughly enjoyed them. Had one over the weekend and the hop flavour and aroma was non-existent and, as you say, tasted overly bitter.

  12. Jon says:

    I bought today 6 each of The Resident beers because I liked the price & the packaging made me think it came from a small indi brewary. As I thought Boundary Road was until I Googled and read this blog. I saw Boundry mentioned on bottle which made me wonder about what was going on. Dissapointed that these are sneaky advertising. Bear in mind I can’t read smaller text without my reading glasses so I go on art layout & big text when buying.
    That said i enjoyed the B R pilsner & (brown labelled beer) Pale Ale ?
    Didn’t like their Indian pale ale much.
    Just had a Resident Red Rye & I loved its full flavour. Looking forward to trying the other styles from them. Goes to show a plain label is good marketing.
    Haven’t got my glasses on so this is a blur as I’m doing it on my iPhone. So apologies for any errors.
    Ps didn’t like Moa lager & would love to try some Dogfish ale beers. The Discovery series about those guys is great fun.

  13. Adam says:

    I know Independent are just another money trench but Spikes range is actually very good and Im just excited that the craft market has influenced the big boys enough for them to actually change the way they think about beer… If they want a piece of this market then they have to do it old school and stump up for the real ingredients. This is a great thing for the consumer and not just the balance sheet of Independent. Have you tried one yet Phil?

    • Phil says:

      I finally got around to trying the Red Rye not long ago, and it wasn’t bad — though it certainly wasn’t great, either. From the look of it, and from the thin-ness of the body (for a beer of its weight, especially), maybe they just filtered it to within an inch of its life. I’m told it’s the pick of the bunch, though the others are still just eyeing me up from here on my desk. I’ll get around to them…

      • RichardM says:

        Phil, only just came across your blog, so VERY late in replying. I recently had the Spike’s Red Rye and agree, it’s ok…but myself and some friends sampled some other ‘red’ beers including Yakima Scarlet, Garage Project Red Rocks Reserve (my new favourite) and a couple of american craft beers. After those, Spikes was decidedly average. I only recently got into real craft beers and my comment on your blog is, can you not give them some credit as ‘gateway’ beers? To be honest, it’s how I came to enjoy truly delicious craft beers these days. The first I heard about ‘craft’ beers WAS through Boundary Road. It’s only been since the opening of Good George Brew Pub in Hamilton that I’ve truly started on a real Craft Beer journey…but I would never have done so if I’d never tried Celtic Red cos it was something other than Waikato or Steinlager…

  14. Peter says:

    The spikes IPA got me into home brewing, but now I am prepared to shell out $9 for a beer I apprciate lukes IPA and stus hobbit summer ale mate awesome!!!1

  15. Alan D says:

    Well I’m a brand strategist , raised by a brewer, so i’m sure I qualify to put 2 cents in here.. I see straight through brandwank and I know good beer. I feel strongly that the quality of the product must always supercede the promise made.
    And Phil, you sir, are wrong. I reckon Independent have made a decent fist of making decent beers , at a decent price. Whatever sacrasanctamonious nose you want to stick in the air is your business, but I know my beers & I have had one mildly average BR and dozens, no 100s of good ones. One of your sycophants above listed Chocolate Moose as a horror. My father (late as of last week) is a brewer of 60 years experience. Adventurous recipes and formulas were his passion. He rated Chocoalate Moose in his top 10 dark beers he’d ever tried. So do I. I’m not overly keen on the floral flavours, but most BRs I have tried rate very favourably and flavourably. The one mediocre I BR I had was a Chosen One, which I’m sure must have been left in the sun at some point, giving varnishy evil(SteinvarnshY?) tang.. In summary, yes of course they’re brand marketing, and heck are they ever meeting a price point (chappeau to that!) … but they’re also making great beers, so what’s there not to love? NB.. if they were the product of a little shack operation snuggled in the foothils of the Himalanuas, you’d be waxing lyrical. But these beers are the product of a large and sharp operation. And frankly I can glean ” That’s not what you like”. That makes you the Brandwanker, blinded by your bigotry. I bet you hate Ford Focus’ too… just because they’re a Ford. Never mind that Ford engines have won more F1 titles than anyone else… and never mind that it’s a spectaculalry well engineered car…it;s still a Ford. (Moa in terms of BrandWank alone is without peer, from the same clowns that brought us the 40Below circus). Your report was bitter and twisted and bigotted. Epicly so, I might venture. Cheers.

Have at it: