Moa ‘Black Power’

Moa 'Black Power'
Moa 'Black Power'

It really is difficult to separate the thing-itself from its surrounding fog of incidentals. This is your old-school philosophy headache, right here; what are the properties, and what are the mere relations — and which are the essential properties, and which are just accidental? What the philosophers seem to have unaccountably neglected is that this problem gets massively more difficult when the incidentals in question bug the fuck out of you.

Given the recent sharp uptick in their brandwank, it’s hard for me to fairly approach a new Moa beer. I’m still entirely capable of liking their stuff — and, spoiler alert, I was recently renderly properly giddy by the re-apperance of their barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout — but it’s probably easier for the older, pre-buyout pre-brandwank bonanza stuff to endear itself, like their ‘Five Hop’ still does. Anything new has nothing (by way of good associations, in my head) to guard against all that bile-raising bullshit seeping down into it and getting damn close to ruining its chances of a fair hearing. But I do try, I really do.

An edict came down from On High which reduced the range of potential after-work freebies, which struck me as a fairly mad idea — but of course it would. Moas (Moai?) on tap were still fair game, and we had this, which was a one-off and another Marchfest offering. It was billed as a chocolate wheat beer, and named ‘Black Power’. And my eye starts twitching, and I can feel the rage starting to warm up in the back of my brain.

“Black Power”? Really? The 2011 Marchfest gave itself the under-title “the craft brewing revolution continues” and returned to a Che Guevara motif they’d used a few years previous. Most of the festival beers go along with the theme, to greater or lesser degrees, but a quick glance down the list of names leaves this one standing out fairly glaringly in the lacking-class department, referencing as it does a still-existing and still-violent local gang. After the Breakfast Beer Fiasco,1 this just stank of another tilt at conning the media into providing free advertising — mercifully though, as best I can tell, they pretty-much failed. And after the boringly sexist bullshit their marketing department has been indulging in lately,2 a “chocolate wheat beer” just seemed nakedly pandering; a simple-minded trick for winning over the women in attendance, given a cartoonish and stereotypical view of what women might drink.

Maybe not. Maybe the name was more genuine, and less tactical. Perhaps it didn’t even come from the marketing department’s Outrage Generation Subcommittee. Given a black beer, it might’ve just been an ill-considered joke, not an attempted con. And quite-possibly the chocolate wheat beer plan wasn’t shallow demographic-chasing; it could’ve just been an honest attempt to make something interesting and do an autumnal merge of the typically-summery and traditionally-wintery. This is a real problem, one of many, with brandwank: it breaks the trust between the producer and the consumer, and makes it damn hard to give credit where credit might be due. All motives become suspect, and design or business decisions just look like yet more bastard ad-man villainy.

Against all that haze, I did try to give this a fair shake. But I just didn’t like it, and I really do think that was the thing-itself, rather than its accidental or relational properties. Wheat should give a certain amount of texture that does go well with chocolatey notes — like it does in the bloody-marvellous Emerson’s Dunkelweiss, and vaguely like what oatmeal can do for a stout — but this was just disappointingly thin. What chocolatey flavours there were tasted too much of just that: chocolate flavour, in the synthetic sense, not the genuine article. Despite the limpness and the underwhelming taste, by the end of the pint it still managed to build up a filmy sticky sugary feeling in my mouth like you’d get from a pint of Red Coke after months of drinking only the Black or Silver versions. As I hinted above, Moa are capable of making a black beer with enough presence to knock your out of your shoes and leave you grinning on the floor. This one, though — much like ‘Moa Noir’, their regularly-produced black lager, if you ask me — is just a little too little to stake out a worthy corner of the lighter end of the spectrum. The relationship between what it could have been and what it was is a little too close to the one between a thing and its shadow; outline recognisably similar, substance very different. But if I start bringing Plato’s Cave and its related baggage into all this, we’ll fly right over our per-session Philosophy Limit.

Moa 'Black Power'
Diary II entry #99, Moa 'Black Power'

Verbatim: Moa ‘Black Power’ 7/5/11 from the reduced staffies selection @ MH. On which, don’t get me started. This was a Marchfest offering from Moa, and it seems to be the intersection of stunt naming and pandering styling, in that it’s a “chocolate wheat beer”. I’m lacking in details, there being no official write-up lying around online, but it ain’t no Emerson’s Dunkelweiss, that’s for damn sure. The body is limp, the wheatiness hard to find in the glass, and the chocolate tastes fake, such as there is. It’s like actual-strawberry vs “strawberry flavour”. This is a sad simulacrum of a non-bad idea; a fifteen-year-old’s cartoon version of something that could be worthy.

1: Essentially the first real act of the Rebrand was to announce the “launch” of a “breakfast beer”, which raised the ire of a fairly reactionary anti-alcohol campaigner who — right on cue — described basically any pre-noon (or pre-evening?) drinking as “pathological”. The media had a “controversy” to report on, and Moa quickly assumed their pre-prepared mantle of Battler and Victim and Struggling Local Business and All-round Top Bloke Just Havin’ a Laugh — transparent rag of polyester horseshit though it obviously was, to anyone who cared to look. ‘Breakfast’ wasn’t even a new beer; it was just re-packaged ‘Harvest’, something they’d made for years. The whole sad story was addressed, in some exasperated detail, in episode 2 of the Beer Diary Podcast: Beer and Marketing.
2: For example, just on the subject of their ‘Breakfast’ beer (see above, n1, obviously), it was billed using such phrases as “finally, a beer the ladies can enjoy” presumably for the simple reason that there’s fruit in it. Moa’s marketing people evidently have a way out of touch view of the current relationship between beer (good and bad) and the number of X chromosomes a person happens to have.

13 thoughts on “Moa ‘Black Power’”

  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. While most wheat beers I’ve had are fluffy and thick, this was heading towards watery. It was like drinking flat whites your whole life, then having a long black.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with long blacks, of course. Just not my game.

  2. Not to excuse Moa, as I completely agree with what you say about their descent into brandwank, but I think Black Power is in far better taste than Marchfest resorting to the use of a mass-murdering evil torturer as an icon.

    I was pretty disappointed to see this year’s logo. I really don’t understand why people want to idolise someone as utterly evil as Che Guevara, a man who probably would have slain where they stood anyone daring to express individuality by drinking craft beer. The bastard pops up everywhere. I wonder if next year’s logo will be Adolf Hitler?

    1. Yeah, I’m a little mystified by how Che seems to still get a completely free pass these days, too — but at least he was a generation ago and half a world away. Mussel Inn went one better and played along with the theme, but took the piss out of Mao as they did so, rather than just referencing unironically or not-ironically-enough. It’s the here-and-now-ness of the Black Power reference, without any surrounding humour, that irks me most.

      1. Maybe it’s just part of Moa’s attempt at an ‘edgy’ image… like the Low Carb QBeers shirts. Didn’t they also come out with a beer that even girls could like recently? This year Moa has been coming across a bit like Paul Henry, so it’s good to hear that I won’t miss anything by not trying the Black Power.

        1. You are missing something Simon – a rubbish attempt at a chocolate wheat beer. Remember, there must be rubbish beer for there to be good beer. The only way to know is to try.

          1. I’m happy to take Phil’s word that it’s not that great… and I’ll try other random beers I don’t know to find the terrible ones amongst those.

            On your flat white v long black comment above… you sure you’re not just getting bad long blacks? Where I get mine they are so strong it’s almost syrupy… if I get a watery long black I just don’t go back to that cafe again 😉

  3. Simon, yes and no. Moa used to be a great little brewery making products ranging from decent to excellent. It’s always had something of an identity crisis though, given the man widely promoted as “the brewer” isn’t. The actual brewer is a great guy capable of making great beer. The owner has always been more about image. This isn’t a bad thing in the craft beer industry, where brewers often toil away in total obscurity making wonderful beers, but often unwilling and unable (both in terms of clue and of capital) to market them.

    Since Mr. Ross’ involvement though, the image part has become everything. He’s on record as saying “New Zealand should have an international lager”. Yes, because NZ should totally compete in an overpopulated world market, dominated by enormous companies, and while bringing nothing new to the table but a kiwi image and a stylish logo. When that’s his core focus (and it seems to be), it’s hardly surprising the rest of the beers are suffering quality-wise by all accounts. The rise of the brandwank is inevitable also, as when you begin to view beer as simply “a brand”, all you have to differentiate on is that branding. Oh, and “outrageous” (yawn) shock-jock-esque media stunts. There has to be a happy medium between being a craft brewer, and selling a ton of product offshore. When it becomes all about the latter, I wish them all the success in the world, but they really stop being a craft brewery in my mind. My definition of “craft brewery” is a brewery where the focus is 100% on the beer. Yes, that includes ensuring capital and growth for the beer to succeed, but flavour must be foremost.

    I used to love Moa. Now they just make me sad.

    1. Yeah, it seems a shame that they would appear to have the combo of money and talent available to them, but now want to focus on being blokey and appealing to the mainstream beer drinkers who are already spoilt for choice when it comes to beers that have more brandwank than flavour. I’ve enjoyed some of their beers in the past, but have regularly felt that bottled it was priced at a premium not justified by the beers I’ve tried (tho, when the Pale Ale was on the FYO at Regional Wines it was a bargain) – and when I went through a phase of drinking anything with trippel on the label, I enjoyed being able to get the St Joseph’s in large bottles 😉

      I agree with your take on what a craft brewery is, and I’ll just have to console myself with the fact that there are still plenty of great craft breweries in NZ to keep me happy… and it feels like there are more on the way everyday!

  4. Simon – I’m sure I’m not getting bad long blacks. Prior to my (on-going) amalgamation into a Beer Geek, I was actually a barista/roast batch taster/fully-fledged Coffee Geek. I think I’m talking about weight (milk is heavier than water, which is essentially all a long black is) while you’re talking about the body of said coffee. Perhaps I should have used a thick-shake vs a glass of milk analogy.

  5. I very nearly love what Moa have done.

    Their packaging always verged on the edge of being a bit classy, and somewhat justifying the price, but the design was naff. I’m not a huge fan of the new design but it is considerably slicker.

    I love how much fun Dave Nicholls, the real brewer, is having with the development of their much bigger brewery, with his brewing, and with their expanding barrel-aging programme (and I’m sure he doesn’t care at all about Josh being bandied about as the face of Moa – Dave seems to like brewing beer, drinking beer, and talking about both with people who are of a similar mindset).

    I think all the beers have been improving over the last couple of years but I will keep a close eye on my favourite – Methode/Original – as I’m not so sure the old version will have a place in their future.

    I couldn’t care less about their claim of being the only good thing to ever come out of Marlborough. Or their “breakfast” beer. Afterall, they are just shouting about things they used to be talking about. And that is the weakest point of most brewers/breweries in New Zealand.

    It is, however, a real shame that they have lowered themselves to cheap shots at women and the GLBT community… there is a fine line between havnig a bit of a laugh about ‘ourselves’ and being a chauvinist. It reeks of them being dumb, at best. And smarmy bigoted twatcock at worst. Or a bit of both.

    The press have been taken for a ride… I would have thought by now that they would have worked out some sort of way to filter out their journalists writing stories about publicity stunts.

    1. I come from a university that let me study both PR and journalism for my degree (work that one out). The one thing we always got told in PR is to launch stories on days when nothing big is happening around the country/city you want to target. You are also told to piggy-back on trends (e.g. Moa and the Wellywood sign bounty). That way, you are more likely to get written about. I wouldn’t be surprised if Moa went for both of these.

      However, you could take the argument one step further by saying that writing about any ‘new’, ‘world-first’ or ‘refurbished’ product is, arguably, as good as providing a free ad for said product.

      But what then – don’t write about any products being brought out by companies? That’s rather silly of course. Everyone – even us dirty journalists – should celebrate innovation.

      To be honest, you’re damed if you do (because the public get angry at you) and you’re fucked if you don’t (because you can’t fill a paper, pissing of your advertisers who won’t advertise with you again).

      1. But Moa haven’t based any of their recent press on anything new or innovative… just some cage rattling.

        I guess the gay/human rights groups (and the wowsers) are the ones who have created much of the press.

  6. Oh yea, they’ve just rebranded a few things and put it out there as new. Sometimes the press need stories to fill a paper/news hour and, unfortunately, things like these [waves at air that should have stories about Moa’s goings-on floating in it] can sneak their way in.

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