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.
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.