Melbourne’s Own Consistently Excellent Beer, the billboard read, provided you walked back and forward a bit or at least leaned side to side, since it’d been stuck up on a surface that was too tightly curved. I’d seen variations on that poster campaign before, but now it made me mad; they’ve gone from the usual advertising puffery into raw uncut nonsense and lies. Fixation hasn’t been either for years.
Fixation is from Melbourne, true enough. But that’s about all you can say, now. There’s a small brewery and taproom on Smith Street in Collingwood, but it was founded (in late 2015) as an offshoot of Stone & Wood in Byron Bay — about 1,600km away. And nearly two years ago, Fixation’s parent company was bought by Lion, which is itself a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kirin, the Japanese beverage giant. So any remaining “ownership” sense of Melbourne’s Own comes with several layers of increasingly stark caveats.
The Collingwood facility is also way too small to account for much of the production of Fixation’s beers. I’m not sure what the arrangements were in the old days, but Lion currently phrase its origin as “brewed at various locations around Australia by or under the care of Fixation Brewing Co. (part of the Lion Group)”,1 and so certainly aren’t committing to making it in the state, let alone the city.
But it’s the Consistently Excellent claim that irks me more. I’d been thinking about beer awards2 when I noticed this poster and it’s clear they’re specifically referencing the Australian International Beer Awards’ ‘Consistency of Excellence’ medal — awarded to a beer that earns a gold in the same format (keg or packaged) in three consecutive years.3 I think that’s, well, an excellent thing to recognise and have always kept an eye on what wins it and often suggested that the awards back home in New Zealand adopt the idea. So I already knew that Fixation didn’t win it this year.
And it didn’t take too long to check that they didn’t win it last year, either. Obsession, their cleverly-named Session IPA, was awarded it in 2021 but feels tucked away there on the edge of that poster — their eponymous flagship Fixation IPA, clearly the star of the campaign, hasn’t won it since 2018.4 Sure, they were the first local brewery to earn the honour — and the first to win it twice5 — but come on now. Especially here in Melbourne, 2018 was a lifetime ago.
It gets worse when you step back a bit and look generally at their performance at the AIBAs overall. I’ve already got a framework for doing that, which I’ve applied to the New Zealand Brewers’ Guild Awards for the last few years, so here’s the same thing6 done for Fixation — how many beers they entered, their medal percentage (MPC), points per entry (PPE, if gold is 3, silver 2, and bronze 1), and that year’s total golds.
Fixation Brewing at the AIBAs, 2016-present
Note that there were no awards in 2020 because, well, you know
And what you have there is a pretty clear picture, I think, of a brewery who did very well in their early days — a PPE of over 1.5 puts you in good company compared to the other times I’ve run these numbers, having it hover around 2 is pretty stunning — but who have dropped off significantly and not (yet) recovered. Their MPC took a real dip in 2022 and that included Fixation IPA itself failing to medal at all, which should’ve been a five alarm fire in a meeting somewhere, given that a beer awards bronze amounts to a verdict of “to style, not faulty”.7
They’ve gone from leading the way on Consistency of Excellence, getting two beers to the three-golds-in-a-row mark before another Australian brewery had any, to not winning a single gold medal for the last two years. That’s bleak.
The timing of the inconsistency is pretty unmistakable, too. I’ve often wondered about trying to chart pre- and post-buyout performance, but here it just happened: Fixation became part of Lion in late 2021,8 and their results at the beer awards took an immediate nosedive. Whether that’s down to personnel or priorities or whatever is interesting, but beside the current point. I just think that for the new owners to trumpet a consistency of product that they haven’t earned and couldn’t even manage to properly maintain is pretty fucking rich.
- In fairness, I do like that they have at least started adding that last bit in relatively easy-to-find locations on their products.
- As I often seem to be doing, admittedly.
- Down there in the bottom left of the poster; that’s three gold medals with AIBA on them.
- MINOR POINT ALERT: I also couldn’t help notice that both COE medals were earned by the kegged product, not the packaged stuff pictured — canned versions were entered separately, but never performed as well. In fact, 11 of Fixation’s 12 gold medals over the years have been for draught entries; cans of Squish in 2018 were the sole exception.
- The first ever recipient was Weihenstaphan’s Kristall Weissbier, in 2017 (which I believe was the first year the category existed), and again in 2018 — so that’s four golds in a row. This is also how I can tell the poster dates from after the most-recent round of the AIBA’s, too; an earlier version crowed about being the only Australian brewery to win it twice, which is no longer true after Philter earned it for both their Double IPA and XPA this year.
- And here’s my working-out, and with thanks as always to the consistently excellent TablePress plugin.
- It’s very much not like at the Olympics, where even a disappointed bronze medalist knows they’re the third fastest (or other superlative) in their field. Think of a beer awards bronze more like a passing grade.
- BIOGRAPHICAL SIDENOTE: I actually applied for — and interviewed for, and had a token meet-the-crew ‘trial shift’ for — a job at the Smith Street taproom just prior to the buyout; I withdrew my candidacy on seeing the news, partly because I thought working under the Lion / Kirin umbrella might make things difficult when it came to other hats I like to wear elsewhere in the beer business sometimes. This post, certainly, would’ve been awkward.