Tag Archives: Brandwank

DB ‘Export Beer’

DB 'Export Beer'
DB 'Export Beer'

To re-cap, almost cretainly unnecessarily: beer has alcohol in it, alcohol is massively regulated and subject to substantial taxes, and the vast bulk of beer on the market is made by a few giant companies (themselves usually part of sprawling industry mega-conglomerations) and produced at a rather striking profit. The inevitable tensions ensue, and are knotted into a sticky tangle by politicians’ divided loyalties, a rather surprising level of ignorance about the relevant statistics and the strange ease with which humans can apparently be whipped into a moral panic about this stuff.

Towards the end of 2010, a review of the local liquor licensing laws has in full swing and this beer emerged as a relatively subtle incarnation of the recurring to-and-fro between the regulator and the regulated. The whole thing was still swinging this time last year, when I eventually decided I really should try the beer and stick it in The Book — and the debate hasn’t stopped yet, as these things usually possess a fair amount of inertia. The beer’s release wasn’t presented as anything topical, of course, but the veneer of bullshit that it was wrapped in was fairly transparent, to sufficiently-cynical eyes — in my own honest opinion, at least.

The official story — complete with websites, full-page newspaper ads, and a big-money TV / cinema advertising campaign — was that this was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of an iconic beer developed by Morton Coutts, who D.B. have taken to parading-around like some kind of inventor folk-hero.1 Apparently, Arnold Nordmeyer’s 1958 “Black Budget” jacked up taxes (on imported beers) and Export Beer came to the rescue of the working man. Except that’s exactly the sort of tax change that local breweries (before they were absorbed into international conglomerations) would’ve lobbied for and the factory-blokes in the ad were unlikely to’ve been drinking imported beer in the first place.

DB Export Beer ad, 'How To Lose An Election'
DB Export Beer ad, 'How To Lose An Election'

So desperate were they to ‘land’ the story, they drenched it in typically-depressing ultra-gendered language and resorted to using clips of the 1951 Waterfront Lockout as if they were footage of popular uprisings against the alleged beer-and-fun tax. For the latter, they were given a tentative little smack by the Advertising Standards Authority — the former (i.e., the sexism) is still just business-as-usual, sadly — and forced to withdraw the ads a few weeks early. But I doubt they cared; this was never about the Export Beer: you just don’t celebrate a beer this hard when you’ve already given up on it, in favour of a watered-down version, nearly a quarter-century ago.2 If you were so fucking proud of this thing that you’d fanfare its 50th anniversary, wouldn’t you have let the product survive to see its thirtieth birthday? The brandwank drones on about the quote Export Family unquote, but carefully avoids mentioning how that family’s eldest member was quietly taken out to the woodshed, unmourned, in the late eighties.

The anti-government / anti-regulation tone of the whole campaign was laid on incredibly thick, with the narrator also getting in a “never trust a man who doesn’t drink” barb (Nordmeyer apparently didn’t) — and whole thing has a clankingly-awkward tension between its pro-working-class pretensions, the reality of it as a series of ads made by suits for hundreds of thousands of dollars,3 and its coming out of a company who also produce beers which pretend to be imported and are branded as “premium” this-or-that in an effort to spin them so they appeal to just the “toffs” who are so casually derided in this campaign.4 And all of that — the overblown manner, the nastiness, and the fundamental lack of any kind of logical coherence once you look too closely — tell you what this really was: politics. Parliamentary committees and commissions start to review liquor regulations, and someone who makes a metric butt-tonne of money selling booze engages in a little sabre-rattling and murmuring that they brought down a government once, and so could do it again. Predictable, almost boring, and faintly depressing — although, strangely mercifully, a bit of an ineffectual damp squib.

So just like the beer itself, I suppose.

Verbatim: DB ‘Export Beer’ 6/7/11 745ml Quart bottle 2pk ÷ 2 w/ Peter. 5.35%, amusingly. [Transcribed later, since I couldn’t find a black pen…] All sorts of ad-man nonsense, again. And since they actually missed the 50th they cite,5 I think Martin’s right. Incredibly pale yellow; between Bud & Molson. Likewise in taste. No faults, some trace of nice fruit in the middle. But very nothing-much.

DB 'Export Beer', box blurb
DB 'Export Beer', box blurb
DB 'Export Beer', bottlecap
DB 'Export Beer', bottlecap
DB 'Export Beer'
Diary II entry #122, DB 'Export Beer'

1: Morton is no relation, it should be stressed, to local craft beer luminary Steph Coutts — she does seem occasionally nervous that people might assume a connection. And on D.B.’s recent heavy-handed use of the Coutts name, it’s worth pointing out that there’s something distinctly uncomfortable in the way that it’s all really ramped up in recent years since Morton died in 2004 and is no longer around to have his own say. I’ve heard enough conflicting second- and third-hand reports of things said by the man that it doesn’t seem straightforwardly obvious he’d be keen to see these recent uses of his name and likeness.
2: ‘Export Beer’ was replaced, in 1987, by ‘Export Gold’ and ‘Export Dry’. Both are lower in ABV than their predecessor — and the more-popular Export Gold significantly so at just 4%. Given the way excise tax on alcohol works in New Zealand (where stronger beers attract proportionally more of a levy), it’s hard not to see the downsizing of the beer as precisely the kind of number-crunching tax-policy-first decision making that they so gleefully pilloried Nordmeyer for.
3: Case in point: the ads are narrated from the point of view of Morton Coutts’ barber, a humble working-class dude who sympathises with the pub-going factory-worker chaps across the road. He’s about as folksy as he could possibly be without becoming literally nauseating — but (according to a write-up in the NBR) he’s voiced by Roger McDonnell, founding partner of Colenso BBDO, member of the TVNZ Board, and presumably a dweller in the toppest of top tax brackets.
4: This sort of tension is inevitable in giant conglomerated producers of the sort who talk about their products primarily as “brands”, and it never ceases to amuse my peculiar brain. I think my favourite was when Jim Beam was marketed with the “if it ain’t Beam, it ain’t bourbon” line and Maker’s Mark was bandied-about as “the World’s finest bourbon”. Since both are produced by the same people, I wrote to them and ask how exactly the fuck both statements could be true — and if one was just brandwank, would they at least tell me which? Unaccountably, I received no reply.
5: I initially thought they missed the anniversary, but it seems I was wrong about that — though they did cut things mighty fine, releasing this beer right at the end of 2000. As you can see from my Diary, I drank this around-about this time last year; stocks evidently lasted several months (hell, it might still be around; I’m not sure), and someone from D.B. had rather-misguidedly dropped off samples at the Malthouse. My bottle was one of those, since no one else was remotely likely to reach for it, and I’m capable of deriving different kinds of enjoyment from bland-but-brandwanky beer.

The ‘Chosen One’ Choosing

Choosing the 'Chosen One', blind
Choosing the 'Chosen One', blind(ish)

‘Boundary Road Brewery’ needs scare-quotes around it, because it’s not properly a thing. It’s a sub-brand of Independent Liquor, who were recently acquired by Japanese supergiant Asahi, and they’re trying to position themselves as a “craft brewer” alongside the pseudo-craft imprints of D.B. and Lion (i.e., Monteith’s and Mac’s)1 and elbow their way into New Zealand’s long-standing mainstream duopoly. Part of their launch campaign was to open one of their beers up for a bit of a public beta. The ‘Chosen One’ would exist in three possible variants, which they’d maybe send you (and 998 others) if you answered a quiz correctly, then you could vote and the favourite would go into full production. Not, I have to say, an inherently terrible idea — think of it, generously, as an idiot’s version of the Garage Project ‘24/24’ phase.

My friend Martin Craig — of the lamentably-now-parked NZ Beer Blog — somehow became taster #999+, side-stepping the quiz and just getting an ‘Official Beer Tasters’ Pack’ in the post, unrequested, and he hit upon the idea of a blind-ish tasting. We’d try the three candidates, with two other Independent-brewed mainstream pale lagers, and throw in a control: Mussel Inn ‘Golden Goose’, something of a darling of the local scene, sentimental favourite and — let’s say — the Thinking Drinker’s golden lager.

'The Chosen One', tasting pack
'The Chosen One', tasting pack

I’ve done a few rather-official blind beer tastings2 over the last year and I’ve had a bucket of fun and learnt a whole pile of learnable things, but I just can’t shake the oddness of them. Time and again, I’d be sitting there, attempting to fairly judge something on a several-point scale, and stuck wanting to know what the beer said about itself before really feeling I could say much about it.3 It’s probably down to my history as a bartender, that ‘consumer’-ish focus, and it’s difficult for me to shake. (And I suppose I don’t think it should be shaken.)

Blind tastings are good for many things, and they excel at one thing in particular: fault detection — the technical merits (or lack thereof) can leap out of a sampling glass, when you don’t know what you’re getting and your loyalties and sympathies are all quieted. But this? This was an ordeal. It wasn’t entirely blind — we knew what our six beers would be, but they were shuffled and properly anonymised, at least — but it was a cavalcade of awfulness. Perhaps this was karmic payback for my All-the-Trappists tasting last year; this was The Crappest Dance Card, if you like.

Mercifully, Golden Goose stuck out like a sore thumb. Or rather, it stuck out like the only non-injured digit on an otherwise horrificially-mangled and apparently-diseased hand. I was briefly worried that it wouldn’t, that my fondness for it would prove more imagined and circumstantial than real or deserved. But no. All five Independent beers were awful, stuck in that truly tragic territory were more flavourlessness would be an asset, so highly did they stink of faults. On balance, the potential ‘Chosens’ were worse than their existing stable-mates, which didn’t bode well for Independent’s ‘craft’ excursion — and nothing I’ve tried of theirs, since, gives me reason to hope otherwise — and absolutely nothing about them gave the impression of a genuine attempt to market-test three different ideas.

Boundary Road 'interview' (DrinksBiz, Feb-Mar 2012)
Interview with Ben Shaw, Boundary Road's marketing manager

It’s brandwank all over again, I’m afraid. There’s nothing sincere about any of this, it seems. “Craft” here is a cloak, a gimmick, and potentially an unfortunate thing for those of us with a love of actual craft beer — if Joe Public is finally moved to see what “this craft beer stuff” is all about and he picks up some Boundary Road, I couldn’t blame him for being scared off (or at best just underwhelmed). Independent Liquor make under-license local clones of famous foreign names like Carlsberg and Kingfisher, an act of brand-first wankery of the highest order, and they make a dizzying variety of RTDs, some of which come in a three-litre box, for fuck’s sake. If your portfolio includes both of those things, then I submit you are an Industrial Alcoholic Beverages Manufacturer. You just aren’t within shouting distance of being a “craft brewer”.4

It’s all so boringly predictable, too. Geography, for example, seems to be a weak point (or at least a strange obsession) when the brandwankers attempt to dress up mass-market industrial lager as ‘craft’. While Monteith’s (or their ad agency) couldn’t quite figure out how to work their GPS, and Boundary Road / Independent seem to have trouble looking at a map — or out their window. The bumf keeps insisting that they’re “nestled in the foothills of the Hunua Ranges”, but no; they’re in an industrial park no more than two kilometres from State Highway One, in the Southern outskirts of Auckland. Google Maps is hardly a secret spycraft gizmo, so that sort of myth-making is just insulting and pointless. But they just can’t help themselves.

With Asahi-money behind them, ‘Boundary Road’ are going to make a real run at the New Zealand market — and are doing fairly well, sales-wise, from what I can gather. But it’s just so cynical and fundamentally crap that I just can’t cheer them on even when they give the Current Big Two a fright or a poke in the ribs; they’re not on “our side”, and they’ll be perfectly happy as one member of a Future Big Three if they can swing it. They’re demonstrating more of the same zero-sum thinking as the mainstream guys always do, rather than the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats market-growing outlook that is so characteristic of the actually-craft sector — on a good day.

Original Diary entry: ‘Chosen One’ Choosing 28/6/11 with Martin @ MH. #1: Slightly hazy. All others clear. Colours all damn close. Straw nose. Big feel. Bitterness evident. #2 Brings grimness to the nose. Much thinner. More metal? Coarse bubbles. #3 Less grim, but not pleasantly straw like 1. More metal in the nose. Tinned fruit. Middling body. More to it than 2, but not all in good ways. #4 Stinks. Fumes, eggs. Sour in the face. Thin. Cardboard. Hoping it’s the older one… #5 Half the nose of 4. Something wrong in the flavour. Thin, too. #6 Head retention strikingly ok. Sugary sweet. Oddly unnatural. Sweet apple.

Unblinding: #1: Golden Goose, #2: ‘A’, #3: NZ Pure, #4: ‘C’, #5: Frontier, #6: ‘B’.

'The Chosen One', instructions
'The Chosen One', instructions
The Chosen One Choosing
Diary II entry #117.1, The Chosen One Choosing
The Chosen One Choosing
Diary II entry #117.2, The Chosen One Choosing

1: I almost feel bad, lumping Mac’s and Monteith’s so closely. They are near-identical efforts, branding-wise, but I think it does have to be admitted that many of the Mac’s beers are reliably non-horrible and the sorts of things that a “beer drinker” can console themselves with in a mainstream-tied venue. I don’t think I can say the same of the Monteith’s beers.
2: I was on the panel of one for Consumer magazine, and the most-recent annual Capital Times one.
3: To elaborate, but not derail things completely: I don’t feel like I can rate a beer without knowing how it positions itself, because that’s how people ‘judge’ beer in their daily lives — against its claims. Something that “does what it says on the tin” is a laudable thing in itself, when you’re handing over money. Beers are judged in classes, but outside of formal competitions these are usually pretty loose, so it’s hard to critically evaluate something that is “pale ale” without knowing if it’s trying to be, say, rambunctious or sedate. Huge hoppy flavour would be a bad thing in a beer that said it was mild.
4: Admit it, the odds were slim that a post with a ‘brandwank’ tag wouldn’t include a mention of Moa — but in this case they truly brought it upon themselves. In January 2012, they put up a post on ‘Craftwashing’ — which is indeed exactly what this is — but couldn’t save themselves from pissing a lot of people off with a needless swipe at contract brewers and a hefty dose of irony in that they themselves come damn close to breaching the spirit of their own Third Commandment given how strenuously they distort the role of their “figurehead”, Josh Scott. If you are as drenched in disingenuous marketing as Moa are, you simply don’t get to lecture the likes of ‘Boundary Road’; people in glass houses should perhaps reconsider their projectile-throwing hobbies.

Moa Imperial Stout

Moa Imperial Stout
Moa Imperial Stout

It looks rather frightful, that Moa, doesn’t it? Maybe even sufficiently angry-faced that it hardly seems like a herbivore at all, in fact. I honestly still can’t tell if I like the kitsch of it, or if I just think it’s hideous. Something similar happens with the ludicrously-extravagant coasters — just how much money poured into the marketing budget that embossed leather-and-felt coasters got the green light? Like I’ve said possibly too-many times before,1 the brandwank with Moa is relentless, and I’m depressingly unsurprised to report that (as of the time of writing, in mid-October — I’m way behind, I know) it continues unabated.2

Like I said with an earlier pint of ‘Black Power’, the awfulness of the aura of ad-crap the surrounds a Moa beer and trails along behind it like an unforgiveable stench is such that it might get in the way of actually enjoying one of their beers.3 For me, Black Power just wasn’t a worthy enough thing to pierce the fog and make itself enjoyable in spite of all that — but a stonking-great barrel-aged imperial stout? Now that did the trick.

It was helped somewhat by circumstances — not that it really needed much help — in that we had it and several of its siblings pouring at work at once, in a little version of the sort of ‘Tap Takeovers’ that happen semi-regularly at the Local Taphouses (if that is indeed the plural) over in Melbourne and Sydney. And such things are all very fun in and of themselves, of course: excuses and occasions and theme-ifying are some of my favourite things about a night at the pub. But for me, for multiply-peculiar me, a Tap Takeover is extra-special because it means Kegtris it means a bloody-great Herculian dose of Kegtris, it does — and when it was all done, of course, someone had to make sure that the beers were pulled through and ready to go. Oh, the chore of it all.

And honestly, I really can quiet the fumingly-outraged part of my brain for a little while, with this. It’s just stupidly fantastic: utterly enormous, but not overblown, and it doesn’t come across as trying to do everything at once in a sad one-man-band kind of attention-grabbing — in that (and in its weight, and its barrel-aged-ness — but in not much else, other than its hometown, come to think of it), it’s quite reminiscent of 8 Wired’s masterful ‘Batch 18’. I tried some side-by-side with a little glass of the Scott Base Central Otago Pinot Noir, partially because I assumed (given the founding-family connections) those would be the barrels involved and partially because I just can’t bring the classic Pinot Noir flavours to mind off the top of my head, as ignorant in Matters of the Grape as I am. I’ve since been informed by Dave Nicholls — the brewer, despite what their ad-men might say,4 a (mercifully) excellent chap who just gets on with the making of the beer while largely ignoring the dissonant background buzzing of the marketing machine — that they weren’t the barrels in question, but the comparison was still instructive and I suppose you’d have to have some sort of super-palate to spot, in a 10.2% stout, differences drawn from varying vineyard’s barrels.

There’s a lot of flavour left in those barrels, it seems, and it melds into the stout in surprising and delightful ways; plenty of tart fruit notes, bordering on sour almost, fill in the edges of the beer, taking the whallop out of some of the bitterness and booze you’d otherwise expect from a thing like this. You can’t really tell whether they achieve that through some clever complimentary-flavour trick on the brain, or if they’re just using a more low-brow “Look over here, instead!” tactic. But ultimately you won’t care about the how of it, because the result is worryingly drinkable for the punch it steal conceals in its multi-talented self.

If Moa’s brandwank doesn’t rile you as much as it does me, then just go and get one of these, simply because it’s delicious. But even if you are as infuriated by their ad-men as I am, consider this one worth the trouble, a nice reminder that at least someone there still knows what they’re doing — and a rare and philosophically-instructive example of a situation where the price you pay in conscience (since you’re giving those ad-men a not-inconsiderable sum of money — the thing which is, after all, how they ‘keep score’) might actually be worth it.

Verbatim: Moa Russian Imperial Stout 16/6/11 10.2%, Jesus. Hideous branded glass, as reward for an epic round of Kegtris for tomorrow’s takeover / migration, and all that Moo. The fruitiness from the Pinot barrels do massively set it apart, but are very well integrated. Not just tacked on, you know, like their brandwank. Really couldn’t resist. Enjoying their better beers is a real see-saw. Why does ‘Estate’ = bareknuckle boxing, where ‘Reserve’ = motorcycle? Oh wait. Vice, versa. Shows how superfluous + devoid of meaning, I guess. Wait. The beer. Gloriously huge, but still not overblown. Dangerously drinkable. Whole riots of fun.

Extravagant Moa coaster
Extravagant Moa coaster
"Super Premium Beverage"
"Super Premium Beverage"
Moa Russian Imperial Stout
Diary II entry #111, Moa Russian Imperial Stout

1: Such as when writing / ranting / rambling about: the ‘Black Power’ chocolate wheat beer, beer-and-marketing in general, their ‘Five Hop’ ESB, or their (two attempts at a) pale ale — the basic point is that Moa are grossly (but deservedly) over-represented on the ‘Brandwank’ index page.
2: Maybe, maybe there’s a touch of irony in all this. Or an attempt at such. Alice Galletly — of the excellent ‘Beer for a Year’ blog, which makes an absolute mockery of my way-delayed posting schedule — mentioned (in passing), her assumption that their “Handcrafted Super Premium Beverage” tagline (visible on the reverse of the Scary-faced Moa Glass, pictured above) was tongue-in-cheek. I certainly hope so. I hope they’re just rubbish at ironic humour, rather than an actual pack of appalling wankers. Perhaps I’m all jaded and cynical, but I just can’t be that charitable.
3: They are now, in this regard, the opposite of how the Stoke beers were when I first met them. Those I wanted to like, but I just couldn’t. They’re dipping their toes quite enthusiastically into a bit of brandwankery, themselves, but I do keep trying them occasionally to see if I can like them yet. But alas; not yet.
4: Criminally, you could diligently read — on a heavy dose of anti-nausea pills — the entire corpus of Moa’s marketing materials and not have any clue who Dave was, what he did, or even that he existed at all. Presumably, a Suit in Auckland thinks that pushing the myth of Josh-as-the-man-who-still-runs-everything is more ‘marketable’. For that, and their likely-myriad other sins, they deserve a kick in the pants.

Monteith’s ‘Single Source’

Monteith's 'Single Source'
Monteith's 'Single Source'

Once more unto the brandwank, dear friends, once more.

— Not quite Henry V

This one positively reeks of being a project out of the marketing department rather than one with its origins in the brain of a brewer, beer drinker, or normal person. At the time I’m putting this post together (in early July), a cursory Google search still more-readily produces write-ups concerning the beer’s branding (such as its packaging and website) than it does things which address, you know, the beer itself. The ‘pitch’ is simple: a beer produced using ingredients from just one barley farm, and just one hop farm.

But immediately, of course, there’s a snag. That’s not “Single Source” at all. I’ve mentioned two farms already. And then there’s a brewery in Timaru — not at either farm, and not anywhere near the home of Monteith’s in Greymouth on the West Coast. The water is from the area around the brewery, but the yeast is from god-knows-where and doesn’t actually rate a mention. So that’s four sources for a modern beer’s four canonical ingredients, two (i.e., half) of which aren’t really discussed, and a muddling of a historic (small-town) brewery with a modern (national) ‘brand’. If they were talking about an estate beer, made with barley and hops grown at the brewery, it might be worthy of the title — and such things do exist.1 Here, they’ve gone 1) catchy name, 2) half-assery.

Their precious Latitude / Longitude references don’t even make any damn sense. The location given for the origin of the hops — with its six decimal places — traces them to the grower’s front garden, rather than his fields. There’s some mention of the hop-farmer thinking his Southern Cross hops were particularly suited to the ‘microclimate’ in his garden in the official writeup, but there don’t appear to be any actually growing in that part of his property, and if they are just from his front yard, how ridiculously few have they used? Then, the coordinates for the barley — with their even-more-insane seven decimals — appear to point to the farmer’s driveway, or at least the hedgerow that runs along it. Something’s amiss; given their relative proportions in the brewing process, there’s just no way you could be more precise about the source of your barley than of your hops. And I called attention to their decimal places for good reason: six digits narrows you down to a tenth of a metre, seven digits basically gets you within a single centimeter. It’s an utterly stupid degree of “accuracy”, one that is just bursting with wank and ironically so “precise” it’s just obviously wrong. Three decimal places would pinpoint an area of roughly a hundred-or-so metres, and would thereby count as information rather than just bullshit.

On top of that, as Matt Kirkegaard pointed out (when he held his nose and read their over-inflated press release), it’s an absolutely bizarre kind of self-undermining bullshit if you stop to think about it for more than a second. It accidentally implies all sorts of terrible things about the beers in the same range: that they’re made without any real care or attention paid to the quality of their ingredients, that they’re utterly divorced from their roots (fitting for ‘Radler’, perhaps, but hardly inkeeping with the story for their ‘Original Ale’), and they’re not really worth protecting from getting lightstruck and skunked. If you go to conspicuous lengths to emphasise something apparently-worthy about one of your products, it starts to look rather odd that you aren’t really worried about that allegedly-serious concern when it comes to your others.

This isn’t remotely unique to Monteith’s and “Single Source”, of course. The same thing happens with the aggressively ‘all-natural’ marketing of Steinlager “Pure” — just what the fuck sort of witchcraft and chemical buggery and radioactive goo are they telling me is lurking in regular Steinlager? It’s probably partially a by-product of different projects being farmed out to different ad agencies, but it’s in particularly stark relief with this black-bottled, relentlessly brandwanked beer — especially given the fuckups the execution of its ‘story’, and the incredible sameyness of the product. And they have the unmitigated gall (amidst a fancy-pants website that tries desperately to be Down Home and simultaneously Ultra Modern) to describe their goal as:

A beer that didn’t need to rely on hype to be appreciated. A beer for the love of beer, if you like.

To which I have two-and-a-half responses: 1) like balls — and 2) if that was the plan, then a) you failed, and b) why all the, you know, hype? The beer isn’t terrible, at least. It’s the usual kind of basically-faultless but basically-featureless sort of thing we’ve come to expect from this corner of the market. It felt a bit like the label copy had been written in advance, or by someone who’d never met the beer (or perhaps a dictionary); it definitely wasn’t “aromatic”, though it did have a funk-free and pleasant mild nose, and it was certainly more in the realm of what normal people would call “smooth” than “crisp” (the lager-advertiser’s fallback adjective).

If we put it in its proper context of overly-marketed mild-to-flavourless lagers with delusions of grandeur, then I suppose I’d rather have one of these than a Budweiser. In that sense, and in that sense alone, it’s alright. But, to borrow the masterful conclusion from Hadyn Green’s piece on the subject:

In the end the fakers always lose, or run off following some other trend… Craft beer is like comic collecting, antiquing, cave diving, wine drinking or any other hobby — the interest for the enthusiast is the story. But the story can’t be tacked onto a paper-thin attempt. No one cares about the director’s commentary on a terrible film.

The beer itself is a non-disaster, and yet everything about “Monteith’s Single Source” is a clusterfuck of awfulness. Each word literally fails; the ad-man’s version of the world requires that you 1) ignore “Monteith’s”, lest you think less of their other products for lacking the prized black bottle, 2) not understand the word “single” or have any idea what goes into a beer or how many varieties might be used, and 3) not actually look up the “source” using the coordinates provided, in case you realise that their absurdly long string of digits is rather hollow and stupid and possibly some peculiar sort of geographical / mathematical equivalent to the kind of large, flashy (and, you know, overcompensatory) cars some men feel the need to be seen driving.

Verbatim: Monteith’s ‘Single Source’ Lager 13/5/11 330ml 5% @ MH Some 30th Birthday resonance with my Steinlager Edge, and a nice reminder that Moa aren’t the only local brandwankers. The ‘pitch’ is offensively daft, overwrought and ironically-damning of their main range. And it’s not single source, is it? The beer is freakishly pale — maybe the black bottle blocks out too much sun… Faint nose, mercifully funkless. Certainly not “aromatic”, though. Nice intial feel (though it’s more smooth than “crisp”), but the flavour, such as it is, is quickly tied to a piano and pushed off a bridge. It’s very nothing. A sad, wasted opportunity.

Monteith's 'Single Source', wanky ramble
Monteith's 'Single Source', wanky ramble
Monteith's 'Single Source'
Diary II entry #102, Monteith's 'Single Source' Lager

1: So no, marketing division, this isn’t “a revolutionary new beer”. Even if you had made something genuinely “single source”, you wouldn’t have been the first.

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.

Beer Diary Podcast episode 2: Fat Yak and Beer Marketing

Back for a second round, we have a beer which George discovered purely from its advertising. Which leads to a discussion about beer marketing in general; the history, the good and the very-very-bad indeed. We touch on a few recent controversies and try to make some sense of them from each end — George the marketing man, and me the beer nerd. We also offer a few more recommendations for things to seek out, and decide on our first recurring “segment”.

A direct download is available, as before, and there’s a podcast-specific RSS feed. I believe we’re now also available on iTunes, though I’m still trying to figure that one out… I’ve had a couple of requests for some chapter-sized downloadables, too (a bit easier to sneakily listen to at work, perhaps), and I’ll get cracking on those.

Show notes:

  • (0.40) There are two lost episodes: one very much a ‘tech demo’ / dress rehearsal, the other unfortunately largely superseded by unexpected events. DVD extras one day, maybe…
  • (1.10) Dinner was Vege Burgers, and they were great. They lead perhaps-ironically well to our Beer of the Week: Matilda Bay ‘Fat Yak’, which I do rate rather highly (as a Gateway Beer and inherently-rather-charming thing).
  • (1.55) Weirdly, I didn’t screw up the Brewery Ownership Trivia.
  • (3.20) Cuba Street is great for all sorts of reasons. Non-Wellingtonians, non-New-Zealanders and non-Earthlings should all come visit; each group seems already represented, but the more the merrier. And here’s the billboard in question.
  • (4.50) The artwork is nicely done, I think you’d have to admit.
  • (5.10) The classic Australian “pale ales” (however defined), Cooper’s Pale Ale and Little Creatures Pale Ale, are both perennial favourites of mine.
  • (6.40) Not much Canadian beer in my Diary so far, but some.
  • (7.05) We showed you the microphone last time. It’s lovely.
  • (9.05) George is chuffed to see his Nerd Points growing, getting that reference before it was even made.
  • (10.10) I love Gateway Beer. I even made them their own category on here. We’ll have to devote a Full Length Ramble to them soon.
  • (11.10) Proposals for T-shirt designs welcome.
  • (13.30) Beer’s done a lot. It’s had a lot of time to. Arguably, it invented Civilisation itself (an outrageous claim I’ll defend another day) — but it was certainly instrumental in the origin of Marketing as we know it.
  • (14.45) Pete Brown’s books and bloggings and whatnot are all tremendously readable and useful things. That’ll be your homework, if you’re unfamiliar.
  • (18.30) Brandwank really is the best word I’ve come up with for the bad end of marketing. It just seems to fit so horribly well.
  • (20.00) The first Moa I wrote up was their ‘St. Joseph Tripel’, the (non-Diary) entry for which unsubtly hints at this problem. Their Pale Ale and ‘Five Hop Winter Ale’ got Diary entries later on, during the brand overhaul.
  • (23.00) NZ$138 million, it seems. So not “nearly 200”, but still serious money.
  • (27.30) God the ‘Moa Breakfast Beer’ saga was depressing. But George (perhaps out of name-based solidarity) would also like to take me to task for unfairly knocking Mr. Lopez.
  • (29.20) Hallertau ‘Minimus’, if not the first, is still a much classier “breakfast beer”. For all sorts of reasons.
  • (31.10) Honestly, I didn’t make up the billboard about lesbians. 42 Below also got in trouble (intentionally, of course) for a homophobic (or at least boringly stereotypical) campaign in the mid 2000s. It’s sad to think that shit might still work.
  • (32.40) I get hopelessly lost in unreliable sources for these things, but: “It ain’t braggin’, if you done it” gets attributed to Walt Whitman, “It ain’t braggin’ if ya can back it up” apparently comes from baseball player ‘Dizzy’ Dean, and you often see “It ain’t braggin’, if it’s true” credited to Mohammad Ali. It’s a great point, regardless of its provenance.
  • (33.20) No, we haven’t mentioned Radler until now. That was in one of our “lost episodes”. As you can tell, we recorded this before the hearing. There should be a ruling any day now…
  • (34.45) Even if the trademark attack fails, I suspect there’s a Fair Trading Act case to be made given that “Radler”™ is 5% ABV.
  • (40.10) Seriously, everything aside, I like Moa ‘Five Hop’.
  • (41.00) The ‘ladder’ I was struggling to recall goes: Ordinary Bitter, Best Bitter, Extra Special Bitter. Martyn Cornell’s ‘Zythophile’ blog is full of great history, but I couldn’t see anything directly on this question, specifically. I should finally get around to reading his book.
  • (42.45) Croucher ‘Patriot’ got a fairly-glowing Diary entry, which included potentially-helpful links to just what the hell a “Jaffa” is, if you’re oblivious. It occurs to me that Yeastie Boys ‘PKB’ was one of my recommendations, last time. This “Black IPA” trend really has carried me along happily with it.
  • (45.50) 8 Wired ‘Underwired’ was more enjoyable in its aftertastes (given the very light feel), but spurs conversations like this — thereby giving you something to talk about while those flavours meander. That’s a clever trick.
  • (48.20) I’ll have to get a proper photo of the Croucher Pale Ale label text; that “delicious burps” line is just too perfect.
  • (49.10) Midstrength News finally finds its name, here. Long may it continue. Kegs of ‘Winter Minimus’ have arrived in the chiller at work; expect a report back soon…
  • (49.50) “Sucking a peanut-butter-sandwich through a straw; that’s hard” is a quote from Hyperman, a game from the mid-nineties which I only ever played once, but which a friend of ours (who could do the voice) liked to quote.
  • (50.15) Cue the music: ‘Shopping for Explosives’, by The Coconut Monkeyrocket.



Poorly-justified trademark nonsense and brandwank that flies in the face of the plain meaning of words are rather topical at the moment — for the avoidance of doubt or subtlety, I’m looking at you, D.B. and Moa — and so it is the perfect time to finally enter into my Diary the arguable Granddaddy of such: Budweiser.1

The beer itself is basically universally reviled among the geeks. It’s pretty much synonymous with mass-produced bland fizzy water. They brew it with rice for fuck’s sake; if nearly a third of your grain bill is rice, you’re intentionally minimising the flavour of the end result, or cutting corners to save money to the point of absurdity — or, you know, both.

I was always faintly embarrassed, therefore, that I had never personally tried this thing that my Nerd Brethren hated so passionately. I spotted it in the fridge at Public,2 ascertained that it was the genuine article (rather than a “brewed under license” clone, as we so often do here in the Little Country at the End of the World), and then popped next door after work. In the interests of fairness, I tried desperately to avoid reading their preposterous label text and focus on the beer, first. I’ll repeat that, here.

It is piss-gold. That is absolutely the word for it; everything you ever heard about it looking like urine is true — although, as someone who used to work at an organisation who published helpful guides about these things, I can tell you that it does look like the whiz of a healthy person who drinks around about the right amount of water, if that helps at all. The nose is either absent or pleasantly-but-very-mildly fragrant. Nearby flower arrangements in the bar were particularly numerous (or convinced I was a Bumblebee, or something) and were rather perfumed, themselves, but I can at least say that the beer was basically lacking in the godawful rotten funk I get from most bog-standard mainstream lagers.

I found it difficult to taste anything much, initially; the over-riding sensory impression of ‘Fizziness!’ drowned out all other neural activity for quite some time. It was dry, but weirdly grainy and sweet at the same time. The dreaded ‘Macro Funk’ did slowly emerge as I went / as it warmed a little, but it was certainly a good distance from being the worst beer I’ve ever had in my life. To use a classic Faint Praise metric, I’d instantly choose it over a local clone of Heineken or Amstel, for instance.

But damn. Any time with this beer just amounts to time to savour the utterly absurd boasts on the label. Starting with the attempt at implying Worldwide availability / domination with the buckled-belt logo’s “Europe; Asia; Africa; Australia”: the word you’re looking for to go in that last slot is Australasia, you monkeys. (Or Oceania, if you’re feeling modern.)3 And then there’s this:

We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age.

The only way for that not to be an outright, ridiculous, intentional lie is to keep the man who writes the label text in a very small box, cut off from the world. I can, off the top of my own rubbish-memoried head, probably name a hundred or more beers which would make a falsehood of that sentence — unless they aren’t talking in per volume terms, which would just make them history’s worst-ever statisticians.

Nevermind the pathetically-sad registration, by local giant D.B., of the word “Radler” for a beer which isn’t even a Radler;4 this is the most abysmally lame brewing trademark. They mimicked a brew which had been released in the U.S. the year before (1875), verbatim-copied its name — which was just an origin term, in German — and legally locked it up for themselves. It should’ve never been awarded, and later courts should’ve booted it out summarily, or at least forced them to abide the concurrent marketing of things under the same name which happened to be actually from the place that the word implies.

This is the problem with brandwank. This is it in a little brown bottle. The beer isn’t inherently abominable; it’s just not, whatever you’ve heard. I was as surprised to learn that as anyone would be. It’s limp and bland, not liquid evil. But the yards-thick, completely fucking ass-faced aura of marketing horseshit which surrounds it makes me thank the non-existent gods that I didn’t hand over any of my own money for the one I had. I’d feel sullied and cheap and stained to the core if I did — but I’d still very-swiftly whisk one from a barbeque chilly bin that otherwise only held Tui and Beck’s.

Diary II entry #80, Budweiser

Verbatim: Budweiser 2[4]/3/11 @ Public $8, but shouted. Awesome. 4.9% “Bud Heavy”, says their American, since Bud Light is so ascendant. I can’t believe I’ve never had one. The pale straw colour is the first impression (well, after the brandwank-drenched label). 355ml. And you really do have to say “piss gold”. The nose is grainy, and very faintly perfumed; could be the flowers in here, even. Feel isn’t as thin as I’d assumed, but very fizzy. The usual Macro Funk isn’t as bad here as in many I’ve had; Heineken is certainly worse on that score for example. Strange combination of dryness + light sweetness in the body. Not horrific, certainly. Oh, the Funk does build a bit. But not my worst ever.

Budweiser, ingredients
Budweiser, ingredients
Budweiser, boast and bad geography
Budweiser, boast and bad geography
Budweiser, best before
Budweiser, best before

1: Rather than being anyone’s Granddad, Budweiser would rather introduce itself to you as ‘King of Beers’. And then expect you to curtsey, presumably. I’m enough of an anti-monarchist that that’s hardly helping it endear itself to me, but the main problem is that actual-Budweiser was long known as “the beer of Kings”, so Anheuser-Busch’s slogan is double-pronged dickishness.
2: Or [public] — with a unique, mysterious, and unreproducible p-u ligature — if their typographer is to be believed.
3: The question of what isn’t and isn’t a “continent” (and thereby how many there are) is a tricky one, but absolutely no one except Anheuser-Busch follows the ‘Budweiser Label Model’.
4: And fuck; don’t get me started. Or at least beware, if you do. There’s a court date looming. I’m sure I’ll have more to vent about it — one way or the other, depending on the outcome.

Moa ‘Five Hop Winter Ale’

Moa '5 Hop'
Moa '5 Hop'

I’ve railed about it before, but Moa’s appalling brandwank annoys me sufficiently that it still buzzes in my brain as I enjoy something like this, one of their actually-rather-lovely offerings.

Praise first, praise first; stifle the rant for a moment. ‘5 Hop’ is a delicious E.S.B., richly flavoured and deftly balanced. It’s warming without being so stodgy you’d only want it on a cold evening, and nicely pitched at 6.2% — strong enough to warrant taking your time with.

So, wait, why the hell is it called “Five Hop Winter Ale”? That name manages to evoke two different things that this beer isn’t — it’s neither hop-focused, nor particularly wintery. It’s an E.S.B.. That’s a thing. You can call it that. You do call it that, in an afterthought buried at the end of the label or in the tasting notes on the website. Were you just trying to stick the word “hop” on something, since you launched this at the height of the “more hops = more good” fad?

While I’m at it, this sort of crap is an ongoing problem with the Moa Brewery, and it will be very interesting to see what does and does not survive the currently-underway ‘retooling’ of the branding. Given the prominent appearance of the nonsense phrase “super premium”1 on the new tap badge, I’m not massively hopeful things will get much better — though I’m fascinated to find out which bits will get worse.

Setting aside for the moment such annoyances as their daft implication that they’re the only brewery in the country (in existence, perhaps?) to bottle-condition their beers,2 let’s focus for a moment on just one part of their labels: the arch of text over the logo. Moa ‘Original’ premiered with a banner of “Premium Lager of New Zealand”, with ‘Noir’ then heralded as “Premium Dark Lager of New Zealand” and ‘Blanc’ cleverly cast as “Premium Wheat Beer of New Zealand”, subtly brushing aside the apparent reality that their wheat beer is also a lager, rather than the ale you’d almost certainly otherwise expect. Things then go all a bit whack. ‘Harvest’ (a lager with cherry flavouring) gets “Premium Alcoholic Harvest Beer”, which seems to imply three falsehoods — i.e., that the previous three aren’t alcoholic, that this isn’t made in New Zealand, and that “Harvest Beer” means anything at all.3 Then, ‘Five Hop’ and ‘St. Joseph’ get lumped together and mysteriously relegated to the less-descriptive category of “Premium Alcoholic Beer”, before things utterly collapse into a singularity of oddness when their ‘Weka’ lager is billed merely as a “Premium Alcoholic Beverage” — what, is it not actually a goddamn “beer” at all, any more? Just how worried should I be that they so studiously avoid that word, all of a sudden?

This kind of barely-coherent buzzword salad drives me nuts. And makes me sad when I think that it actually probably works often / well enough that some people can convince themselves that it’s worth it. To me, this is brandwank, and I detest it — particularly when it’s so clumsy and contradictory as this. Dear whomever: If you’re going to be an Evil Advertising Bastard, could you at least be a better writer, please?

Verbatim: Moa ‘5 Hop’ 28/2/11 @ Malthouse, w/ Mike the rep.. I’ve always thought this was just oddly-named. Why emphasise the hops, unless you’re going all-out pale ale? It’s a very nice ESBish kinda thing, really. Rich + malty, nicely fruity hops. They’re in the middle of a brand redo, and a push into Australia. Must try and see if the journalist hat fits me…

Moa, new tap badge
Moa, new tap badge
Moa '5 Hop'
Diary II entry #69.1, Moa '5 Hop'
Moa '5 Hop'
Diary II entry #69.2, Moa '5 Hop'

1: Seriously, can marketing people stop pretending that “premium” really means anything, here? The only way for it to ring true at all is to take it at its literal meaning of “more costly”. So maybe this really is an “exceptionally rare” (to hijack Moa’s current slogan) example of honesty in advertising.
2: The phrase “New Zealand’s native Moa is the only beer to be fermented in the bottle, like French champagne” appears on their current homepage. A longer blurb on the section labelled “Discovery” also implies the same, describing the brewing process and ending with “The result is a beer unlike any other — clear, exquisite and bottle-fermented” — the first adjective is outright false, the second subjective and the third hardly unique.
3: Well, it almost means something. If you said those words to any normal / sane kind of Beer Nerd, they’d think you were talking about a pale ale made with as-fresh-as-possible hops, a “wet-hop” beer like Thornbridge ‘Halcyon’ perhaps — just to pick the first one I found in my Diary.

Moa Pale Ale

Moa Pale Ale
Moa Pale Ale, in its original incarnation

Hearken to a saga of two beers. Two incarnations of one beer — a Draft and Final, or a Beta and a One Point Oh, perhaps — neither of which I particularly enjoyed, one of which I sufficiently non-enjoyed that it became my first Beer Diary beer in years to have its glass tipped out rather than emptied in the usual imbibey way.

Moa’s Pale Ale was a pretty highly-anticipated thing, and I was dead keen to try it. I have a strange relationship with the Moa beers, finding some of them unforgivably naff, which is tempered by some of them being wonderfully interesting — though I see all of them as nobbishly marketed and over-priced. Of this one, I’d heard good things, and so picked one up to enjoy on a sunny afternoon.

My first alarm bells rang at the… sludge layered on the bottom. Given the choice, I prefer my beers bottle-conditioned, ordinarily. But this was ridiculous1 — and was common among all the bottles at the store, and confirmed by the local rep. as nothing out of the ordinary, though he pretty-quickly assured me that they’d already seen it as a bad idea and planned to tone things down for the next batch.

After a difficult pour, the beer settled down enough to present itself with a lovely colour, which I took as a sign that things might be okay after all, but it wound up being the highest praise I could give, review-wise, to the people sitting with me. The nose was all but absent, which is a fairly unforgivable sin for what should be a gorgeously aromatic style — and the one over-riding detectable note was that weirdly-distinctive ‘Moa Funk’ which usually stops me enjoying their milder beers like the ‘Original’ and ‘Blanc’.

And after struggling past the marketing, the sludge, the pour, and the nose, I was ‘rewarded’ with a bog-standard pale ale, at best. Pale ales are the fashionable thing at the moment, so when you’re this late to the game, you had better bring something special, or at least something interesting. This is doubly-so when you’re from the same town, pitched at the same booze, and charging the same (for a smaller bottle) as 8 Wired’s absurdly-fantastic ‘Hopwired’ — nevermind the half-dozen other easily-named examples of the style which also blow this thing out of the water without charging you an arm or a leg, and without shrouding themselves in dickish brandwank. It was that sense of rip-off and disappointment that stuck with me most, through the glass — and it got enough that I just pushed the eject button and biffed the remainder off the side of the deck, unfinished.

Moa Pale Ale, reformulated and on tap
Moa Pale Ale, reformulated and on tap

I do know a lot of people who liked the beer, though, so I was hoping that my bottle was an errant failure — though its only distinctive feature was that centimeter of slurry, which was shared by all the others I’d seen, so I suspect I’m being oddly generous in that hope. I did resolve to try the promised reformulated version, though, and finally got a chance nearly two months later.

Calmed down a few percentage points in strength, and with the sediment in the bottled version toned down to typical / tolerable / non-insane levels, I was pleased to see that the lovely colour had been retained, and the ‘funk’ had vanished from aroma. Sadly, though, so had basically everything else; the beer had courageously leapt from being bad to being bland, which is a rather classic Frying Pan Versus Fire scenario. It seemed faultless, and was fairly tasty, but thereby also seemed completely pointless; merely an act of late-to-the-game Me Too Please. It was safe and cautious and inoffensive — and thereby tokened a sad return to form for the brewery, in my mind. After their brilliantly interesting and genuinely brave ‘Barrel Reserve’ series, this feels too much like a throwback to the days of their first three releases: I can just never shake the feeling that ‘Original’, ‘Blanc’ and ‘Noir’ were all designed to appeal (and to extract dollars from) people who want to buy themselves a bit of craft / boutique / obscure beer credibility, but who fundamentally don’t want to actually stray very far from their familiar green-bottle supermarket standbys. Unless you’re drawn to the brandwank like some sort of suit-wearing moth to their ‘super premium’ flame, you could get yourself any of a number of delicious pale ales at all levels of the flavour spectrum, and you’d keep a few extra dollars in your pocket — just as the same had always been true with their lager, wheat beer, and dark lager.

When the Moa beers are ‘on’, they are on. But when they’re naff, they are so tragically naff. And have the gall to levy you with a naffness premium while they’re at it.

Verbatim: Moa Pale Ale 8/1/11 @ Home $8ish? from Regional 7.2% 375ml. Chunkiest sediment ever. Bottle conditioning is one thing, shipping metric tonnes of sludge with your beer is another. I hope I got an errant bottle, because then it fountained, and I actually resorted to using a sieve. I do like the colour, but the aroma is barely anything other than that worrying Moa funk you get in the others. The flavour is okay, but merely okay. Nice pale ale, but you need more whizbang if you’re this late to the game, and implicitly trailing 8 Wired. It’s like almost all the hops went in way too early. Consensus is that it is simply fail. Good thing I carry that pen. We can see where they’re going, but they don’t make it. Unfinished.

Moa Pale Ale; Revised, Revisited 1/3/11 5.2% now, on tap @ MH. Halfway to their revised branding. I promised I’d retry this, so here I am, though they’ve modified it since batch #1, reducing strength, basically eliminating sludge. Weird that they’d change their mind so much so soon. I’m all for people copping to + correcting mistakes, but making one that huge is worrying in its own way. No nose, this time. Glad there’s no funk, but wish there was aroma. Very mild flavour, too. Makes me worry it’s a returned to First Three form; expensive, cleverly marketed and bland enough not to offend. Safe, cautious. There’s nothing wrong with it, at all, but the price would get you better beers at varying levels of punch. Pleasant peachy flavour arrives very late, with some bitterness.

Moa Pale Ale, chunks
Moa Pale Ale, chunks
Moa Pale Ale, abandoned
Moa Pale Ale, abandoned
Moa, new tap badge
Moa, new tap badge
Moa Pale Ale
Diary II entry #53.1, Moa Pale Ale
Moa Pale Ale
Diary II entry #53.2, Moa Pale Ale

1: In fact, it was enough to put me in mind of Orbitz, an ill-conceived soft-drink-with-globs-in from my high school days. A few of the people I was sitting with were young enough to have no idea what I was talking about; they were the lucky ones. And weirdly, a related series of posts and comics appeared on Penny Arcade around the same time. It seems that Pepsi have rediscovered the with-globs-in idea, which makes me shed a little tear for our lack of progress, as a civilisation.

Stoke ‘Gold’ & ‘Amber’

When Lion bought out the Mac’s brewery (to be their pseudo-craft brand, parallel with DB’s acquisition of Monteiths for same), they didn’t really do much with the original site. Unlike their rivals, they never pretended that the beers were still coming from the formerly-independent source — so there was no need to maintain a potemkin brewery like DB did in Greymouth.

So when the relevant contractual restrictions lapsed, younger members of Terry McCashin’s family1 (the patriarch himself still having restraints of trade against him as part of the sale having retired2) re-took the premises and slowly resumed work. They put out a thoroughly yawn-worthy (if you’re me, at least) range of flavoured vodkas (fairly shamelessly aping the 42 Below range), and then some alarmingly-decent ciders under the ‘Rochdale’ name.

Stoke 'Gold' & 'Amber'
Stoke 'Gold' & 'Amber'

Then, at last, came the ‘Stoke’ beers. Which turned out a genuine let-down. Maybe the ironic problem is that they’ve too-faithfully gone back to their roots — the brewing scene has massively moved on since Mac’s gained their fame, deserved at the time as it was.

But that wouldn’t account for the distinctly unwelcome faulty / unfermented remnants-y flavours that made their way out of these beers, as I tried them one night with two fairly like-minded regulars after we all did a training session for a charity-thing I’m involved with. Wafts of dodgy budget homebrew helper come and go with odd and alarming randomness, leaving neither beer with much chance to endear themselves.

And the brandwank is just lazy and boring and awful, too. The beers are uninformatively marketed as ‘Gold’, ‘Amber’ and ‘Dark’. Despite being willing to mumble-mumble past such actually-relevant and potentially-interesting questions such as “what style were you going for?” and “what varieties of ingredients did you chose?” — not addressing such matters in the label text — they took the time to trademark “Paleo Water” and harp on about how the water they use is 14,000 years old.3 I’m not alone in saying that the insight this sort of thing gives into a brewery’s priorities is a bit worrying. It’s definitely time to worry less about the ‘brand’, and to worry more (that is to say, at all) about making the beers not naff.

Stoke 'Gold' and 'Amber'
Diary II entry #27, Stoke 'Gold' and 'Amber'

Verbatim: Stoke ‘Gold’ & ‘Amber’ 20/10/10 freebies from Savior, w/ Steph & Johnny after we did Kaibosh volunteer training. These things really aren’t doing so well. The marketing is just odd; playing up ‘Paleo’™ water for no reason, but equivocating like a crazy-person on actual style, even down to lager v ale. They do both smell distinctly of unfermenteds; like when you open a can of homebrew-helper. There’s a distinct metal zing to each of these, too. Some sips are decent, some are simply rank.

1: Wait. Why the hell does Mac’s have an ‘a’, but McCashin doesn’t? Er, other than the one it does have. You know what I mean.
2: (Edited 15 January 2010.) I was misinformed. Terry’s retired, which makes perfect sense, if you take the time to do the math on how old he is now. Thanks to Emma McCashin for the correction. For a reply to the rest of her comment, see below.
3: Firstly, who cares? Secondly, water is water is water. If it’s pure, being older won’t change it a damn. Thirdly, they can’t decide — with their website fighting their label — whether they want to say “Paleo” or “Palaeo”. Fourthly, the Paleolithic covers about two and a half million years, making the term an odd fit and a bit much of a reach. Fifthly, the vodka they make is ‘26,000’ and named so because of the supposed age of the water involved — which is it? Or are they plumbing seperate irrelevantly-old aquifers? Are they brewers and distillers, or oddly-obsessed geologists? And lastly, who the fuck cares?