The play it well Fosters. Their new beer ad was a huge hit (and deservedly so…though I am reminded of this story from The Onion and think that maybe Fosters should quit the beer market to concentrate on ads).
But in all the fuss about the ad for the beer, they managed to squeeze out a media release announcing they have again reduced the alcohol content in VB…
VB Remains Great Value
VB remains great value, retaining its wholesale price unchanged on stubbies and cans despite Federal Government excise increases and rising input costs.
With bi-annual CPI-indexed excise increases applying from 1 August and in the face of rising input costs including malt and hops, VB will hold its wholesale price in stubbies and cans, through tough economic times. VB will reduce alcohol-by-volume from 4.8 to 4.6% from August to fund this.
“With a microscopic change in alcohol content, VB will come in line with most Australian mainstream beers”, said VB Group Marketing Manager, Paul Donaldson. “The beer tastes exactly the same, has the same standard drinks, and offers better value to stockists.”
“We’re investing behind the brand with one of Australia’s biggest ever beer ads – VB Regulars – launching next week”, Paul said. “VB is Australia’s favourite beer and we’re making sure it remains the real Australian beer.
Talk about making it a positive: despite the Government, the cost of ingredients and economic conditions – not to mention the cost of the huge ad we’re unveiling next week…
This is becoming an annual event, following on from the move in July 2007 when Fosters cut the alcohol-by-volume from 4.9% to 4.8%, and a similar move by Castlemaine Perkins in July last year to reduce XXXX Bitter to reduce their ABV to 4.6%.
While this has generated considerable media coverage and all sorts of mainstream debate about whether the flavour will change don’t expect too much different. Even when the alcohol was around the 4.9% ABV, the flavour profiles were trending light. It reminds me of an article by Rory Gibson in 2006 when Castlemaine Perkins launched the short-lived Special Brew…
Brent Wright, XXXX‘s head brewer and the creator of Special Brew, says the beer was designed to attract those that inhabit “the night-time zone”.
“We’ve done a lot of research which identified a niche market for XXXX, aimed at the younger crowd who are essentially impervious to mainstream advertising,” Wright says, which explains why Special Brew had such a low-key launch at the end of November.
“These people go out to a bar and they tend to drink something with more taste to it, like wine, spirits or the RTD (ready to drink) cans.
“They don’t want to have too many — they might have five or six drinks a night — but they want to taste them.
“XXXX Gold is a beer you can drink a lot of but it has no taste memory. Special Brew is a step-up in flavour.”
Although it still uses the Golden Cluster hops and special yeast that its older brothers are made with, the Special Brew clocks in at 6.5 per cent alcohol, is a darker colour and carries more bitterness and fullness.
Although comparisons are odious to brewers who put a lot of effort into creating what they have every right in thinking is a unique beer, Brent names James Squire’s Golden Ale as a drink that shares similar characteristics.
“I can still remember the original XXXX, which had a lot more bitterness and bite than the beer we have today. Special Brew reminds me of that,” Wright says.
“It is a challenging beer, hoppy and malty, and we are proud of it.”
If it doesn’t make an impression on the market, it may disappear into the “good idea but no one wanted it” bin.
When asked if it was a permanent fixture on the XXXX menu or just a fishing exercise by the marketing department, Wright wouldn’t say.
“If it shows stickability Special Brew is here to stay,” he says. Given Wright spent a year perfecting it he has his fingers crossed that all his 20-year-old son’s mates get a taste for it.
There is so much going on in this article that I want to comment on (which is why it immediately leapt to mind) but the phrase “no taste memory” just screams “tasteless” and the sentence “I can still remember the original XXXX, which had a lot more bitterness and bite than the beer we have today” . Just says it all. Obviously stickability wasn’t one of its attributes as it sank pretty quickly.
These mainstream beers are going the way of water anyway as brewers frantically try and chase a generation raised on sweet, fizzy drinks for whom bitterness holds no attraction. It’s not about quality (at least in terms of being ‘good’ as opposed to ‘consistent’), it’s about marketshare. And they are businesses afterall. They will be here in some form of multinational megacorp long after many of the great little craft breweries springing up today have folded because their reasons for being are so different. These breweries have been around for so long because their “portfolio of brands” is just the means to make a return for shareholders. They don’t really care what those fast moving consumer goods are so long as they are moving.
The mindset is just confirmed when you see someone with Chuck Hahn’s standing in the beer community, someone who I greatly respect, saying things like:
“What we do to lighten the beer up is use three to 30 percent cane sugar to make the beer thinner and more thirst quenching,” he told ninemsn.
“It’s more refreshing on a hot day than German beers — it’s brewed for our climate.”
“Nothing’s more natural than cane sugar,” he said.
“There is no sugar left in the beer, it is fermented out by the yeast.”
But while Ms Pavoni pointed out that German beer contains less calories than full cream milk or grape juice, Mr Hahn said it was harder to drink Bavarian beers in large amounts because they are richer in flavour.
“With richer tasting beer you don’t drink as much,” he said.
With up to 30% cane sugar being used in mainstream beers dropping the ABV back .2% just means a little less of the cane sugar, which is just there for alcohol because it adds nothing to the body or flavour anyway. It is what gives these beers their “sessionability”. No one will notice the difference, except maybe the sugar cane farmers. Which, returning to VB, makes it interesting that nowhere in the discussion about input prices is sugar mentioned, although they have increased over the past 12 months.
As for the phrases “They don’t want to have too many — they might have five or six drinks a night” and “With richer tasting beer you don’t drink as much,” I’ll leave them to the anti-alcohol campaigners to comment on. It’s a separate issue, but if you want to know who painted the huge target on the beer industry for the neo-prohibitionists to aim for, you don’t need to look much further.