Fosters, Australian craft beer and Pirate Life

Everyone knows that Fosters is Australian for beer. We know this because they have spent millions upon millions of marketing dollars re-enforcing this message. The message lands too by harnessing the power of the Australian stereo-type. Its simple blokes, mates, who love the beach, sport and taking the piss. And now for what might shock you.

Fosters is not Australian.

In fact you could argue Fosters branding is the worst case of cultural appropriation since Katy Perry performed in a Geisha outfit at the 2013 AMAs. Reading the Fosters Wikipedia page is like following the story of who owns the rights to a bad 1980s movie that is trying to be remade. The only problem is that, like any good stereotype, it exists because it is a familiar.

Times they are a’changing. Australia has a real appreciation for food and drink, provenance and craft, taking foreign influences and adding a local touch, or bringing their own to the world. Australian’s are behind a wave of third wave coffee to influence changing tastes and preferences here in London. Taylor Street Baristas was founded in 2006 by three Aussie siblings who noticed a depressing dearth of good quality coffee in London. It’s another reason why the previously successful Walkabout pub chains closed – people’s tastes and experiences have shifted. Australians views have shifted to a focus on good food and drink, a healthy lifestyle and quality.

So when I saw this poster being used at the recent Australia Day Beer Festival I really felt it was wide of the mark in terms of how Australian craft beer should be marketing and positioning itself. At the risk of sounding petty, this is what put me off. The abbreviation of Australia to Oz felt too casual. Sure maybe it’s to keep the twitter handle to a minimum. The budgie smugglers picture is all kinds of wrong. The exact tongue in cheek, wink at the camera shenanigans that you would see form a Foster advert.

A key thing Australian craft breweries need to sell is Australia as a craft beer producer. As a beer drinker, why should people care about Australian craft beer? What does Australian craft beer have to offer? There are a few things I would be doing. Highlight the provenance of Australian ingredients – our barley, hops and water bring something slightly different. Whether its Stone & Wood highlighting Australian hops in their Pacific Ale, or Moo Brewery’s stunning beers showcasing Tasmania water. Highlight our influences – whether it’s US, German or British brewing that is the inspiration, how have we taken that and reinterpreted styles and flavours for an Australia consumer. The other thing, in the age of appreciating beer as a fresh product that needs to be treated properly, is ensuring you have a supply chain that looks after the beers. Cold storage on the trip to the UK is an absolute must. Avoid the easy Australian stereo-type.

Once you’ve got people excited about Australian beer, you need to get them excited about you as a brewery. For me there are two key things to consider. The first is obviously the beer. Making great beer gets people talking about what you are doing. People taking leads to recognition, which leads to Hype. Awards are always helpful. The second is a strong individuality, uniqueness and narrative around the brand. Avoid the easy Australian stereo-type.

The Australian craft beer scene has its own nuances. Firstly the big breweries, Lion Nathan (subsidiary of Kirin) and Carlton and United breweries (subsidiary of ABInbev) came to the party very early on. Establishing craft brands (James Squire) and buying craft breweries (Matilda Bay) and marketing their beer as craft. This Australian Craft Beer Industry Association (CBIA) endorsed this view with the definition for craft that included these breweries as long as they were under a certain size.

But there is some really great independent breweries that have sprung up too. They are young, ambitious, passionate and determined – sound familiar?

While relatively new to the party, having launched in March 2015 (around the same time as Cloudwater), Pirate Life is among the vanguard of the independent craft beer scene. They come with pedigree. CEO Michael Cameron is a beer industry veteran. Brewers Jack Cameron, Michael’s son, has stints at BrewDog and Little Creatures on his brewery resume. Red Proudfoot worked with Jack at BrewDog and also spent time brewing with Cheeky Monkey in Margaret River, another of Australia’s wine producing regions.

A name like Pirate Life comes with obvious connotations; swashbuckling, carefree, bravado. It also comes with a feeling if youth rebelling. Perhaps a bit of BrewDog’s ethos rubbed off on Jack and Red. For them it also means not compromising on quality and flavour.

Adelaide is their home, which is close to the heart of Australia wine country, with the Barossa and McLaren Vale regions known for their quality producers. There is also a number of other craft breweries in Adelaide including Vale Brewery and Prancing Pony. There is also the large traditional brewer, Coopers, who could arguably be described as Australia’s original craft brewery, specialising in bottle conditioned ales. In fact their Pale Ale was once my absolute go to beer. This plays to my earlier point around what modern Australia means.

With a relatively tight core range, their beers have become instantly recognised for their flavour and quality. They have won a swag of awards for both their beers and as a brewery, and achieved unprecedented recognition in the GABS Hottest 100 craft beer countdown, a list based on public votes. In 2015 they had 3 of their core beers in the top 11 and backed that up with similar performances in 2016.

They have fours beers in their core range which they bringing to the UK. The Throwback IPA is a 3.5% ABV session IPA, a light hoppy number. The 5.4% ABV Pale Ale is a very drinkable malt forward Pale Ale, think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale. The 6.8% ABV IPA is more of a West Coast IPA, bright and hoppy. The 8.8% ABV IIPA is more like a bigger version of their Pale Ale, rather than a juicy hop or murk bomb you see from other DIPAs on the market at this current point in time.

Freshness is key in beer, especially hoppy pale ales, and Adelaide is a long way from the UK. Pirate Life are committed to ensuring that their beers arrive in the UK and Europe in the best possible condition, using a cold storage supply chain. This re-enforces the commitment to quality.

There is a lot Pirate Life are doing right at the moment. Entering into the competitive and increasingly crowded UK market place is ambitious for a brewery on the other side of the world. I believe they have the credentials, the story and narrative around their brand and importantly the beers to make it a success.

Pirate Life will be sharing a stand at CraftBeerRising with Kegstar. Be sure to pop by to say hello to the team and try some of their beers. You can also find them at selected pubs and bottle shops across the UK.

Disclosure: I met with Sean Robertson, sales and marketing for Pirate Life Europe, in researching this post. He also provided free samples of the beer. Images are from the Press Release.

Three Bullet Tuesday – January 17

Cask confessions, Meantime and Finding comfort in the UK craft scene

  • Cask confessions: Now that Pete Brown has made cask confessions de riguer, I have one of my own. I’m a caskophobe. Ok, maybe that’s a little strong – it’s not that I hate cask beer but as a preference it sits below keg, bottle, can…I guess it’s at the bottom of the list. Let me try and defend that stance. I didn’t grow up in the UK but rather the warmer climes of the anitpodes. Growing up in Australia, cold, carbonated keg beer is king and rightly so given the hot and humid conditions. Unlike in other parts of the world, it would be hard to argue that cask is revered by the Australian beer drinker – it’s perhaps seen as a British eccentricity and even derided as warm, flat beer. I’ve enjoyed reading the tsunami of content is response to Cloudwater’s announcement; in some corners reinforcing my own views and in others places educating me on what cask beer is all about. One irony I see in all this, at least in my own perception, is that as a (non-cask) craft beer drinker you tolerate the occasional bad beer from a small producer yet we frown at the poor quality of cask beer. But questions remain for me, so rather than remain ignorant, I am keen to learn more about cask beer to help me understand why it is held in such esteem by some – any ‘cask guides’ welcome!


Note: Pete McKerry has kept track of a lot of responses to Cloudwater’s blog post on his own blog, check it out. I particular enjoyed this post from Siren Craft Brewery and another from Conor Murphy.

  • Meantime: the Greenwich-based brewery took time out of being handed around by corporate owners to announce it was teaming up with well-funded, well-connected Silicon Valley start-up to produce Meantime Bespoke, a new service that offers beer matching your DNA to our taste preferences. In an online post on their website this is explained as ‘assess hereditary variations in your oral taste receptors to reveal genetic variants that could explain personal preferences to ward specific flavour profiles’. Or in other terms, use science to tell you what you probably already know – your taste preference. All for the princely sum of £25,000 for an easily transportable 2,000 pints. The proclaimed benefit of all this? ‘Unprecedented bragging rights with your mates’. Good luck to them. But this is taking the concept of using your body parts as ingredients one step further than before. Australian brewery 7 cent made headlines with a beer brewed with yeast captured from belly button fluff for the 2016 GABS festival. Oregon’s Rogue Ale’s who brewed a beer using yeast cultivated from the beard of Brewmaster John Maier. I did try one of these beers not that long along, and while it was a decent enough beer, it was a little funkier than you would want from a beer of this nature. I would hate to spend my spare £25k to find out my DNA is farmhouse funk.


  • Finding comfort in the UK craft scene: anyone who follows my twitter feed (@bushcraftbeer) would have seen that I was in Australia recently on holiday. The weather was great as was spending time with friends and family. Some of the beer was great too. My highlight was the Moo Brewery Pilsner. While it was great to try some new drops, the prevalence of 4-5% ABV Summer Ales, Pacific Ales and Pale Ales, many of which are brewed by ‘craft brands’ of larger breweries, left me wanting more. What I didn’t expect is that it left me really appreciating what we have here in the UK all the more.


Three Bullet Tuesday

Tuesday 13 December 2016

  • The power of positive marketing: I’ve been thinking a bit lately about my choices. Having a choice is a brilliant thing but sometimes, when it comes to beer there are restrictions on how accessible the beers you want to enjoy are.  Social media however, does not restrict the access to information about and interaction with a brewery; which also influences your choices, both in a positive or negative way. I’ve made an attempt to map this out in terms of a perception versus frequency of consumption matrix using 8 breweries as an example. There are some breweries that I rarely drink but maintain a positive view on driven by their social media, communications approach and the opinions of people that I respect. I would put Cloudwater, Marble and Wild Beer in that category. Magic Rock was in this category until their canning line meant Salty Kiss, High Wire and Cannonball flooded the streets. Beavertown and Five Points are the two breweries whose beer I am most likely to have in hand. I remain a ‘reluctant customer’ of most of Fullers range given their stranglehold on West London and their lack of choice in their pubs (unless you like Fullers). Chorlton is an interesting one. Yes, their beer is fantastic, but their social media presence is at times, puzzling. Listening to the Beernomicon interview with Mike, Founder of Chorlton, he acknowledges this, but frankly doesn’t care. Each to their own, which is why having choice is a great thing.


  • Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: this week sees the conclusion of the Pirate Life launch tour of the UK. Based in South Australia, Pirate Life is a relatively new brewery (est 2014) with a big reputation for great beer as illustrated by their performance in the annual Hottest 100 Craft Beers (where they featured 3 beers in the top 11) and winning Ratebeer’s ‘best new brewery in Australia’ in 2014. We’ve seen a few Australian craft breweries start to import to the UK, albeit it without the reputation of Pirate Life including Vale Brewing and Prancing Pony. I for one have a few questions. Where does the narrative of the start-up Aussie craft beer scene fit with the craft boom in the UK and the wave of imports from US brewers with a relatively well understood craft legacy? How will their highly regarded hop-forward beers fare on the long journey from Australia? Time will tell. I for one will refuse to comment until I at least try the beer!
  • Festival fever: how ambitious should craft beer festivals be in 2018 and beyond? With news that Beavertown’s birthday beer festival scheduled for 18th February sold out, London Craft Beer festival moving to a bigger venue in 2017 and IndyMan consistently sold out – is it time for craft beer festivals to think big? GBBF big?