Friday, 30 October 2009

Beer O’Clock: In favour of brand disloyalty

Beer writer Neil Miller argues you should lose your beer label inhibitions . . . a good argument to consider on the eve of tomorrow’s beer tasting (don’t forget, 2:30pm at The Castle in Mt Eden). [Cross-posted at The Malthouse Blog]

heineken_beer It would be possible, if you wanted to and really tried, to travel around the world and eat nothing but McDonalds.   Similarly, it would be possible, if you wanted to and really tried, to travel around the world and drink nothing but Heineken.  Well, maybe not quite as easy but you could certainly drink look-alike international golden lagers in pretty much every corner of the globe. 

We would tend to portray the person who eats only corporate burgers and fries as unsophisticated, a little odd and probably quite large.  However, the person who drinks nothing but – say – Heineken is seen as a loyal and informed drinker.  I simply cannot express the absurdity of this notion any better than noted beer writer and my third favourite Canadian Stephen Beaumont* who wrote:

“Beer drinkers have been duped by mass marketing into the belief that it makes sense to drink only one brand of beer. In truth, brand loyalty in beer makes no more sense than 'vegetable loyalty' in food. Can you imagine it? ‘No thanks, I'll pass on the mashed potatoes, carrots, bread and roast beef. Me, I'm strictly a broccoli man.’"

The notion of brand loyalty and a generic drinking culture perhaps reached its peak in New Zealand during 1969.  In a little known chapter of our brewing history, New Zealand Breweries, in their infinite wisdom, decided that Kiwis did not want choice or local beers. What they really wanted was four slightly different beers all under the one glorious brand and that brand was to be called Lucky. 

In August 1960, all their various breweries shut down production of their established products (including Speight’s) and began making their allocation of the Big Four Lucky Beers.  The intent would be that Lucky would be produced so efficiently that it would drive down the price of beer and push their rival Dominion Breweries right out of the market.

Predictably (to everyone not working for the New Zealand Breweries marketing team), drinkers around the country immediately went up in arms and the Lucky experiment was ended in October 1960 after just two ignominious months.  In terms of bad beer decisions, its short duration means it does not come close to equalling the impact of the disastrous Six O’Clock Swill but it terms of sheer stupidity it was right up there. 

The only signs that remain of Lucky are some bottles and cans in the excellent Speight’s brewery tour (though you won’t see any actual brewing on it).  Speight’s must have been tempted to (mis)-quote Hon Dr Michael Cullen and put little signs like “we won, you lost, eat that” under the Lucky-branded vessels.

New Zealand drinkers these days rightly demand more choice and variety.  Heck, Richard “Spiderman” Emerson alone produces four new beers every 100 days.  Sometimes, we drink local, other days we feel like something more continental.  We might crave a cutting edge style or perhaps something a bit more traditional.

chimaytripel One of the classic European beers on tap at Malthouse[and at very few other good establishments around the country-Ed.] is Chimay White.  This Trappist masterpiece is an extremely rare sight on tap in New Zealand and it is about to get a whole lot rarer.  The last Malthouse keg is currently attached.  This is the last chance (for a while at least) to try this dry, spicy brew on tap.

Chimay White (8%) is a strong, unpasteurised Tripel which pours a handsome cloudy gold with a pillowed white head.  The nose is dry, hoppy and yeasty – unmistakably Belgian.  It is full bodied with hints of orange, juniper, spices and hops before a peppery, dry finish.

This is also the last week of Octoberbest – the new Malthouse tradition.  The final push sees the welcome return of Epic Armageddon, Yeastie Boys Plan K and Yeastie Boys PKB.

This blog post now comes to an end as it is time for lunch with Mr Luke Nicholas, the Impish Brewer.  In unrelated news, stocks of Armageddon IPA are about to plummet at Malthouse so Chimay White might not be the only beer on its last keg…

* After Russ the Canadian and William Shatner. **

** Glass tip to the Impish Brewer for reminding me of “Bill” Shatner which sadly saw Stephen Beaumont bumped to third.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand 
Beer and Brewer Magazine


  1. A beautiful post to introduce the tasting. Hope to see you all then.

  2. My recollection of Lucky beers,
    mainly Lucky Lager is that they
    were first produced in 1960. They
    were a flop similar to the Ford Edsel car, and had disappeared off
    the market by 1961, about mid year I think. The public did not
    respond to the advertising hype and
    the beer quality. Although very young at the time my view of the
    beer was insipid. It was lower
    gravity about 4 per cent I think.
    I am sure Lucky beer was not around
    in 1969.

  3. Alan - you are dead right. It is a typo - it should be 1960.

    Pete - can you correct it here?

  4. Alan - thanks for spotting that. It has now been corrected on both blogs. Lucky I'm not a trained historian... oh wait...

  5. Good that the blind beer tasting confirmed what I hope that the result would have shown. I drink lots of VB, even ranked it average, I didn't even detect it as a beer that I regularly drink. The low ranking of Ranfurly draft (from majority of tasters) were due to bad reinforcement comment from tasters who tried it first, therefore it was a sort of a hint to those that were about to try it to reinforce in their minds what they heard from those who already tried it. It is some kind of herding effect. You just followed what blindly by reinforcing what others are doing/telling. But ranfurly draft scored a rank of 7 and 6.5 from 2 participants (Peter K and myself), so, without the negative feedback reinforcement from 2 who tried it first and then yelled out to others who haven't tasted it that Jug C was awful, there would have been more reasonably good rating for Jug C (ranfurly draft).

    If the test was done as a proper scientific test, then I would have been right on the mark 100% of what one expects from a statistical blind trial. So, anyone who says that drink A is more classy than drink B, is more ponce than being realistic. What that person has asserted was subjective only. This is why marketers use celebrities to advertise their products, because the tend to have a subjective positive reinforcement influence in their targeted audience when they endorsed such products and this is a psychological fact.

    The laws of statistics will definitely defy those ponces from their claims that drink A, B, or C, etc,... are better than D, E and so forth. Subjectivity doesn't equate to reality and that's facts folks.

  6. Thank you very much for this post.

    A while back a friend and I had a debate around whether Chimay had 3 flavours. I was adamant it did, he was adamant it didn't. From your link, I have found the 3 strong personalities of Chimay beer, and after conceding that I could not find the appropriate information to back up my claims and therefore was wrong, I have now gone back armed with this information to plead my case to have my perceived sanity reinstated.


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