“I might argue that the average mass-market beer doesn’t look like beer, smell like beer, act like beer, is not made from proper beer ingredients, is not made how beer is made and is generally lacking in beer attributes”.
– Garrett Oliver in Beer and Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking
For a long time, the big beer corporations (BBCs) have tried to talk about anything but the beer itself. The BBCs applied ‘the mushroom theory’ when it came to their drinkers, ‘Feed ‘em shit and keep ‘em in the dark’. They differentiated their beers through advertising not the product itself, and made beer a superficial symbol of personal identity, giving only a cursory nod to the brewing process in between their marketing garble.
The BBCs branded and ‘blanded’ beer. They removed the sense of place from beer by taking ownership overseas and brewing ‘imported’ beers locally. They reduced taste and ignored the diversity of beer styles to produce indistinct and boring carbon-copy lagers. Basically, they produced beers that weren’t worth talking about. But times are a changin’, and so are the beers.
A niche movement of microbrewers and beer drinkers are galvanising to make beer something worth talking about again. Microbreweries are putting the beer (in the real sense, not the marketing BS sense) back in beer in Australia.
Microbreweries are going about putting the beer back in beer in a number of ways. Firstly, they are returning the focus to the proper beer ingredients. Red Hill brewery for instance are growing their own hops and proudly displaying their vines at the brewery. While Bridge Road Brewers recently showed off a new Australian-grown hop type with their Stella IPA.
Bridge Road’s single hop IPAs (Galaxy and Stella) are also an example of how microbreweries aren’t trying to ‘dumb down’ beer with corny taglines like “Made From Beer” but rather educate their drinkers about what is going into the beer, and the art of brewing.
This approach helps beer drinkers to grow more discerning in their tastes and become more open to the diversity of beer styles out there. While the American-style Pale Ale is may be the most prevalent beer style amongst microbreweries, the growing availability of brown ales for instance, signifies that a shift in drinkers’ tastes to a broader world of beer styles is underway.
Brewers are also fostering relationships within their local communities, giving the beer a sense of place and a face, in the form of their brewers. In areas like Melbourne’s inner-north, the craft beer scene is also latching onto a broader shift in consumer tastes towards ‘local’ or ‘organic’ products. The Three Ravens brewery for instance can be found on tap at most local bars in Thornbury and even this great new local pizza restaurant, while new bars in the area like The Raccoon Club and The Woodlands Hotel are staking their reputation on stocking only Australian, and mostly Victorian, beers.
All this points to a fact that the BBCs can’t quite understand, that there is a growing number of Australian beer drinkers no longer content to sit in the dark. They want to drink beer that comes from an actual place with a brewery and a brewer that you can see and touch (but no touching the brewer please!). They want to know what hops and what yeast are being used, drink a range of different beer styles, and generally learn the rich vocabulary of the beer world.
Yes, beer is once again becoming a talking point in Australia. And the best part is, the conversation’s just getting started.