With the current James Squire advertising blitz, suddenly a ‘craft beer’ range is plastered all over city billboards and bus and tram stops. It is the kind of advertising campaign that a microbrewery could never afford, but could it open more drinkers’ eyes to new tastes and craft beer?
My favourite part of the campaign is the “Man of Many Tastes” line with a picture of the full range of James Squire beers. To me, this shows that Lion are not trying to create a “VB 2.0” but are promoting their range of beers and, importantly, their different beer styles.
Converting Australian beer drinkers from ‘mass-produced lager’ to better beer is a challenge. Dark beers and hoppy beers can be particularly scary to those who think that all beer is golden-coloured and flavourless, and this is where the James Squire range, which includes a Porter and an IPA, may be able to expose more drinkers to different styles of beer and introduce them to new tastes.
This then presents an opportunity for microbreweries to capitalise on a more educated beer drinking populace and help them journey deeper into the wonderful world of flavour in beer.
Of course, the likes of James Squire present challenges for microbreweries too. Corporate craft beer brands that muddy the waters between craft and mass-produced beers can strip away some of the differences that give microbreweries their competitive edge.
In one scene in the documentary Beer Wars, Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head brewery’s founder, tells how he doesn’t want a cheaper ‘craft imitation’ pumpkin ale from a major brewer on the shelves next to his more expensive, genuine craft beer, the Punkin’ Ale. For him, differentiating his product is key.
Australia’s microbreweries face the same challenge to differentiate their beers from the likes of Little Creatures and James Squire. A beer like the Holgate Temptress chocolate porter, which uses vanilla bean and cocoa in the mix, is distinctively delicious beer and the sort that beer drinkers will be prepared to go the extra mile for them, but a beer that is ‘just another pale ale’, will likely struggle against potentially cheaper and more widely available ‘corporate craft beers’.
It’s up to the microbreweries to continue to differentiate themselves through superior and alternative products and, at this point, many of Australia’s microbreweries appear to be meeting this challenge.
In spite of, or perhaps even because of, craft beer brands being owned by corporation, the future still looks bright for Australian beer drinkers. New microbreweries and craft beer venues continue to pop up and a small but passionate group of beer drinkers continue to seek out better beer.