Buyer beware – ‘home brand’ craft beer

Many Australian beer drinkers are starting to embrace craft beer and develop a taste for more flavoursome beers. But many are still cost-conscious and baulk at the price of some craft beers. I can understand their position, as I often find myself on the lookout for beers that are good value but still have plenty of taste like those I listed as the best value beers in Australia.

Beer drinkers who want more taste but are cost conscious, are a key segment for the continued emergence of craft beer but are particularly susceptible to those ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ – craft beers created by big corporates, which distort the market with beers that have a ‘craft-ish’ look and style with a VB-like price tag

If ‘craft’ beers appear too cheap to be true it’s probably because they are. I’ve had a number of people suggest beers to me like Sail & Anchor or Gage Road without understanding that they are owned by Woolworths. These beers may have more taste than your VBs of this world but for the most part their beers are simply not as good as some of the finer independent beers out there.

For the non-obsessive beer drinker who doesn’t have time for research and has a stronger focus on costs when choosing their beers, the lack of transparency about the true owners of these beers is a real issue.

When I’ve told others who beers like Steamrail are actually owned by, they’ve been surprised and replied, “Oh so they’re home brand”. Home brands have a negative connotation attached to them, which is why these beers are trying to obscure their ownership roots, and is also why drinkers need to be educated as to who really owns the beers.

These beers by calling themselves craft, distort the value of craft beer in consumers’ minds and block the beer drinker’s journey to better beer. Their beers also get an unfair advantage by usually being the first to be promoted with discount bulk specials and receiving prime in-store placements. That is why in the USA, laws stipulate that there must be separation between brewers, distributors and retailers. Because this is not the case in Australia, we need to be educated about where they are one-in-the-same.

The ‘not-so-craft’ beer list

  • Steamrail (owned by Coles)
  • Sail and Anchor (owned by Woolworths)
  • Gage Roads (part-owned by Woolworths)
  • Matilda Bay (owned by Fosters)
  • James Squire (owned by Lion)

I’m not saying these are all bad beers, for example, you may find some of their limited edition beers are more adventurous in flavour, or even find one or two of their beers to your liking, I rate Matilda Bay’s Alpha Pale Ale for instance, but you can certainly put your beer money to better use by supporting an independent local brewer who you can trust to put quality and flavour first, and who will continue to support the growth of good beer not just commercialise it.

If you need help finding good beers that are available at reasonable prices here are my 12 best value beers in Australia. They may not be as cheap as the beers listed above but they are worth it.


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