Post #12 – My Beer Dilemma: The Struggle Is Real

The other day I came back to work with a nice tan, a subtle spring in my step and a relaxed physique. I hadn’t been into work for over a week and so naturally the question my colleagues asked of me was ‘Where had you gone?’. I let them try and guess – ‘Vanuatu?’, ‘Fiji?’, ‘Bali’ – nope, closer to home. ‘Byron Bay, the Gold Coast?’ – Wrong Again. Try Canberra. They collectively screwed up their faces and said in unison, ‘What the fuck is in Canberra?’

A fair lot, to be honest, but that isn’t the reason for this post. The reason for this post is something far more important than the ease of navigating Canberra’s overly large roundabouts – it is about beer. That bitter, bubbly nectar that brings me so much joy (and hangovers in equal amount). Across the road from the apartment we were staying in Canberra was a 1st Choice Liquor store. My girlfriend’s father, being the decent man that he is, went out and bought me a 6-pack of boutique pale-ale beer for the evening. I’d been trying to convince him that Fosters was actually Australia’s joke on the world, and that we don’t drink it – mainly because we have so many other better beers over here. He came back with a six-pack of SteamRail Craft Beer – The Ghost of Eyre Pale Ale, for me to have with dinner that evening. It was quite a title for a beer and I’d never seen it before, but being from hipster Newtown it fitted the caricature of a local craft beer. Quirky labeling, flowery descriptives, funky colours, and the obligatory suave artwork (in this particular case it had two burly men with trendy beards/moustaches, tattoo’s and a Colonial themed type font) were all found on this epitomization of a craft boutique beer. With a title like The Ghost of Eyre Pale Ale I confess I briefly dreamt it may have been created by a small brewery on the Eyre Peninsula, brewed in the basking heat of the Australian desert and chilled beneath ground in a rock-chiselled cellar in Coober Pedy. But alas, further research showed this to be pretty far from the mark. Despite it’s website stating that SteamRail is ‘Craft Beer’, it’s actually a beer mass produced by Coles. Well this finding flies in the face of what a craft beer is. According to the Australian Craft Beer Industry Association, craft beer is independent, traditional and 100% Australian owned, with no ownership or control by a major brewer.

So let’s examine SteamRail to see if it meets any of that criteria. Is it independent? No – this beer is produced by WesFarmers; Australia’s largest public company, largest employer and largest retailer. Is it traditional? Well not really, not if it’s produced on the scale they produce the rest of their products. Is it 100% Australian-owned? Well kinda, they’re an Australian-ASX listed company, but it’s difficult to know where their majority shareholders reside. A union busting Aussie Chairman and an elusive CEO head the Wesfarmers company that has been fined for unsafe work environments‘, misleading advertising and anti-competitive behaviour. So does it really matter if they’re true-blue Aussies if they’re arseholes too? I’ll leave you to decide upon that one.

It says on every bottle of SteamRail,

there’s a story behind every great beer and that’s never been truer than with the new beer range from the Steamrail Brewing Company.

There’s definitely a story behind SteamRail, but as I’ve shown – it’s a lot less romantic than what’s on the surface. This got me questioning, what other craft beers aren’t really craft beers at all? What beers aren’t Australian? The results are gunna shock you, so hang tight. According to Choice magazine most of the beer in this country is foreign-owned. Let’s go through them, shall we?

SABMiller is a South African conglomerate operated out of Britain. They own and make everything from Foster’s, all the variants of Carlton (e.g. Draught, Dry), Crown Lager, Melbourne Bitter, Pure Blonde and Victoria Bitter. Not even one of my favourite cheap local drops is Australian, the Redfern beer Resch’s – It’s also owned by SABMiller. For all the ladies and sweet-tooth’s out there – they also own Bulmer’s, Strongbow and the alt version of those two – Dirty Granny. Now to crush the heart of the hipsters and craft beer ‘purists’ – SABMiller also owns the following: Alpha Pale Ale, Beez Neez, Bondi Blonde, Bluetongue, Big Helga, Bohemian Pilsner, Fat Yak, Redback, The Ducks, Matilda Bay and Minimum Chips. You’re such a corporate zombie conformist for drinking these, man.

The Japanese run Kirin (part of the corporate behemoth Mitsubishi) own more of the beers you associate with everything dink-di Australian and local. XXXX, Boag’s, Hahn and Tooheys are all owned by Kirin. Again, to drive a dagger through the heart of your token hipster friend – Little Creatures, White Rabbit, Rogers, James Squire, Vale Ale, Cricketer’s Arms, Sundown Lager and Kosciuszko Pale Ale are all owned by Kirin. On top of this, Alehouse Summer Gold and Arvo are produced by Coca-Cola, and Woolworth’s has bought out Feral Brewing Company and Gage Road Brewing Company – two of the largest independent breweries that were left in Australia – so they could sell their beer exclusively through their own liquor stores. These large corporations will go to great lengths to hide their involvement in these beers too. Not one of the beers listed names the corporation that owns them, and many of their official websites skirt around ownership also. They know Aussies would most likely leave their beer on the shelf or in the tap if they knew it was completely foreign-owned – so they just don’t tell you.

So what does that leave you with if you want to be an alcoholic patriot? Well not much really. According to Choice, the biggest Australian-owned brewery is currently Coopers, with 3.5% of the market share. To put this in perspective, SABMiller and Kirin account for approximately 50% of all ‘craft’ beer in Australia. Mountain Goat Beer down in Melbourne is another option, as is Stone & Wood. But even these small fry’s are under threat. Where it gets a little bit concerning is in regards to the behaviour of the bigger players in the beer bear-market. For example, when you go into a pub or bar in this country and see the beers they provide, there is a story behind each and every beer on tap. For the most part, the standard practice is that each tap is locked into what is referred to as a ‘line contract’. This means that the bigger beer producers (predominantly Kirin and SABMiller) lock these establishments in for long-term, binding, exclusive contracts to sell only their liquor – thus squeezing out all competition. You might think that sounds a little illegal, but as is the ethos with almost all large multinationals’, it’s only illegal if you get caught!

So if you’re as depressed as I am about the state of affairs regarding beer in this country, I encourage you to commit yourself to drinking your problems away… just try and do it in a manner that doesn’t water down our sacred nectar-tinged liquidy goodness anymore than it already is. Bottoms up!

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