“Industrial beer” is a term used by Randy Mosher in his book Tasting Beer to describe beers produced on a large scale, beginning with London porter in the early nineteenth century through American pilsners in the twentieth and today’s “macro” or “mainstream” swill.
The craft beer enthusiast strawman knows them intimately: they’re less brewed and more designed; they’re about mass appeal and marketing than taste or craftsmanship; and they’re best consumed icy because there’s no flavour to be found once it warms up.
Last year, the week before Melbourne’s Good Beer Week was declared Bad Beer Week by James from beer bar band. The idea is that you will appreciate good beers more if you remind yourself why you don’t drink mass produced fermenter scrapings. As it’s been a while since I suckled the mainstream teat, I thought it would be a good time to see what makes these beers tick and if they’re as bad as some beer nerds claim.
Today’s edition looks at the beers from the land down under, i.e. not Fosters although two are from Fosters-owned breweries. I have a hypothesis that industrial beers vary in nature from region to region and today’s exploration of the many shades of Australian golden adjunct lager will help reveal how different our beers are to the North Americans and next week, Europeans.
Our brewing heritage is certainly more Anglo-Saxon than Germanic and yet heavily influenced by the surge in popularity of Bohemian pilsner. It would be an interesting academic exercise to note when the lager overtook the pale ale locally and one I shall perhaps return to in the future.
Given the dominance of two particular organisations, I also want to see how similar each of the beers are to each other. Is Tooheys New and XXXX Bitter the same beer with a different label? We’ll find out.
Sail & Anchor Draught
- I couldn’t find Swan, Emu or West End and now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them anywhere. The partly-Woolworths-owned brewery in WA, Gage Roads, will have to represent the part of the country west of the 141°E line of longitude.
- Light golden colour which has been filtered clear
- Small bubbles quickly forming into a thin white ring, although a head was present initially
- Nutty, malty aroma with even a mild hoppiness
- Actual malt, like a cheap-o pale, but at least it’s malted barley
- Soapy with a non-aromatic hoppiness which doesn’t quite make it to bitterness
- Dry finish
- The NSW beer in the Lion Nathan portfolio which is “brewed by or under licence for Tooheys”
- Dark gold colour and clear
- A foamy white head forms on top with a pervading wet horse feed malt aroma that I associate with many of the big Australian beers
- Characteristic mouldy bread taste, typical of Australian lagers (unfortunately, I can’t think of something more universal to compare it to). It may be partly Pride of Ringwood
stankaroma, which was only ever bred for its alpha acids; everything else about it is awful
- Mild bitterness in the back
- Dry finish
James Boag’s Draught
- The Tasmanian beer in the Lion Nathan portfolio brewed by J Boag & Son in Launceston
- Golden colour and clear
- White head, decent retention, great lacing
- Pride of Ringwood stank, otherwise no aroma
- Thinner in body and cleaner than New. This is more reminiscent of the American style as it is a touch on the flavourless-side, even by mainstream beer standards
- Not especially dry finish but a solid underlying bitterness
Great Northern Super Crisp Lager
- 4.2% in an old bottle
- Brewed by Carlton & United (Fosters) at Yatala
- Little head retention to show for itself
- Poor level of carbonation
- Clear, gold
- Manky ass malt profile
- Dry finish
- This is easily the worst beer of the lot, hence the minimalistic description
- 4.6% in an old bottle
- Brewed at Castlemaine Perkins (Lion/Kirin) in Milton
- Awful smell of lager farts
- Clear, gold, white head (where have I heard that before?)
- More bitterness than normal and maybe slightly meaty – I’d suggest smoked malt if I didn’t know better
- Moderately dry finish
- Bit of age might have done this some good
- 4.9% (was temporarily 4.6%, like the rest, because that’s full-strength?)
- CUB and Australia’s top selling beer
- No aroma. At all.
- Clear, darker gold with decent white head brought about because the stubby bottle doesn’t pour well
- Tastes slightly of real malt. Bit surprised that this tastes as good as it does
- Crisp, dry finish
- I think Stockholm Syndrome is setting in
Looks like the average Australian industrial beer is golden in colour; clear; has a white head with some carbonation; ABV is 4.6% ± 0.4%; minimal aroma but if present, smells of horrible wet grain and Pride of Ringwood; thin body but not especially watery; bitterness discernible but not excessive; maltiness less discernible but varies from proper malt down to moldy bread to nothing; finish is usually quite dry. Normally Australian beers are found in a brown bottle, although clear bottles may prevail if the brand tries too hard to be trendy.
Certainly, these beers have much in common but they are also distinct from the North American style. They are moderately darker and have a malt profile, albeit quite a horrible one. The beer is less watery and the finish tends to be drier. Hops are occasionally detectable in the Australian style.
However, contrary to my own suspicions, Tooheys New, VB and XXXX Bitter are different beers. Or at least the stock is differently aged.
So did I learn anything from this exercise? Only that the ABV is oddly regimented towards 4.6%, which I can only assume is for taxation reasons (hardly qualifies as “full-strength”). In doing so, did I drink a bunch of beers I don’t like, reliving blurry memories of my youth? Yes, a bit. Was VB surprisingly tasty?
Sounds like #badbeerweek to me.