Much of an Australian’s everyday life is dominated by an ‘opoly of some sort. Monopolies, duopolies, quadopolies (thinking banks here). The duopoly of Coles and Woolworths is particularly pervasive. Not only do they dominate the supermarket scene, they’ve extended their tentacles into petrol, bottle-shops, hardware and now brewing. It isn’t a big secret that bottle shop chains like Dan Murphy’s, First Choice, BWS and Vintage Cellars are owned either by Woolies or Coles. Their increasing proximity to the supermarket in NSW is the giveaway and in Melbourne – the licensing laws appear to be different, and you don’t have to go to a separate checkouts to buy your grog and groceries. Interestingly, my local ALDI has the jump on Coles and Woolies in NSW and is selling grog and groceries at the same check-out and is beating Dan’s on the case price of Cooper’s Pale Ale – $41.99 if you don’t mind. A new depressing trend is the creation by each of a “craft beer” brand that will be distributed exclusively through the respectively owned bottle shop chains. It’s depressing because the beer is as craft as Foster’s and the cynicism of the marketing and branding is breathtaking.
Have a look at the photos for a start. Looks a lot like James Squire. Quirky name, trying to pretend that there’s some history, branding theme etc. The most offensive is the Coles initiative. Steamrail Brewing Co is located at 800 Toorak Road, Hawthorn East. Do you really think that there is a craft brewery in the headquarters of Wesfarmers and the Coles empire? Is there truly a back story behind the “Ghost of Eyre” for whom their Pale Ale is named, or has some youngster on a marketing graduate rotation programme been thrown a bone to come up with something that will fool 25% of Aussies that shop at Coles bottlos for grog? At least Sail & Anchor has a heritage of brewing. Geez, I even owned a Brass Monkey Stout t-shirt in the last 90’s. Steamrail has as much heritage as Pinterest. I drank my three Steamrails on the Back of the Ferry and they kind of tasted the same – bit more hops than a lager, but with a finish that holds as much interest as a Big Bash League 20/20 game.
I think that a classic response came from Australian Brews News on Monday, which can be found here. Matt of Australian Brews News (if you haven’t subscribed, you should) is fighting the good fight to stop the majors pretending to be craft brewers. He’s onto a real doozie with Byron Bay Brewing and SAB Miller – read about that here and here. It’s a free country, but if you’ve got $14.99 and you are in a Coles owned bottle shop and you want a six pack of craft beer – there’s probably still enough real craft beer choice available without having to go faux craft.