Reserve Amber Ale
330ml | 5.2% abv
Beer company Endeavour Beverages has recently launched two new beers, Reserve Pale Ale and Reserve Amber Ale. Both are well-balanced and flavoursome brews. The amber ale has nice rich toffee malt character and the pale ale has plenty of summer fruit on the nose and a spritzy bitterness that balances nicely. The beers have been well-received to the point that they picked up the People’s Choice gong at the recent Australian Hotel Beer Festival.
What more could you want in a beer…right?
Wrong. The essence of beer marketing is that we all want a little more than some well-developed-but-balanced flavour in a clean crisp presentation. We want some sizzle and not just the steak. Beer marketers know that if they’re going to lure us away from the, generally less expensive, offerings of the big breweries, we want something more. We want a little romance with our beer. We want there to be a story behind it, one that we can identify with. One that – they hope – will resonate with us, the beer drinker.
Unfortunately, generating a little romance and a compelling back story can be a tough when you are a huge brewery and even harder when you don’t have a brewery at all.
Not that there’s anything wrong with contract brewing. It is an effective way to get a beer to market without the massive, and sometimes crippling, investment in stainless steel needed to build a brewery. It’s a good way to focus on recipe development, distribution and the business of beer without the added burden of paying for an expensive brewery.
The majority of beers contract brewed in Australia are high quality, consistent and free from the (ahem) infections and quality control issues that occasionally affect microbreweries. Developed in conjunction with quality brewers, such as Australian Independent Brewers’ Nick Button and Bruce Peachey, contract beers can be flavourful, interesting and drinkable.
Endeavour’s beers are just such beers.
However, getting that beer into market can be tough when you don’t have have a nice little brewery to stand in front of for photographs, or the compelling story of an underdog’s struggle that you can weave into your branding. So it’s not surprising that businesses that go the contract route often take a fair chunk of the money they save by not building a brewery and instead invest it in their marketing and branding in order to create a compelling back story to put on their labels. More is then spent on public relations companies to spread that story.
Again, all fine…so long as it is accurate. Sometimes the marketing involves going to great lengths trying to hide the fact that there is no actual Small-Brewer-Trying-To-Give-It-A-Go brewery. Other times it involves telling a good, but largely irrelevant, story.
To their credit, Endeavour Beverages don’t go out of their way to hide the fact that they have gone down the contract brewing route, they are open about it. Where the clever Endeavour back story wears a little thin and strays into the realm of the disingenuous is the whole winemakers-creating-a-‘vintage’-beer-thing.
The brand proposition for the beer essentially boils down to three questions supposedly asked by the founders:
“I’d love to see a beer made like wine – brewed to express the variations in ingredients from year to year.”
“Why don’t brewers get out there in the hop fields like winemakers in a vineyard?”
“Surely putting more care into what goes into the brew results in a better flavour?”
This story has been told through the media through their media material. To the casual beer drinker, those who want to know a little about the beer that they’re drinking but don’t want to obsessively research the provenance of every beer purchase — better known as 99 per cent of the beer drinking population — this suggests that Endeavour are breaking new ground and going where no brewer has ever gone before. It all sounds good but, like a lot of marketing, there’s less there when you scratch the surface.
Are there really brewers that don’t care about what they put into their brew? Similarly, there is no shortage of trained winemakers making beer these days. Stone & Wood’s Brad Rogers, Mountain Goat’s Jayne Lewis, Bridge Road’s Ben Kraus and Two Metre Tall’s Ashley Huntington were all wine makers first before bringing their talents to the brew kettle. The last two especially bring the concept of variety and vintage to their brewing approach. Two Metre Tall is also one of the few breweries world wide that can lay claim to producing a ‘château’ beer – one made from ingredients all grown on the brewery grounds.
So far as getting out into the hop fields like winemakers in a vineyard, the company’s media release goes so far as to say Andy Stewart, ‘got out in the hop fields and put his winemaking experience to good use, in a brewery.’
Only he didn’t.
“This year we had to go into production fairly quickly and didn’t get to select at the source,” Stewart told Australian Brews News. Though next year they will, he assures – but that’s not the story that has been told.
It would be easy to look at the entirety of the brewery media release and the resulting coverage of these beers and be critical about such things as the use of the term ‘Reserve’ and or the general hyperbole around its wine making and vintage connections. But all marketing is a little loose with the facts, isn’t it? Does any of this matter?
On one hand it does, obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent so much time and energy crafting the story and getting it out to the media. But then again, caveat emptor — if you regard the hype around any beer over its flavour, you probably deserve what you get.
The potential problem with the ‘beer made like wine’ story is that Endeavour goes the next step saying, “both ales, while drinking well now, will also reward 2 – 3 years of careful cellaring with complex secondary characters emerging.”
Now, it’s only a guess because no one will know for sure until 2 – 3 years have elapsed, but conventional wisdom would suggest that the “complex secondary characters” that will emerge are more commonly known as ‘”stale beer characters”.
As Ian Watson discusses, beer can indeed age and change as it does. These changes can often result in a different but still highly drinkable beer. Though the stipulation that he, and most others, put on it is that the beers that will age well generally have a higher alcohol and hop profile to balance the stale flavours that develop in aging. ‘Higher alcohol’ is usually regarded as upwards of 7%.
At 4.5% and 5.2% neither of the 2010 Endeavour beers are in the realms of what would usually be considered cellarable, and even Andy Stewart seems to accept that cellaring these beers is an experiment.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about that and have had quite a few people say to us the alcohol level is not high enough and all we’ll end up with is stale beer,” Andy said.
“I guess what I’m looking at is bitterness and bottle conditioning to help with that aging process.”
Andy says he also wants to challenge people to look at what has traditionally been seen as stale beer and whether fresh is best.
“Where I come from in the wine industry, secondary characteristics in wine are what some people would see as stale characters in beer,” he said.
“We’re just trying to challenge what people see as a well-cellared beer and a not-so-well cellared beer.”
“By what we are doing, we are hoping that these beers are going to cellar. With all of these cellaring theories, you can’t make any promises but we are just trying to challenge conventional wisdom that ABV is the be-all and end-all of cellaring.”
“While we say we would like them to be cellarable, we will certainly keep them [beer drinkers] updated on when we think the beers are at their peak. The changes I have seen in each batch since bottling [in August] has been amazing.”
Andy Stewart and his partners are, as their website says, ‘3 blokes having a go’. And they’re nice blokes at that. They’re getting out there and taking some very drinkable beers to market. But they certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel and, while well-intentioned, I’m not sure that they’re breaking any new ground either.
Endeavour pale and amber ale are both well-balanced, drinkable and – for now at least — thoroughly enjoyable beers. If that’s what you’re looking for in a beer, buy them and drink and enjoy them. But I would suggest drinking them now.