As craft beer starts to gain more than a minor toehold on the Australian beer landscape, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “beer is the new wine” bandied about to discuss its new-found repute.
While there are some aspects of beer that lend themselves to comparisons with wine – most notably as a hugely diverse source of flavours that can be enjoyed on their own or with food – beer is really fighting more than 2500 years of Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian snobbery in being seen as the sophisticated equal to wine. A half generation of craft brewing isn’t going to overcome that baggage quickly – and, to be honest, I’m not sure that we want it to.
Holding this view, I was both delighted and dubious when I first became aware of the BeerMasons 20 months ago. Their first pack of 17 bottles of beer arrived at my door in a beautifully presented box together with extensive and excellent tasting notes, grain and hop samples and a comprehensive guide to beer and beer tasting. As impressive as the package was, once my initial reaction subsided, I started to consider the flaws in the BeerMason’s model. Would people signup for a regular delivery of beer the way they have been willing to do for wine, or is beer too much of a convenience product for such an operation?
These thoughts were fueled by the beer selection in that first pack. The range was interesting and the choices excellent but, while most couldn’t easily be found in your local high-turnover-of-generic-lagers beer store, they weren’t exactly unobtainable with a modicum of effort. Even a trip to one of the good online beer stores would have yielded most of the beers, delivered at a comparable discount and timed to when it was wanted. No matter how carefully chosen the beers, if you could get them elsewhere, you were really just paying for the extras that came with the pack. I wondered whether beer drinkers would pay a considerable premium for that service, knowledge and nice packaging. Given the rise of First Choice and Dan Murphy’s, which have made their names selling beer at the cheapest possible price without any frills, I doubted it.
I’m not sure whether this was a flaw identified by the Beer Masons, but it is certainly something that changed significantly over time. The club has survived and blossomed and with it the selection of beers has become increasingly exotic. With the exception of a few well-chosen domestic crafts, the beers in the current packs can only legitimately be obtained in Australia by buying a Beer Masons pack, something that makes the quarterly deliver increasingly valuable.
BeerMasons’ Renee Mathie said to do this the business had to become an importer, but it wasn’t easy.
“On the logistics side of things – let’s just say google translate is getting one heck of a work out,” she jokes.
“It’s added a layer of complexity and increased the workload but the extra effort shows in the pack quality and the prices that we can offer to our loyal members,” she said.
“But taking on the entire supply chain had to be done – from a viability, quality, diversity and reliability perspective.”
Renee said this has mean that they don’t deal with importers, agents, aggregators or distributors any more.
“Our couriers collect the beer from the brewery and we manage the entire direct shipment. We control the beer at every stage.”
“The vast majority of it is in the country for only two weeks before it is in the hands of members. It is also how we can now do things so cost effectively and get killer beer. We are a 100% direct model.
“We are at the pointy end of the International market and the specialty, small batch brews that we are chasing are in high demand. The good brewers can be choosey about who they sell to and so they should!”
The change has taken Beer Masons from what may have been a one-off gift purchase to an almost mandatory membership. The beer selection makes it an asset for even the most hard-bitten beer ticker while the tasting notes and accompanying information are of value to both the beer novice and beer enthusiast alike.
With the scarcity of the majority of the beers the price is very attractive, particularly once the to-the-door convenience and value-add information contained in each pack are factored into the equation.
As, as I savoured an unlabelled, hand-bottled De Glazen Toren Saison d’Erpe-mere on a very balmy Brisbane afternoon over the weekend courtesy of my last pack, something that I would otherwise have to travel to Belgium to do, I also realised that a Beer Mason pack makes an excellent Christmas gift as well….(that last sentence is just for members of my family who may read this.)
A BeerMasons pack is a definite ‘buy’ this Christmas…or any time.