History tells us that, as punishment for stealing supplies to brew beer, Australia’s first recognised brewer James Squire was sentenced to three hundred lashes. The story continues that the total was commuted to half that number once the product of the ill-gotten gains was tasted. It’s fair to say that the ‘truth’ probably lies somewhere in between.
Fast forward 200 years and James Squire, through his name association with The Malt Shovel Brewery, has returned the favour and provided drinkers with a pale ale bearing the marks of his misdemeanour. One Fifty Lashes might sound like that Trash Metal Post Punk Fusion band to which your teenager listens just a bit too loudly but it is, in fact, the latest addition to the regular range of beers under the James Squire label.
Pouring already for a few months at selected James Squire Brewhouses, it launched in bottles this month with the brew team of Chuck Hahn and Tony Jones making a whistle-stop tour to introduce the newest member of the family. Fans of these very approachable beers will see it sit well as an ale alternative to the Sundown Lager or as a precursor to the Golden Ale and thence a stepping stone to the brewery’s Amber Ale and Porter. While some may question the need for another ‘entry level’ or ‘gateway’ ale in Lion’s already bulging portfolio that includes the aforementioned as well as Kosciusko Pale Ale, it is certainly beneficial for the World of Good Beer that more brands are out to catch those looking for a change from the mass produced mainstream offerings.
So how then do we catch them? What is required in order to hook in a newbie? Has the original James Squire anything to do with his modern day’s namesake? Does history sell beer? If history is to be believed, and James Squire really did have his sentence reduced based on the quality of his fine ale, what verdict might his overlords have passed upon his modern day efforts?
Some of these questions have been answered by the fact that Lion Brewing have stuck with the James Squire stories as a means of differentiating their brands. Chuck Hahn speaks with fondness of his ‘adoption’ of the colourful convict figure after Lion was offered the pitch as a means of promoting their stable of ‘premium’ brands and knocked it back. Chuck was quick to swoop on the opportunity to rename his Hahn Brewery the Malt Shovel and the rest, as they say, is … well, history.
He also fondly recalls the times when punters have congratulated him and his team on ‘creating’ a character with so much background, unaware that there really did exist a man whose name now graces the labels of a range of seven beers. So where does history sit when it comes to selling beer? Does what James Squire achieved in the harshest of early colonial times bear any correlation to what his name-sake brewers are doing today?
As Chuck revealed to Radio Brews News recently, if he were to brew his Amber Ale in a form close to James Squire’s own original recipe, “it would be dark and cloudy and flat and no bugger would buy it!” Using James Squire the convict, brewer, constable and juggler of multiple mistresses as a platform for your brand is really no different to basing your marketing on slow-motion Clydesdale horses, talking Boonie dolls or blokes with an innate inability to build boats.
It puts a ‘face’ to your beer and can also imbue it with a personality that can steer the reaching arm of the purchaser towards your six-pack. It goes towards creating that emotional attachment of which we so often speak and gives the buyer a story to tell as he drinks with his inquisitive mates. Remember that Lion (through Malt Shovel) has dedicated very little budget to TV advertising of the Squire range and, apart from some print and online presence, has really allowed the beer to stand or fall on its merits alone. And, perhaps, the story on the label.
As to one of the original contentions of this piece; what would Squire’s contemporaries think of the modern version of his beers? You can’t help but wonder if, after tasting the fresh, clean, refreshing and carbonated 2011 version, they’d offer to reinstate the original sentence for what he originally served up! “And, while we’re at it, we’ve got a fresh 150 lashes for the marketing bloke who dreamed up low-carb beer.”
I’ll drink to that.