I’m not one of those beer geeks who judges a beer based on its maker. Drawing on my previous experience, there are certain brewers I like, and there are certain brewers I don’t like, and so obviously with every beer I try, those feelings swim around in my head and cloud my judgement. I am, though, someone who knows what he likes, and at the end of the day, it’s taste that matters. If it tastes good, I’ll like it, and if it doesn’t, I’ll tell you.
The big brewers are aware that I’m not alone: that there is a group, if not a hoard, of increasingly discerning beer drinkers who are wanting more from their pint than a cheap way of artificially lowering social inhibitions. With ‘craft arm’ side-ventures, new marketing campaigns and special (overpriced) releases, the stalwarts of the Aussie beer industry are trying to tap into that growing generation of taste-seekers. Personally, I think it’s a wonderful thing that the big, popular boys are trying to play in the sandbox with the small cliques, and I am always looking forward to their next effort.
Lion Nathan’s latest effort to woo me bears an interesting business proposal: a joint project from Woolworth’s Liquor Group and Lion Nathan, an ale that will be available exclusively in Woolworth’s group liquor stores, called Hahn Harvest.
The marketing package claims that Harvest provides “the best of both worlds” by being a more flavoursome brew with low bitterness, because “Younger beer consumers…have sweeter taste preferences.” While I see that as a slight over-generalisation about younger palates, the concept of a beer to bridge the gap between the dry, low-carb lager space and the flavoursome world of ales intrigues me.
My first impressions are that Hahn Harvest is marginally more flavoursome at best, but any increase in flavour from Hahn’s regular lineup I would put down as a technicality of the fact that this is an ale, not a lager. In the company of ales, this is really quite tasteless. It does, though, fulfil the brief of providing a dominant sweetness, and a clear effort to reduce bitterness comes across in the palate.
I love a good sweet beer, but a ‘good sweet beer’ to me is generally a big, alcoholic monster, full of rich, complex malts that also manages to balance out its sweetness either with a gentle cleansing hop bitterness or a roasty, charred malt flavour in the case of stouts. Trying to reduce the bitterness of a 4.2% ABV beer will almost always end with it tasting slightly insipid, which is the case here; not so much the palate overall but the finish, which needs some balance.
But what do I know? I’m not the typical younger beer drinker, and Hahn Harvest is not aimed at being a craft beer in itself, but rather intends to be a gateway beer to the growing craft segment – something which is many years too late to appeal to me personally.
Thankfully, the good folks at Woolworth’s had sent me a case of their new product, so there was plenty to go around. I was more than happy to share the new brew with my friends and colleagues. So two six-packs of Hahn Harvest were distributed with the legend “free beer” but on the proviso that I wanted some decent feedback in return.
The sad truth is the feedback wasn’t great. Some of the more abrasive comments ranged from “A big nothing beer” to “It’s too sweet”. In fact, the “it’s too sweet” line came up quite often, making me question further the merits of targeting this product at a consumer who wants to drink beer, but without that beer being bitter.
The general idea I got was that the girls enjoyed the beer more than the boys, but also that a lot of those who didn’t like it blamed this on the fact that it is an ale, and they are more accustomed to crisp, drinkable lagers. When asked, though, if they would pay for this beer in shops, the response was often “no”.
Mark Shimmen, Beer & Cider Business Manager for Woolworth’s, says he knows the beer won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. The hope behind the project is that this beer will bridge the flavour gap – people with pre-existing taste preferences may not be won over – to entice more people into the growing craft segment.
While it’s a forward-thinking marketing philosophy and an admirable one, I find myself still questioning whether Hahn Harvest is the perfect manifestation of the concept.
As I see it, the dilemma boils down to this: most beer consumers will pay a certain amount for beer, and the ceiling is set pretty low. Those ‘craft beer drinkers’ who want more flavour and maybe even have a “sweeter taste preference” are also those who are willing to pay a bit more, which means they are deserting the big brewers in favour of local craft brewers and expensive imports, who have no choice but to charge a little more to cover their overheads.
In response, the big brewers can either invest more money in one brew, charge a premium for it, and potentially have it sitting on the shelves rejected by their regular fan base (for whom it’s too expensive) and snobby craft drinkers (for whom the packaging alone is a turnoff) alike; or they can produce beers that still fall below the cost threshold, but potentially don’t distinguish themselves enough in an increasingly diverse and flavoursome marketplace.
For me, Hahn Harvest treads the latter route. It’s an attempt to diversify Hahn’s beer range while still remaining in the affordable cost bracket. The new beer will definitely sell for a while for its novelty value, but I’m not sure it’s got the everyday appeal to stick around.
When Harvest hits stores prior to Easter we’ll see which consumers are drawn to it, and how many come back for more.
The official line…
Collaborative project between Lion Nathan & Woolworths Liquor Group
Background : Younger beer consumer’s (21-35) continually seek variety, choice and flavour in their beers, but they also have sweeter taste preferences.
Challenge : Develop a credible beer to provide a “bridge” from current lager styles, as an entry point to the growing “craft” segment.
This Hahn limited release offers a more flavoursome brew but with low bitterness, providing the best of both worlds. Thus, the Hahn brewers have broken the convention that says ales are bitter.
WHAT: Hahn Harvest / 4.2% ABV / 330ml bottle / 24 stubbies
WHEN: In stores prior to Easter 2012
WHERE: Limited release, available only at Woolworths Liquor, BWS, Dan Murphy’s and selected on premise venues.
The Hahn Brewers love finding ways to make beer even better. They have used the finest ingredients to create a very smooth, full flavoured Australian Ale, honey gold in colour with subtle hops, slightly fruity aroma and a nice balance of distinctive malt character and sweetness
Suggested Sell Prices – 6 packs $17, cases $46