Carlton & United Breweries confirmed this morning that they will be brewing VB to its former ABV of 4.9% in an attempt to appease disgruntled loyal VB drinkers and return the iconic brand to the number one selling Australian beer.
In what is described by Chief Marketing Officer, Andy Gibson as “a victory for the beer drinkers of Australia” VB will also revert to the highly recognisable green and white livery of old as well as returning the words ‘Victoria Bitter’ to the labelling. In what will also be a boon to the estate of the late John Mellion, CUB will also revive the popular “Matter of fact – I’ve got it now!” advertising tagline and series of TV commercials.
What’s the big deal? Well, as I have written on Brews News previously and expressed in interviews and on Radio Brews News, it is this writer’s belief that very few ‘loyal VB drinkers’ could pick the difference between VB and Melbourne Bitter or Foster’s Lager in a blind tasting, let alone detect the difference between a 4.6% and 4.9% ABV VB. It is fairly common knowledge that brewers are allowed, by law, a margin of +/- .02% in the finished beer so that a VB (when it was ‘real’) at 4.9% could have been anything between 4.7 and 5.1% ABV and they couldn’t pick it then – they cannot pick it now.
It could fairly be argued that any business capable of producing beer of any quality would never willingly or deliberately mess with a proven formula (remember, not long ago 1 in every 4 beers drunk in this land was a VB) in order to decrease sales and alienate drinkers. When CUB announced the change in ABV, to save millions in excise, they promised that the taste would not change.
I believe them. I imagine someone at the testing table would have had someone tap them on the shoulder and whisper; “If you do a ‘New Coke’ on this one, I will personally punch seven different types of tish out of you before I drop your arse off at Centrelink” so as not to mess with what was still an extremely popular beer. So, if you concur with the supposition that the taste DID NOT CHANGE AT ALL when the alcohol level went south, what, then, caused VB drinkers to get so bent out of shape?
The ABV was not the significant change. What changed, at around the same time, was the look of the can, the tone of the advertising and, most significantly, the very name of the product. The ‘Victoria Bitter’ was replaced by the abbreviation VB and it is fair to assume that this was seen by some as a cynical attempt to trick those Northerners into drinking a Victorian beer. The white rings around the top and bottom of the can and the stubby labels had disappeared years earlier but many would have seen this as a ‘job lot’ shift in direction for the masses.
The new ads featured a parade celebrating ‘average blokes’ (The Regulars) like butchers, nerds-with-hot-wives, farmers and historical re-enactors marching alongside world famous cricketers and rugby league players striding under their various banners up a hill and past Molly Meldrum and Greg Evans to the pub where they all shared a VB. If you’re sitting there scratching your head as you read this, just imagine the headache the ‘average’ VB drinker worked up trying to work it out. Matter of fact, I’ve got one now.
Many must have perceived VB to be attempting to move away from who the drinker thought he was – loyal, steadfast, true and deserving of the best cold beer for his hard earned thirst. It was a short step, then, for these blokes to equate the move away from its original marketing to a feeling that ‘they’ve buggered around with it and it doesn’t taste the same anymore’. Many more must have felt that CUB had ‘retired’ John Mellion and the voice that will forever be associated with VB to replace him with a bunch of ‘Nevilles’ who’d had their arm up a cow, had ‘peaked in high school’ and had names ending in’Azza’ (G’day, Dazza, Shazza, Wazza and Bazza) As the ‘kids’ would say, “WTF?!”
Today, CUB pulled a ‘hand-brake 180’ and admitted that they had made a complete arse-up debacle of the VB brand. The taste, which hadn’t changed (and Media Releases confirmed) would be changed back from what we didn’t change to what it was before they didn’t change it and John Mellion would metaphorically stride boldly back into that corner pub and shake your hand til head hurt then share a foamy pot of the good stuff with you and all your mates.
The Meat Tray Winners, Blokes Who Took a Sickie to be Here and the Cashed-Up Bogans will be fist-pumping, high-fiving and singing Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi! til their voices give out and they end the night arm-in-arm singin’ Khe Sahn as last drinks are called. Bless their little cotton singlets.
*Author’s note; Yes, it is true. In my younger days I did appear in The Sun newspaper (Thursday January 30, 1986; page 4) and People Magazine (March 10, 1986; page 68) in a VB singlet, having constructed a 2 metre high staue of Ned Kelly out of 2372 VB cans.