Oh, dear. It seems that I have somehow managed to upset someone at SABMiller/CUB/Matilda Bay.
There was a time, not so long ago, when I pretty much earned silver frequent flyer status on the back of being flown around the country by CUB to listen to Amway-like pitches about their new beers and campaigns. These days I can’t even crack an invite to the launch of their new beers in my own back yard, let alone the cab fare to get me there…or, it seems, even a copy of the media releases.
C’est la vie.
Anyway, when Matilda Bay’s Scott Vincent and his PR posse ventured up to Brisbane last Thursday to launch their new range at a glittering event at the Regatta Hotel, I wasn’t there. But on Saturday I managed to get myself across town by Council bus to try them on my own, without the helpful guidance of a phalanx of PR peeps, the menu by the local celebrity chef or the colourful insights provided by the head brewer.
The tap-only beers that were launched are Ruby Tuesday Amber Ale and Little Ripper Sparkling Lager.
Ruby Tuesday is an interesting beer. A beautiful mahogany, it’s a nicely-drinking beer with a slightly lighter body than the depth of colour would suggest but with a lingering earthy malt finish. As a guide, it’s close in nature to the James Squire Amber Ale. It lends itself nicely to the sort of mild winter’s day that Brisbane enjoys at this time of year and would pair very well with a lamb shank or juicy steak.
Given the brewery’s recent fixation with lagers (more on that below), it’s perhaps surprising that Matilda Bay didn’t seek to resurrect the excellent Vienna Lager, Rooftop Red, that was deleted a few years ago. Despite being highly regarded and with a cult following, Rooftop never reached the level deemed necessary to warrant its survival. Perhaps it came too early in the current craft beer wave, or perhaps it was being marketed in the days of CUB’s portfolio approach, when the one rep sold wine as well as mainstream beer and the Matilda Bay range. Back then a red and malty lager may have been too hard a sell and the market too small. Whatever the reason it was retired and, with a similar intensity, Ruby Tuesday nicely fills that gap in the Matilda Bay line-up.
Which brings us to Little Ripper Sparkling Lager. One part of Matilda Bay’s portfolio that didn’t seem to have an obvious gap is the pale lager area. With the release last year of Minimum Chips, which joined Bohemian Pilsner and Big Helga, Matilda Bay seemed to be pretty well sorted for golden lagers. Especially with each successive release offering less of a challenge for Australia’s developing beer palates.
Last year’s Minimum Chips was described as a 4.7% “classic golden lager, using pale and crystal malts and producing a mild malty palate” made with hops “producing spicy stone fruit aromatics”. This year those who received the media release were informed that Little Ripper is a “a malt-driven sparkling lager crafted with the Pacifica hops”. On reading those, I’m not quite sure where the gap lies
It’s certainly a drinkable, if light-flavoured, pale lager. Based on a side-by-side tasting with the ‘mild malty palate’ of Minimum Chips Golden Lager, the malt isn’t doing much driving at all in Little Ripper, which is a step down in body and flavour even from the summer sessional designed for fish and chips.
Unfortunately, those who still have the opportunity to ask questions of Matilda Bay don’t seem to be willing to. No-one appears to have asked what the difference is or even what a ‘sparkling lager’ is. While Ruby Tuesday has been labelled with the existing style description, amber ale, Little Ripper’s description does not appear in the Australian International Beer Awards style guidelines and seems not to be a recognised style.
It’s curious that in announcing Matilda Bay’s expanding range to The Shout in February, marketing man Jamie Fox described the Australian craft beer market as being somewhat “one-dimensional”, “with pale ales making up 80 per cent of the mix”. Yet, one of the first beers in Matilda Bay’s much-vaunted seasonal and one-off range, a range apparently designed to add to craft beer diversity, appears to draw its cues from the mainstream pale lager category.
And with names such as Lager Rita and The Mexican trademarked after Little Ripper and Ruby Tuesday, you really wonder what Matilda Bay has in store for us next. Maybe someone should ask?
Matilda Bay has at least also trademarked Red Revolution and Moose on the Loose in the last week, which are the names of excellent one-offs that have been available at their consumer-facing Port Melbourne brewery recently, so it’s not all downhill from here. Hopefully we can watch out for these excellent beers breaking out from the Port Melbourne bar some time soon. I await the media release announcing their launch.