So, CUB has announced its new and improved Crown Lager. I’m not sure whether to compare the multinational brewing company to the boy who cried wolf, or the painter that paints himself into a corner. Either way, CUB’s long-term over-hyping and soft deception around its ‘premium’ flagship seems to have finally caught up with it.
The media release below highlights the dilemma a company such as CUB finds itself in when it spends more than a decade telling Australia that it has been using “only the finest malt and Pride of Ringwood hops”: where is there to go when you decide you want to improve Australia’s Finest?
You can’t use better ingredients. ‘Finest’ is what’s called a superlative adjective, that is a word that describes the extreme quality of something. The finest is the finest, there isn’t a grade above it. So, when Crown Lager General Manager of Marketing, Richard Oppy now says that CUB is now “…making sure that we use the very best Australian ingredients”, we can only assume that means they were being a bit sloppy about ensuring it before, right? “This time we’re really using the finest ingredients. Really and truly, hand on our heart. We promise.”
No, what it means is that to relaunch the beer, the marketers just smear another layer of nonsense on top of the old, in this case its the unoriginal and meaningless gimmick of the single source ingredient.
We’ll look at that, but let’s first strip away the marketer’s hype for a minute and have a look at the beer.
A couple of years ago, back when CUB had staff that would answer questions in a meaningful way, I interviewed then Head Brewer, John Cozens, to get to the bottom of the oft-asked question, “is Crown Lager just Fosters in a different bottle?” John was (still is, I am sure) a great bloke, approachable, open and candid – or at least he gave a very good impersonation of someone who was open and honest. Needless to say with qualities like this, John has since moved on from SABMiller’s ‘new’ CUB. In any event, I put the question to him, “what made Crown Lager a premium beer compared to a beer such as Fosters or VB?”
What makes Crown a premium beer is not only the ingredients we use; we pay closer attention to them, to ensure we use the finest ingredients. We also have a second tier, if you like, of quality checking and tasting which goes on for that beer [Crown Lager], over and above what we do for all of our beers, quality is obviously paramount to that. There is additional tastings which are carried out on Crown just to make sure that what is coming through is up to our expectations. There are some additional maturations, there is an additional maturation period which we believe is, you know, part of the smoothness of Crown and that kind of quality feel about it and then there are some additional processing steps in it as well, which we feel, again, contributes to that. Add that to the fact that it’s in an iconic bottle etcetera and the pricing, all of which play a part in that, but – at the end of the day – it’s a beer which is treated differently through the whole production and packaging process and that’s what we sell as our flagship, Australian premium beer.
Now, that’s a brewer talking. He’s able to explain the technical but, arguably, marginal differences between the regular lager and the premium lager in a meaningful and reasonable way. ((It’s amazing isn’t it. Back when I could get an honest, reasonable and unambiguous answer to a reasonable question, even I couldn’t work up a rant on it. I miss those days)) That’s what Crown Lager was: largely the same beer, but with slight technical improvements and better presentation. They already used the finest ingredients and paid closer attention to them.
What is absent from John’s explanation is the sort of chronic overreaching that CUB’s marketers feel the need to add, such as the completely invented version of the beer’s history ((which they seem to have finally put out of its misery)). The differences between VB and Crown were unsexy, they were technical and related to brewing specifications and gradings and some minor process differences. But marketing, especially the over-aroused style employed by CUB, can’t sell technical so they invented a history based on rumour and no research and resorted to overwrought superlatives.
The problem is, when the marketers have already overused every superlative adjective to describe the beer, how can you convince anyone that the relaunched beer is new and improved, short of inventing new adjectives. “It’s Crown Lager, it’s excellefinest“? Hence the new farmer-in-the-field gimmick, designed to make people forget that Crown already apparently uses the ‘finest’ ingredients. Now its uses the finest ingredients from the winner of an X Factor for Barley Growers competition. According to Oppy this is a ‘specification’ and Crown is the only one that uses it. That’s not a hard thing to claim when the specification appears to have been made up.
But does CUB really need to resort to such gimmicks? Based on media reports, Richard Oppy has confirmed there will be no adjuncts, such as cane sugar, used in the new Crown Lager. Forget the provenance nonsense, this is a genuine change to the recipe. This really is a big deal, I would have thought. This should be the headline. But, of course, it can’t be. When their last campaign ran the tagline, “Time. The Fifth Ingredient” and boasted “The finest barley, yeast, water and Pride of Ringwood hops are matured with time under an extended lagering process” CUB’s marketers painted themselves into a corner. They can’t really come out now and say, “we have eliminated an ingredient that we were doing our very best not to tell you you about in the first place”.
Instead, it is presented in language that would give the casual reader the impression it has always used 100 per cent malt. Even industry rag The Shout, which ‘broke’ the story, managed to report the news about Crown being 100 per cent malt without reporting that this was actually new or that it represented a change to the recipe. After the VB debacle, CUB would be a little gun shy about drawing attention to a recipe change lest they upset their rusted on drinkers. Much better to give the impression it’s always been adjunct free and focus on a barley field instead.
I would love the chance to speak with the brewers to find out more about this aspect of the change and what it means to the beer and the brewing process, and whether they have also eliminated preservatives in the beer as they did with VB. I doubt the opportunity will arise however. Instead we will have to read the marketers in the media explaining the difference. And, as The Shout article shows, it’s pointless speaking to the marketers as they make sounds with little care for what the words they convey actually mean.
Below is the recent marketing copy for two CUB beers, one is the (now) all-malt Crown Lager, ‘Australia’s Finest Lager’, and the other is for Sun Chaser Lager, a new adjunct-rich, clear-bottled, low-flavoured lager. Can you pick which describes the all-malt beer that uses time as the fifth ingredient and which describes the latest exclusive-to-Coles throw-away brand?
“…slow brewed using 100% Australian grown barley to deliver a crisp, clean and refreshing taste…”
“…brew that uses 100 per cent Australian malt, drinkers will notice an even smoother, creamier taste…”
So readers, which one is 100 per cent malt and which is brewed with sugar? And can you tell me the difference between the two very different beers different based on reading the marketing copy? If the same words can mean two very different things, is one designed to be misleading or is it just accidentally so?
Anyway, it will be fascinating to try the new, all-malt version of Crown Lager and see what difference the changes actually make to the beer when it hits the shelves, while at the same time trying to dodge the nationwide torrent of nonsense that will accompany its release.
*needless to say, the author will not be a guest of CUB Chief Executive Officer, Ari Mervis, at the official re-launch of the new look Crown Lager at the Sydney Cricket Ground later this month.
Australia’s Finest Beer, Crown Lager Uses Australia’s Finest Ingredients
Crown Lager this month reaffirms its position as ‘Australia’s Finest’ beer with a renewed focus on quality and the very best locally grown ingredients that will be used exclusively for the brewing of its beer.
While Crown Lager has always been brewed using Australian Pride of Ringwood hops, the brewer will now have ‘first choice’ of these hops which will be personally selected each harvest by the Crown brew master from both Bushy Park in Tasmania and Myrtleford in Victoria.
Beginning with this year’s crop, Crown Lager will also hand select the best three barley farmers each year from a group of more than 2,000 so it knows exactly which farms its barley will come from ensuring it complies with Crown Lager’s strict quality specifications, the highest in Australia, making it a superior brew.
Crown Lager General Manager of Marketing, Richard Oppy said, “Crown Lager is the only brand in Australia that uses this barley specification. Crown Lager has always been Australia’s finest brew and we’re making sure that we use the very best Australian ingredients.”
With the focus firmly on the quality of the Crown Lager brew that uses 100 per cent Australian malt, drinkers will notice an even smoother, creamier taste. It will still be the same taste profile Crown Lager fans know and love but they’ll also enjoy Australia’s finest beer knowing they are drinking only the very best local Australian ingredients.
Crown Lager will also unveil new packaging and updated branding as part of the relaunch, with newly branded stock rolling out from the brewery from mid-July.