Recent discussion on this site and in other forums about beer provenance and brand ownership has revived the argument that ‘Big Beer’ will, at every opportunity, ‘cheapen’ the product. This recent article shares Sam Caligione’s thoughts on the factory-brewery’s ability to mass-produce a previously small batch beer and at a significantly discounted price, thus disadvantaging the true ‘indie craft brewer’.
Here in Australia we have seen the acquisition of the Little Creatures brand by multi-national brewer Lionco and the subsequent disquiet with regard to the way in which some drinkers view the brand now. Many, it would seem, are voting with their pockets and making a statement about where they see the future of craft beer in this country. Many again have no qualms about their favourite having a change of faces in the boardroom and rightly expect their chosen brew to taste the same as it did when it was independently owned.
But for some, the temptation to imprint their own prejudices upon the brand is too great. Add to this the internet factor where previously quietly muttered thoughts are now magnified, amplified and spread to a wider audience and before you can say ‘macro-swill’ there can be the impression that things are no longer as they were.
In the case of Little Creatures Pale Ale, the brewery’s first and still flagship beer, this chatter can seriously damage a brand unfairly. Brews News spoke to Head Brewer, Russel Gosling to set the story straight once and for all. Read on and, if you’re one who has stopped enjoying the beer because you’re convinced that the beer is no longer brewed the way it always was, perhaps a change of mind is warranted.
To begin, Russel took the issue of recipe alteration and ABV decrease and smacked it straight out of the park; “I can confirm that the ABV has not dropped and neither has the recipe changed!” Take that, haters!
“We at Little Creatures consider all our Beers to be WIP and so we continually explore [ways in which to improve the process] continually. As brewers, we have lots of ‘beer conversations’ to assess the product and make improvements. The major modifications occurs when we receive new seasons materials – we’ll slowly but surely adjust things until we get the product where we want it and this is mainly centred on hops: we purchase from both hemispheres (US/ANZ) and so we tweak as we phase in and out of the harvests.”
Previous in-depth discussions with former Head Brewer, Alex Troncoso (over several fine ales) confirms the thinking of the Little Creatures team that, while the beer may be tweaked to allow the hops to sing louder or the dry-hopping to be fine-tuned to improve the end result, it may not really be the beer that has changed. In the same way that our first hot n’ spicy vindaloo left us gasping for air and seeking the conveniences, but we soon acclimatised to the big, bold and firey flavours, so too can our palate adapt to big, bold beer.
For many of us weaned on thin, moderately-hopped yellow ‘fizz’, a beer like Little Creatures Pale Ale was something of an awakening. The hop aroma – BANG! The rich caramel notes from the malt – WOW! That bitter-sweet back-end smack of freshness and bitterness – PHEW! We were discovering flavour. If I had 50 cents for every drinker who has told me that “it used to be really hoppy and ‘big’ but not so much anymore”, well, I’d have $413.50 but I’d also have very large picture gallery of drinkers who truly think that the beer has changed without realising that their threshold for hops may have been the thing that changed.
Gosling finished by putting a few important things in perspective.” I have been with the business for almost 10 years and I’ve seen no major recipe changes during this time (lots of plant changes though!) – we’re just humble Craft Brewers reacting to new materials (as we should) in order to fine tune our recipes so that we make the best beer we can.”
The Little Creatures brew team still gather every Tuesday to taste-test the beers, assess the flavour, aroma, bitterness and hopping and discuss and dissect the changes the beer needs to remain the iconic example of the classic American Pale Ale style. By all means, stop drinking it if you prefer to support small, family-owned or local Australian businesses – that’s your choice. But don’t forsake a beer as good as Little Creatures Pale Ale because you’re convinced it has been ‘dumbed down’ by its new masters.
Take inspiration from the Little Creatures brewers and get some mates together for a Tuesday Tasting. You might just be pleasantly surprised.