Guest blog: Cheers, Panhead

 

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When I got offered this from a fellow Palmerston North beer nerd, I figured saying no would be unchur. So, here it is.

By Jason Franssen

As I sit here with a can of the best pale ale in New Zealand right now, I reflect on the news that has come from one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing breweries.

If you have been living under a rock, Panhead Custom Ales announced this morning they have joined Lion, alongside Emersons, Little Creatures and other such crafties that have seemingly ‘sold out’ to Lion, which I might add are the current champion brewery of New Zealand.

Before I carry on, I have no affiliation to either side in this and would like to put on the record that I think Mike Neilson’s decision to become part of one of the biggest beverage manufacturers in the southern hemisphere, with one of the biggest distribution arms, is AWESOME. Well done on expanding your brand, expanding where people can get your beer and making a few coins in the same instance.

I have read some pretty scathing comments today both on social media and on a particular news site – and wow. Can people not be happy that someone in little old New Zealand has actually done something really good for the beer and brewing scene? Can we not be happy they have taken on a new exciting chapter in their business? Why do we think that said business belongs to us?

FullSizeRender (4)In speaking with other home brewers (and a contract brewer) it was put to me that (Hat Tip, Garth from Big Growler) when a brewery “sells out” it’s much like Nirvana when they signed up to their big label and released probably their best known album, Nevermind. They were given creative licence, capital and access to a bigger market. Is that not what has happened to fellow Priders, Emersons? What about that new purpos-built brewery they have, all paid for by “selling out”? What about being able to go into your local Lion-tied bar and have a decent beer, like an 1812? Or Bookbinder? It’s pretty awesome, right?

Add to that the staples from Panhead: Supercharger, Port Road Pils, Johhny Octane or Vandal.

‘What about recipe changes?’ I hear you say? Really? How often do breweries change their recipes to accommodate changes in their base ingredients, grains, hops or water. How about Supercharger being a different beer from when it was first released? Or how about the best known IPA in the world (Ballast Points Sculpin) being different from when it was first created on a home brew scale?

Stop being afraid of change. Embrace it. It’s really not that bad.

This malarkey of ‘selling out’ needs to stop. Being successful isn’t a bad thing. Being able to grow the market for decent beer in an ever-growing market is a good thing. Surely having more access to decent beer is a good thing.

Cheers to you, Mike and Panhead. I’ll still buy your cans of Supercharger and enjoy every single last drop. I’ll still look forward to your new releases. I’ll still come see your stand at beer festivals. I’ll support you for having the balls to be one of the ones to go with what makes sense to you and the Panhead brand.

Cheers to you, and taking that step to help grow beer in New Zealand. Cheers to spreading your brand and beer to more places than you could have by yourself.

*Jason Fraansen is commonly known as ManawaBrew on social media, and has recently taken on the role of Overlord of the Palmersotn North chapter of SOBA. All opinions are his. 

Moments

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Sometimes in life, there are moments when the only right thing to do is lean against a wall, look at what is in front of you, and smile. They are the moments when you forget about the rubbish weather, that bill you know is coming in the post, the fear of business happenings impacting your job, and instead take solace from the clusterfuck life can be by embracing the beauty of little things.

I got the opportunity to run a beer tasting for Beer Without Borders at The Celtic Inn in Palmerston North last night, the first of what will hopefully become a monthly happening. (Disclaimer: I got paid). Twenty-ish people got to enjoy seven beers, as long as they could put up with me jabbering about them for a minute or so. Beer events are thin on the ground in the place colloquially known as Palmy, so many of the local beer nerds turned out. There were also a few I had never met, including a couple who said they used to be regulars at the Regional Wines and Spirits tastings Geoff Griggs is often called in to run. A move to Palmy for work put the kibosh on them attending those tastings, so a tasting at an Irish pub run by someone with not even a modicum of Geoff’s knowledge and talent was the next best thing.

The beers were great, ranging from Ballast Point Mango Even Keel to the 2012 vintage of Green Flash’s barleywine. A couple American-brewed IPAs, a barrel-aged Belgian brown thing, and a milk stout were also in the mix – all beers I expected the crowd to love – so it was a pleasant surprise when Bellerose Bière Blonde Extra was the people’s pick of the night. I have been a big fan of it for a long time, so was glad to see a few more people jump on the same bandwagon.

But it was about five beers in, when everyone was cradling their glasses of barleywine, when I had my favourite moment of the night. I had talked to a few people about what a barleywine actually was, taken a quick toilet break and finished tidying up the area where I was keeping all the beer. I kept off the barleywine (a responsible thing for someone who was driving home), but got myself a nip of Bellerose and watched. Complete strangers talked to each other, all the while enjoying some great beer in a Lion-tied bar, in a city almost anyone would say was not the place to go if you wanted to expand the beer-orientated parts of your mind. I honestly never expected to see something like that happen in Palmy; previous beer festivals in the city, which aimed to push the responsible drinking of lots of different types of good beer, have often turned into parties where punters simply sink gallons of That Thing You Always Drink. But not last night.

I leaned back against the wall. Took a sip of beer. Everything else in life – the storm raging outside, the bill, the job – did not matter. It was a simple. Enjoyable. Beautiful, in it’s own beery way.

And I smiled.

What the hell happened to Boundary Road?

 

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Who remembers Brian “Spike” Buckowski? You know, the guy whose serious approach in this YouTube video was well at odds with the ‘take the piss’ voiceover. It seems so long ago, those days when his mug was emblazoned across the beginning of any video you tried to watch online. He was there because he was working with New Zealand brewing company Boundary Road Brewing on a series of beers, released under the moniker The Resident.

Boundary Road was in the news relatively recently, but not for a good reason. In an announcement to the NZX, Moa Brewing Company proudly touted it has knocked Boundary Road – the brewing arm of booze giant Independent Liquor – off its perch as the third-biggest “craft beer brand” in New Zealand.

Never minding the bollocks about what makes a brand “big” – a safe punt would be supermarket sales data – the question needs to be answered: how did such a big brand get its market share gobbled up? Because, by some accounts, Boundary Road were doing everything a craft beer brand should be doing.

Boundary Road properly hit the market in 2011 when it decided to undertake “an aggressive market entry” into the “retail tap market” – in English, supplying bars with money/equipment/stuff in exchange for exclusive pouring rights. While that was the target for the products it brews under licence, like Kingfisher and Carlsberg, it also launched a dizzyingly large range of beers targeting the same people who would buy Mac’s and Monteith’s.  RateBeer shows at least 20 beers were released under the Boundary Road brand, ranging from a spiced rum ale to a IIPA. That does not seem too weird, as RateBeer has 8 Wired have releasing 63 beers and Yeastie Boys having 74 to their name.

Another similarity Boundary Road had to those two darlings of the New Zealand brewing scene was collaboration. I was hoping The Resident series would become a regular thing after Spike’s work. Sure, the beers were not amazing. But I remember the red rye IPA being better than anything Boundary Road had already released. If they could get other brewers to join in, it could have been a good experience for Boundary Road, the brewer and drinkers in New Zealand.

Now Boundary Road grew fast. Backed by the big bucks of Japanese brewing giant Asahi, its beer started turning up everywhere. Bars stocked it. Cafes stocked it. Supermarket shelves were packed to the proverbial rafters with cans of Mumbo Jumbo, 500mL bottles of Stolen Base and 12-packs of The Chosen One. It was no surprise they quickly shuffled into third place in the Who Sells The Most race.

So, why did it all not catch on for Boundary Road? Why could they get into third so quickly, yet have now dropped off the podium? Surely a big range, clever branding and a programme of collaborations would see them rise above Mac’s and Monteith’s?

The problem, in my opinion, is very simple. It all comes down to that classic economics indicator – the benefit-cost ratio. Now I know the good Doctor of Journalism once said ‘don’t judge a taco by its price’. However, Cheap will usually be Shit. There are outliers – I have a weakness for 500mL cans of DAB at $2.50 a pop – but Boundary Road’s 500mL bottles are not in that category. I would rather eat a soggy taco than have another bottle of Stolen Base (my opinion on the beer is a smidge more negative than Greig’s). Benefit-cost is the reason I will happily buy a six-pack of Mac’s great Green Beret IPA at $11 a pop over the $22 boxes of Panhead Supercharger if I am heading to a party – #partylikeajournalist – and why I will pay $9.50 for a pint of Emerson’s 1812 at my local instead of getting a Guinness for $8.50.

And no doubt it is at least part of the reason why people will buy a 12-pack of Moa Lager for $24 instead of a 12-pack of Boundary Road The Chosen One for $22.

Postscript

In case you have not heard, Beer Without Borders are bringing their tasting programme to Palmerston North – and they have asked me to help. The first tasting is on Tuesday, and will feature some 2013 Green Flash barleywine (as rare as a Jehovah’s Witness without a Sign of the Times magazine) and me talking smack. Pick up a ticket here.

Further reading

*Phil Cook’s look at that time Boundary Road/Independent Liquor got into the beer importing game is good. And yes, do read the comments. It is interesting to now see that BrewDog is being imported by Beertique, and Samuel Adams is nowhere to be seen.

*Michael Donaldson has a good look at Moa’s recent business dealings here, including the quiet decision to shuffle away from the For The Boys marketing scheme to an outdoors-aligned image. I am all for them moving away from sexist schlock to something less aggravating. It is just a pity it appears they may have breached a trademark when naming its latest offering.

Soundtrack

*I have been a fan of Louis Knuxx’s flow since seeing him play at Great Job! to support @peace. His latest album Tiny Warm Hearts is perfect for those cool rainy May Saturdays. His great korero with RNZ’s Music 101 is also worthwhile listening.