There’s been a lot of talk lately – both in beer blogs and on Twitter – about the Steamrail range of beers just released by Coles. All of it negative. But there has been one thing that has been noticeable by its absence is all this negativity. While they’re castigating the beers, no-one seems to say a word about how they actually taste. Which leads me to the inevitable conclusion – they haven’t even tried them yet.
So they’re disliking the image of the beer, rather than the actual beers themselves. Which I find a bit weird. And not dissimilar to the guy who chooses to drink Crown Lager because he thinks it makes him look cultured rather than drinking it because he likes the flavour.
Myself, I don’t drink for image. I drink for the flavour. I couldn’t care less who made the beer, all I judge the beer on is how it tastes. That’s why I don’t say I drink “craft beer” but rather that I drink “good beer”. And if CUB happen to crank out a dynamite hefeweizen one of the days (but I’m not expecting they will) I’ll happily drink it without the slightest feeling of guilt or shame.
Much of the objections stem from the fact that this is a big supermarket releasing a range of “craft beers”. Because the idea of “craft beer” is defined everything else other than the taste of the beer – who made it? Are they part owned by some big brewer? Do they make it themselves? Or is it contract brewed? Is it made in a big factory somewhere or in a garage in the middle of nowhere? Can I buy it everywhere or is it hard to find?.
But really, unless you were told it was contract brewed you would never. ever be able to taste that from a glass of the beer. Likewise the percentage of big brewer ownership or any number of other things that define “craft beer”. I get why brewers would be pissed off at this intrusion from Coles – they’ve built up this market from nothing and then once there’s a bit of money in it, this big supermarket chain comes waltzing in. If I was a brewer I’d be pissed off too.
But I’m not a brewer. I’m a consumer who just wants tasty beer. Which is not meant to be read as a defence of supermarkets entering this arena – I simply think they should be judged on the same merits as everybody else – what does the beer taste like? That’s why I happily write-off the Woolies Sail and Anchor range, because it is ordinary at best. If I never drink another bottle of that stuff I’ll be happy.
In fact, that Sail and Anchor range is the comparison most critics of Steamrail draw, which only further proves they haven’t tasted the beers. Because if they did, they’d realise that, for the most part, the comparison should be with James Squire. For two of the three beers are easily superior to Mr Squire’s range. The odd one out is the Ghost of Eyre pale ale, which has some very slight citrus flavour but is dominated by maltiness.
Much better is the Lucky Amber ale. I had some JS Amber Ale over Christmas and found it unpleasantly nutty. So much so that I very much regretted buying a six-pack of the stuff. The Steamrail amber dials down the nuttiness quite a bit, which lets a smidge of sweetness from the malt stick its head through.
But the true winner of the trio is the Gold Digger golden ale. I’ve never been much for this style because I find it pretty dull in the flavour stakes – the JS golden ale is a perfect example of this. But the Gold Digger surprised me with some lovely delicate fruity aromas and flavours, which danced lightly on my palate before slipping away rather than sitting there the whole time. I’d only bought one bottle of this and I immediately wished I’d bought a six-pack of it.
None of the above means that you have to like these beers. But it is fair to at least try them before laying the boot in.
Would I drink them again?: No to the pale, sometimes to the Amber and a big fat yes to the Gold Digger.
UPDATE: A wise man named William, whom I follow on Twitter, read this and offered a neat summation of things. A summation I think explained my point a bit more clearly than I did. In essense, he said it was okay to criticise the way the beer was being marketed without having tasted it but not okay to criticise the beer itself without knocking one back. And that’s what I was getting at – just in a more long-winded fashion.