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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

And finally... Bondi Beer!

I can't really write any more on this blog until I've closed the story of Bondi Beer.

The story so far: in December I saw an appalling advertorial in The Grocer magazine for a beer called Bondi, which was calling itself a craft beer. I wrote a scathing blog post about it, assuming (I could find very few details about it online) that it was another cynical attempt to move into craft territory by a big brewer. I found a beer called Bondi online being promoted by Paris Hilton and obviously thought it was the same beer. (It wasn't - turns out that was a different brand, different company, with the same name from the same country!)

Days later, the owner of Bondi beer contacted me. He was pretty angry and asked me to take the piece down. At first I resisted, and then I realised that this was in fact a very small company and that they were trying to do the right thing. They admitted the advertorial was rubbish and were very upset at the way it had been heavily edited. They asked me to meet them and taste the beer, and I agreed. I took my original post down - the first time I have ever done so - and explained why.

I've owed them this write-up ever since, but as you can see, I've hardly been blogging, because I've been so busy up against book deadlines. I could have slipped this post in at a time when this blog wasn't really active, but I thought that would be the equivalent of trying to bury bad news at a time no one would see it. I wanted to wait until this blog was properly active again to guarantee this would reach my full audience. Sorry that has taken so long.

I met the Bondi guys in the fantastic Porterhouse in Covent Garden, which stocks their beer. We had a few beers and made peace. It was a good meeting. And it was a very, very good beer. Bondi is a four per cent lager that does not taste like you'd expect a four per cent lager with Australian branding to taste. It is contract-brewed in the Czech Republic, and it shows. There's a brilliant Saaz hop character on the nose, bready and grassy, and a perfect balance of flavour, with proper body, a good buzzy finish, and yet the crisp refreshment of a good lager. It drinks way over four per cent - you'd guess at five, easily - so it's very satisfying at such a low ABV.

I would heartily recommend this beer to anyone. I wouldn't call it a 'craft' beer, as the advertorial originally did, but it's a far better lager than any of the main commercial brands.

And that's it, apart from two caveats.

One, I'm not writing this because Bondi asked me to. I promised them I would, and that was four months ago. They've put no pressure on me at all to get this post up here. I'm not saying it's a great beer because anyone has told me I have to, I'm saying it because it's a great beer, and if it wasn't, I'd say that too. The only reason this didn't appear before now is that I haven't had time to blog about anything until the last week or so.

Two, in my defence, I just want to reiterate one point given that I took my original post down. A few commenters have been very keen for me to issue this clarification. One or two have accused me of slagging off a beer without having tasted it. I never did that. In my original post, I made no mention at all of the taste of the beer. I was slagging off the marketing - something I went way over the top with and regret in retrospect - but I make a professional point of not dissing a beer's character without tasting it. (I took a similar approach with previous posts dissing the launches of Stella Black and Stella Cidre, following up with posts about the drinks themselves when I was able to try them).

Now I have tasted Bondi, I'm more than happy to talk about how good the beer is. I still think the launch marketing approach was ill-advised, and we talked about that too. The best thing Bondi can do is forget the jargon and sloganeering, and just put all their effort into trying to get beer into people's hands.

I wish them all the luck in the world in replacing other Aussie beers on British bars.

10 comments:

Owen said...

" I wouldn't call it a 'craft' beer, as the advertorial originally did"

Why not?

Pete Brown said...

Hmm... good question Owen. I'm not sure I have the right answer, it's just a feeling.

If you really, really wanted to call Bondi craft beer I guess you could, but it is still a mainstream lager (albeit a very good one) and I don't think the craft label would do them any favours. They're not really aiming at the craft beer drinker, and I think it sets up an expectation of something else. There's this other phrase buzzing around the pub industry which is already quite devalued - 'world beer' - which in its original sense means lagers that are a cut above mainstream brands and have an interesting provenance. That just felt a bit more like what we have here.

Owen said...

Thanks for the honest answer, Pete.

Perhaps I'm being too literal, but I think of craft (slightly troubled that my phone capitalised it) as a property of the manner of production rather than marketing.

Even on that level, contract brewing must struggle to fit, but I was curious as to how you'd arrived at the same conclusion.

Justin Rivett said...

Interesting post Pete.

We've spoken to the good people at Bondi several times now, and it's really hard to see where the beer sits in the current market. The quality is way above that of mass market products, but as is the case with the English craft lagers that we've tried to sell in the past, I'm not sure the lager drinker is ready to move outside the heavily marketed and promoted big brand umbrella. That leaves you with a small band of what we could call 'Lager Enthusiasts' who tend to buy US or German products, and would probably buy into the flavour of Bondi if not the brand.

I don't know what the answer is really, it's a shame that the mainstream drinker isn't more open to a better product rather than a more expensively marketed one, but it seems name carries more weight than taste for a lot of people.

I wish Barry and his team all the best with Bondi, and look forward to seeing them again some time.

Justin
Liberty Beer.

Martyn Cornell said...

Hmmm - you can take a lager drinker to a decent lager, but I suspect you can't make him drink it. This is not meant to be as insulting as it's going to sound, but mainstream lager drinkers aren't in it fpr the taste anyway: they're there for the sociability of the pub, the slight buzz of the alcohol, the feeling part of a tribe, and a host of other things. And if that's what they want to buy into with the money they spend on a mainstream lager, it's entirely their right. Indeed, it's extremely presumptuous of us to say: "You don't want to drink that - you want to drink this!"

Chris said...

It's craft beer in the original American sense, though, I assume? Not wanting to get bogged down in the minutiae of what the Brewers' Association considers craft this week.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, Justin & Martin, I'd guess that for better or worse, the first question a mainstream lager drinker would have is: How much is a pint?

If Bondi can answer "same as (or not much more than) that $bigbrandlager in your hand" then they'll have a chance in the mainstream. Some people will taste the difference and look for it in the future.

As it is, the lack of good lager in good UK pubs says more about the closed mindedness of the beer culture we've bred here, there are far too many pubs with a good range of real ale that serve nasty lager. That surely should be some kind of opening for Bondi.

Ross Bennie said...

~Thanks Pete, must catch up, some new branding etc happening. Really appreciate the balanced view.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Just got around to reading this post having spent a week drinking craft lager in the Caribbean. ( 10 Saints " hand-crafted beer aged in rum casks " from Barbados.Frankly it tasted like any other hot climate lager. )
Thanks for the update and fair play for keeping to your word.

py0 said...

I hate to say it, but if I had to come up with a name for a beer that represented lowest common denominator, easy drinking, brewed for refreshment not taste, stereotypical beach bum Aussie pseudo-Fosters, I probably couldn't come up with a better name than "Bondi".

Which is apparently the diametric opposite of the image they are actually trying to present. Unfortunate, that.