Food & Wine
Have you noticed how most liquor stores and supermarkets display their wines separately according to grape variety, but stack all their beers together?
Why is it that? If shops can display their chardonnays and their pinot noirs on separate shelves, why can't they do the same with their golden lagers and their porters and stouts? Given the number of new brews coming on the market these days, both from home and overseas, I reckon it's high time stores helped customers by displaying beers according to style.
The fact is most supermarkets and chain-operated liquor stores do have a system for displaying their beers, but it's based on price rather than beer style. Over the years Kiwi supermarkets and liquor chains have worked with their major suppliers, the large brewers, to develop a system which divides beers into three price-related categories: budget, mainstream and premium. Beers are displayed strictly according to these categories, with premium brands – which include sub and super-premium – occupying the top shelves, mainstream beers just below and budget brands at the bottom.
The large brewers also use these categories to determine marketing budgets. While mainstream and premium brands attempt to foster customer loyalty with costly advertising campaigns and sport sponsorship, budget beers receive little or no promotion.
It's not unusual for a brand to move downmarket. Take Rheineck, for example. Once a heavily advertised, market-leading premium brew, these days it's an unloved budget brand.
It's much harder for any brand, be it a beer or anything else, to attempt the transition in the opposite direction. People's perceptions of a brand don't change quickly.
One beer brand which is currently seeking to establish a more upmarket image is Ranfurly. Named after the small Otago town, Ranfurly beer first hit the market in 1987 and has since sold well as a dollar-a-can price-fighter. Now, with its own television commercial and two new brews, the brand has set its sights on the more lucrative mainstream category.
The Ranfurly beers may be new but the theme of their advertising and branding is anything but. The television advert and new website (ranfurlybeer.co.nz) refer to a Ranfurly `Man Park' established in the future, but the accompanying images of so-called `real men' cavorting around the Otago high country are distinctly passe.
So, too, are the names of the beers, Station Pale Ale and Frontier Lager, and the tagline, "Brewed in the spirit of the early Otago pioneers" (despite coming from a brewery in Auckland), also seems decidedly retro in 2010.
As is usual in the mainstream category there's scant reference to flavour and ingredients. The term `naturally selected' features prominently on the packaging but it's meaningless marketing speak, and the description "clean, smooth and refreshingly crisp" on Frontier Lager could equally be applied to mineral water.
As for the beers, I could forgive all the dodgy branding if they had some character. But they don't. Weighing in at 4 per cent – standard strength for mainstream Kiwi beers – both are well brewed and fault free, but unfortunately they smell and taste exactly as you might expect of Kiwi beers from a generation ago. Sure there's a shade more caramelised malt flavour in the pale ale than the lager, but both beers are thin, sweet and bland.
Having tasted them, my wife – whose parents ran a King Country sheep farm back in the 70s – commented: "They remind me of the beers my Dad used to hand out at the end of shearing." That just about sums them up.
Back then they would probably have been called Ranfurly Gold and Ranfurly Draught.
If you fancy sampling some tasty craft beers while supporting a good cause, this Saturday afternoon Ye Olde Malthouse (1 Dodson St, Blenheim) will be holding a fundraising lunch in support of the Canterbury Earthquake Appeal.
The event kicks off at noon and will include a spit-roast meal, an auction of items donated by local companies and live music from Acoustasonic, Midge McCleary and Lilly Sullivan. Tickets are $50 and are available from Ye Olde Malthouse (035778348).
- The Marlborough Express
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