Breweries take creative licence

22:34, Mar 19 2013
The Sunday Star-Times' beer columnist, Michael Donaldson.

Last week I got one of my usual email newsletters from liquor outlet Glengarry. Among the special offers was a video spruiking a new range of beer from Hancocks & Co. Sadly I watched it.

''Hancock & Co is actually one of New Zealand's oldest craft brewery brands,'' said brand manager Riccardo Nardi. Hmmm. Not sure about that.

Their website says company founder Thomas Hancock was New Zealand's ''original craft brewer''. Nonsense. To say anyone was ''craft'' brewing in 1859, when Hancock started, is gibberish - like saying Alexander Graham Bell was the first mobile phone manufacturer. The term simply didn't exist. And even if it did, to say Hancock was the ''original'' is a plain lie.

The first craft brewer (if you must use that term in your promos) has to be either Captain Cook or Joel Polack, who set up our first brewery in the 1830s.

Nardi went on: ''...we've relaunched the beer as a simple ....''  Relaunched? C'mon guys. You haven't made beer for 100 years. I love to see new breweries and want them to succeed. And I understand a good backstory is integral to the brand, but what Hancocks is peddling is a fairy story.

The truth is, in 1859 Thomas Hancock bought the Captain Cook Inn, on Auckland's Khyber Pass Rd, and he brewed beer out the back. The site eventually became,  after a series of mergers and rationalisations, Lion Breweries. So yes, Hancock & Co brewed beer and was part of the creation of of Lion. And Hancock's beer was apparently excellent. But it was also a very long time ago.

The company ditched brewing and moved into retail, owning pubs and liquor outlets. It merged with Glengarry 20-odd years ago. Glengarry is a pretty big liquor chain in Auckland, and has three stores in Wellington and I can see why it would want a ''house brand'' of beer. The hardest thing for any start-up brewery is getting distribution and Hancock & Co, by dint of access to a popular chain, will get good exposure.

If the beer's good enough, people will buy it, the brand will grow, but bending history does nothing to improve the flavour.

I see one of Hancock's beers is called Bismark, a sweet brown ale. I find this kind of sad, considering the original Hancock & Co was, in 1900, the first in New Zealand to brew a bright, clear lager, which it called Bismark. The new Hancock story, like the new Bismark, bears only passing resemblance to the original.

On this theme, DB Breweries-owned brand Monteith's is about to launch a TV advertisement that promises to ''narrate the history of Monteith's''. Marketing manager Jennie Macindoe hopes the ad will ''entertain viewers with a creative depiction of the history and heritage of Monteith's''. 

I just pray they leave in the following: Monteith's, after merging with other West Coast breweries to form Westland Breweries, actually closed in 1963; DB bought Westland Breweries in 1969 (an unpopular move with locals); in 1993 DB rebranded the brewery as Monteith's, latching on to a 30-years gone brewery name. Oh, and they better have that bit about DB announcing the closure of Monteith's in 2001, backing down only in the face of hostile public reaction. Anything else really will be creative.

Twitter: @mjwd


Sunday Star Times