Week 20: A Week of Two Halves

Dates:   11th November – 17th November, 2013

Pub/bottle shop(s): Regional Wines and Spirits, Wellington and Various Spots in Adelaide, South Australia

Beer(s):

  1. 5 Hop, by Moa (1.25L rigger, $Umm…10? $12? **Note to self: keep receipts when using cash**)
  2. Lager, by Coopers (425ml pint, $5.50AUD)
  3. Pacific Ale, by Stone and Wood (330ml bottle, $5.80AUD)

Total: $23ish

The first half of this week involved a lot of swearing and late-night scrubbing in preparation for our final landlord inspection – all in an effort to secure the most coveted Holy Grail in the world of house-renting: namely, All Of Our Bond Back.  Suffice to say, I needed plenty of quaffable beer to make the clean-up bearable – and I’m pleased to report that my choice for that particular job was nigh-on perfect.

Moa 5-Hop is a tasty English Bitter-style beer with loads of malt and an elegant hop presence (don’t worry – I don’t know what that last bit means either).  The flavour profile of 5-Hop is akin to Mac’s Sassy Red, but with a more rigid backbone.  I discovered via natural experiment (i.e. because my fridge was already in Auckland) that 5-Hop benefits from a bit of extra lag-time between refrigeration and pouring – the body just seems to grow a bit, and the malt becomes a tad more complex.  So if you get hold of some of this lovely stuff, leave it on the kitchen counter for half-an-hour or so before popping the cap – trust me, the increased depth is well worth the wait.

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The second half of this week was far more relaxing – four days spent among our Western cousins at a conference in Adelaide, South Australia.  SA is the home of one of my all-time favourite things in the Known Universe: Coopers, the brewery that I reckon Mac’s ought to have become – a family-owned company, producing squillions of litres of solid beer at a sharp price.

Four days in Coopers Town was heaven.  Every pub, restaurant and café that I visited had at least Original Pale Ale on-tap, and most had three-or-four of the Cooper’s range.  I could hardly contain my excitement when, standing in a Jolly Nice local tap house called Austral, I discovered Cooper’s beers that I had never heard of: Cooper’s Clear.  Coopers 62 Pilsner.  Coopers Vintage.

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Wait, is that a lager?  And it’s $5.50 a pint?

You had me at hello.

To continue the Cooper’s-Mac’s analogy, I can sum-up Coopers Lager in two words: Mac’s Gold.  It has a typical pale lager aroma, straw colour, and very mild bitterness.  Like Gold, it’s wee bit thin – but it’s unquestionably a thirst-quenching drop, in a forgettable kind of way.  Lager made perfect sense at the time: it was 4:30pm on a gloriously-baking South Australian day, and I was parched after an aimless wander through the streets of downtown Adelaide.  Inevitably, Lager hardly touched the sides.

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On the last night of the trip, I visited a bottle store (which we’ll return to in a minute) and picked up a beer I’d heard only good things about: Stone and Wood Pacific Ale.  It had a gorgeous peppy hop aroma, but a lightly hopped body – which was surprising at first, given the oodles of hops in the scent.  But the mouth feel of Pacific Ale is most definitely not a let-down – it’s just a surprise, one which makes you think a bit more about its other components rather than being a one-hit-hoppy-wonder.  It has a soft malt backbone, plenty of creaminess and staggeringly-low bitterness.  It’s a delicious, approachable beer, along the lines of Little Creatures Pale Ale or Tuatara IPA.

I should also mention that it partnered very well with salty chips.

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But back to the bottle shop.

One of my Brothers-From-A-Different-Mother lives in Melbourne, and he’s perpetually whining about the price of off-license beer in Australia.  He keeps telling me that I don’t know how lucky I am in NZ – and to be honest, within 15 seconds of being in an Adelaide bottle shop, I got the gist of where he was coming from.

Even a six-pack of Cooper’s Pale Ale – in its own backyard, remember – was around $17AUD (so, like, Eighty-Thousand New Zealand Dollars, or something).  Compare that to what we pay in NZ for the exact same product: I’ve never paid more than $13 for a six-pack of Pale Ale, nor its delicious sister Sparkling Ale.

But the question remains: are Australians being ripped-off, or are we Kiwis paying too little?

In Beer Nation, Michael Donaldson throws down the gauntlet and suggests that we Kiwis are being undercharged for our bottled beer – at least at the supermarket.  He argues that increases in bottled beer prices haven’t kept up with increases in the price of other consumer goods – which is largely the result of cut-throat pricing practices by the Big Two supermarket chains.

So as much as it pains me to say it, maybe we are indeed paying too little for our bottled beer (even my beloved Cooper’s); but the way I figure it, since my bottle of Pacific Ale cost $5ish – around the same as I pay for a bottle of Yeastie Boys or ParrotDog – a significant proportion of the undercharging is happening in one particular corner of the market….and thankfully, it’s a corner that I’ve walked away from.

Let’s get one thing straight: no-one needs a dozen Haagen’s for Seventeen-Ninety-Nine.  By grabbing a box of cheap rubbish, you’re essentially hoisting a flag which says: “I Don’t Care About Flavour, I Just Want To Get Smashed!” (And yes, it’s a particularly big flag.)  If social lubrication is your primary end-point, then I’ve got a hot tip to save you some time:

Grab yourself a cardboard cask of wine – or a box of Woodstock, bottle of cheap vodka, etcetera – and just get it over with already.

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