Brunswick Bitter by Thunder Road

Thunder Road are an interesting little brewery and like many a Melbourne beer wanker I’ve taken more than a passing interest in them for some time now.  They finally started pushing out some beer earlier this year and swung the doors of the brewery open a few weeks ago. But before doing any of these things they managed to get more press than was warranted for a brewery that didn’t actually produce beer.

And for some reason this seemed to make a lot of people turn on them. You see the Thunder Road story doesn’t fit the mould of what the beer wankers would like their breweries to be. It’s not a story of four blokes agreeing to open a brewery after Grand Final beers, there is no backyard pool involved, no backpackers having an epiphany in Canada, no country brewpub shifting the perceptions of local farmers.

Thunder Road’s story is rich dude wants to start brewery (hey, it is what I would do if I was rich), builds the best brewery he can, hires professional brewers from the US, chemists and marketers. That’s right, they have copped flak because they did things professionally.

Why is it that we expect our craft brewers to be ramshackle, seat of their pants, struggling artists? Wouldn’t it be a huge boon to the industry to have a well-funded marketing savvy operator producing good quality beer? 

Personally I think it’s about time that we stopped treating the industry like it is a $2 bake stall at the local church fete and started to expect that our favourite breweries put money behind getting better distribution, scaling up production and dare I speak the evil word, marketing.

One of the main things that Thunder Road does that people, myself included, have a problem with is their perceived co-opting of history.  They have two beers in their range that do this. Brunswick Bitter’s label has ‘Since 1876’ written across it, whilst another of their beers, Montgomeries Pale Ale has ‘Since 1884’.

For a brewery that claims to be a student of Australian beer history (they even have a museum and beer library at the brewery) it seemed odd that they would be reinventing it this way. If you search through their Facebook page you will find an explanation about celebrating the long lost and forgotten breweries and brewers, but it is buried in a comment that’s about 3 months old and there is no mention on their website or anywhere else I can easily find.

For the record, Montgomeries was a brewery in West Melbourne. There is no explanation for Brunswick Bitter anywhere, but Crafty claims there was a Brunswick Brewery which started 1876, and he knows everything so I assume he’s right.

What gives Thunder Road the right to use long dead breweries’ histories to sell their beers?  Nothing. I’m all for recognising the past but this just seems cynical. What does writing ‘Since 1876’ on their label achieve, other than giving their beers and brewery a history that they did not earn? Even if this inclusion on the label did prompt me as a drinker to search for more information I would not be able to find any on their site.

I like the idea of a ‘heritage series’ of beers, but I’m not convinced this is the way to go about it. If they had a page on the website about the Brunswick Brewery, or the information on beer coasters (this is a on tap only product) then maybe I’d give it a pass, but nope Thunder Road promote their beer with videos of cats:

Of course more important than all of these things is ‘Is the beer any good?’ I can tell you that the Full Steam Pale lager is great example of a helles lager. It is the most attractive beer you are ever like to see, with a wonderful golden clarity, a good fall back beer. But the beer we are reviewing (I bet you thought we were never going to get here) today is the aforementioned Brunswick Bitter.

I picked up a schmiddy of this at The Great Northern Hotel, which is one of the better beer pubs around with a great food menu and brilliant beer garden. Now you might note that I used the word schmiddy.  Brunswick Bitter comes in its own branded glasses, sensible enough for a tap-only brand, you have to brand somehow, but to make them slightly bigger than the standard Victorian pot glass is a clever way to increase your sales by 15% without the average punter noticing. It’s also a marketing move I haven’t seen since Fat Yak launched with their own oversized branded glasses.

The beer itself is seriously good stuff. It’s a clear deep yellow colour with a thin (height wise) but dense creamy white head which laces nicely down the glass as you drink. The flavour is good with just the right amount of bitterness but without any real show off hop flavours, good balanced malt and lively carbonation.

So although this beer has committed some questionable historical hijacking don’t let that put you off as what’s inside the glass is a bloody good beer – Pint.

Long Bow YouTube Clip: I always assumed that the founders of Thunder Road were huge Bruce Springsteen fans, but apparently there is a historical link there to some long dead brewery that was located in Thunder Road – these guys really like their history. These ‘facts’ are not going to stop me choosing this classic from the boss though:

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14 thoughts on “Brunswick Bitter by Thunder Road

  1. They need to sack whoever is doing their marketing. That cat LOL vid is an abomination, while the colour palette on the BB label is atrocious (It looks like it just walked off the set of Saved By the Bell).

    I do dig the montage clip of them setting up the brewery however (and am jealous of their clear ability to tap into a bottomless pit of funding):

    And where’s your critique of their appropriation of Norse iconography??

  2. Interesting stuff. I really didn’t enjoy the Full Steam when I tried it. It was just a little, underwhelming. I’ll check out the Brunswick should I see it. I’m with you about the co-opting of history. It doesn’t quite sit right.

    I’m also really curious how they seem to have established solid tap visibility so quickly. They seem to have ownership of a few taps around Melbourne. Beer Deluxe, who constantly rotate, now seems to have at least one full0time Thunder Road tap… as does the Royston, and I think one or two other places. I really hope it’s purely down to availability and not tactics that we usually see from certain major beer companies (or maybe I’m just imagining things).

  3. I think the Cat video falls into the category of “I seemed funny when we were drunk/stoned.’ but yeah not on message at all is it.

    I suspect the colours on Brunswick bitter might be a nod to the heritege of the label.

    As for the rest of the branding it’s very very good – and I believe imported from some Beer marketing specialists in the US called taphanfdles – Check out this link:

    http://www.taphandles.com/branding/case-study-3

  4. @ Ale, I’ve noticed that too, interesting that it is real craft beer venues that you mentioned, so I’m assuming you are concerned that they are stopping other craft beers getting space. I have a couple of questions though:

    1. Are you more disappointed with Thunder Road (after all all they are doing is doing the best to sell their product) or the venue for allowing it to happen? (assuming of course it is, we are jumping to some conclusions here)

    Would you be as concerned if they suddenly secured a permenant tap in a mainstream beer pub like say The Leveson?

    • I’m not disappointed in Thunder Road… I have no expectations of them. It would be directed at the venues… although it’s little hypocritical from me, when I consider the Court House’s Stone and Wood tap a plus.

      The more I think about it, the more I think it’s probably just availability. A place like Beer Deluxe can’t just have huge IPAs or Imperial Stouts on tap; so it’s probably a good thing for them to have a reliable, and always available, lager to please the drinkers who don’t necessarily expect or want a huge taste explosion.

      So all things considered… I guess I’m ok with it now.

      (as for the Leveson, I’m only ever dragged there once a year for our financial year work drinks… I really dislike that place)

  5. Leon I’m stuck on what to think of Thunder Road. It looks to be a copy of Stone or one of the other US breweries (which is a good thing) but it seems to not have any heart. From what I’ve seen so far there has bee more go into the marketing than the beer. I have had the Full Steam and wasnt impressed by it, the girls handing out the bottle openers were far more impressive than the beer. I am open to trying more of their beer, and going to the venue so I’ll hold off on deciding until then

  6. I agree that they need to build the stories about these breweries of the past up more if they’re serious about it, but show some patience. After visiting the brewery, I think the passion is genuine and they are still ‘launching’. For me, any attempt to spark interest in Australia’s independent brewing history isn’t a bad thing.

  7. Here’s what Deutsher has to say about a “Brunswick Brewery Ltd”:

    “1876-98
    Cnr Glenlyon Rd & Evelyn St Brunswick
    The Brunswick Brewery Ltd was incrporated on 29 March 1876, and the partners were George Barker and William Brett. For most of the time Brett worked the brwery on his own.”

    No mention of a Bitter, nior any label examples provided 😦

    I suspect the actual address was corner of Glenlyon Rd and Eveline St…

  8. Mark,

    I agree that it is a nice idea, but I think at this stage badly executed. It surely wouldn’t have been that hard to send a press release to the beer press (what is it about 4 people?), put the details of the history on their website (rather than burying it in a comment on the facebook page). Whilst we are talking of the website, I also can’t tell from their website/facebook if they are now fully open or simply opened for the family day and then ‘closed’ again. (I should mention they certinaly don’t have the worst website in the business, if you want to see some really out of date stuff, check out http://www.goatbeer,com)

    I certianly don’t doubt their passion, or their love for beer and beer history (they just have a funny way of showing it), or for that matter their ability to make really good beer.

    I should also mention that Thunder Road have openly come out and said that they are looking to convert people to craft beer from mainstream beers which has to be a very good thing, and I would suggest the Full Steam and Brunswick Bitter are both beers that could do that.

    They cop a lot of flack from beer wankers who seem to want everyone to be Moondog or Mikkeller, which is just a little unfair.

  9. I popped in and spoke with the team and recommend it…if they are not brewing. The owner Phil or Philip is worth chatting to. The heritage aspect is focused on raising awareness of the lost independent brewery history and he seem to take the points raised on the chin. Its not the key focus. The beers with heritage links were intended for test beers and not heavy duty marketing or detailed explanation ….but some have taken off faster and more widely than intended. Phil agreed an explanation is needed on the website ….amazing beer museum. You cannot believe how good this place is.They are very open and want feedback…and anyone can visit. I queried the bloody cat thing… l was advised the dog one is on the way to balance things up. Oh yeah… l have to say, the beers were excellent. And was assured beer geeks will be catered for. All good for the future . Check them out….

  10. Pingback: Six Pack of Brewing Success – Part 1 The Product | Tipples

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