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: