The really big boys of brewing, the multinationals for example, spend a lot on market research and marketing, in some cases more than the GDP of a small country, working out when to release a beer, how to market it, what to make it look like.
The aim is to create a brand that has a very distinctive image in terms of packaging and is easily marketed, leveraging off other arms of company (if there is any) and so on. The team at Pinnacle Liquor (part of the Empire that is Woolworths) for example, couldn’t have got their John Boston range any more spot on for appearance and non-offensive taste profiles, re-released a while back with new labelling.
Labelling that looks remarkably like the James Squire labelling.
For those that don’t know, the names of the people on both of the bottles are real actual people. Both John Boston and James Squire have a claim to being Australia’s first brewer, but the record keeping was a bit haphazard at the time, probably because people were more interested in surviving and starting a colony than worrying about who made what beer first.
That’s why myself and my Amber Analysts found it odd that Woolies would buy a brand (it was previously owned by The Wine Society, back when it was known better as Boston’s Mill and had the white and gold labels), marketed around a colonial brewer. As a mate pointed out it’s highly likely to confuse people with the James Squire range.
At the end of last year Woolies was handing out discount vouchers to James Squire, no leveraging of other arms to move your own corporate product? Or was it a clever ploy to get you in and have the John Boston range strategically placed in store beside the Squire range, so that you inadvertently grab the wrong second six-pack….as I did. Looking back now at the beers makes me think the whole idea is to resemble James Squire. The Boston range has more than a passing resemblance to Squire labels, from the tag lines and the colours to the fonts and the layout.
As for the John Boston beers themselves, they are not bad beers. I prefer a bit more flavour in my beers, so found them a little lacking, however they are passable beers. My fellow amber aficionados quite liked the Pale Ale, finding it quite sessionable and a reasonable beer, which went down easily, had enough going on in the glass to keep you interested and coming back for more, and would work well with food too.
Which is more than you can say for a lot of the other Woolies beers, and yes, I’m pointing firmly at their “Dry Dock” and “Sail and Anchor” there.
However when we tried them against the James Squire range, that we originally went in to buy, they came up quite short. With the John Boston Guardhouse Golden Ale in particular pointing out how good the James Squire Golden Ale is, I never noticed the use of wheat in the Squire Golden before till I tried it against the Boston Golden Ale.
Still the Boston beers are roughly $10 cheaper a carton and, as mentioned, technically ok beers and easy drinking. They are reasonable, sessionable beers, which are perhaps only a step behind their nearest competitor.
John Boston The Point Pale Ale – no-nonsense entry level craft beer, if you want to move from your commercial lager to something with a bit more taste, but find most craft beers “too big” then this could be the one. Nice colour in the glass, fine head that disappeared pretty quickly. Light subtle hoppy citrus and tropicals, hoppy flavours on the tongue. The fruitiness isn’t too overwhelming so you can find that you are easily able to have several of these. Nice crisp bitterness, a good finish to it too.
John Boston The Guardhouse Golden Ale – more an old school style here, different to what we’ve come to expect from some of the leading craft Golden Ales which is why I think I struggle with this. Just enough bitterness and body top put it above many of the mass produced lagers out there, mildly malty and fruity but nothing substantial. Light bodied, good carbonation and short on the palate.