There’s been a lot of movement in the beer sector over the last twelve months, the sale of Pirate Life and 4 Pines to CUB’s parent company AB InBev and Feral Brewing to Coca Cola (the brewers of the Yenda and Blue Moon), are probably the deals that got the most attention.
However flying under the radar was the sale of Vale Brewing to the Bickford’s Group, becoming part of Bickford’s Vok Beverages arm. The deal means that Vok’s Hobo Brewing is no longer a homeless beer range, being brewed under contract at various locations around Australia. It will gain a brewing home at Vale Brewing’s site, sitting comfortably alongside the Vale core range, along with their more experimental and bolder range of Fox Hat beers and Dr Pilkington’s Cider.
Vale was established in 2008 in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, an area better known for its wine than its beer. Vale set about changing that perception when they launched their flagship Vale Ale, quickly expanding the portfolio into five core beers and an extremely impressive range of limited releases and experimental beers.
The acquisition is another step towards Bickford’s goal of becoming Australia’s largest, privately owned beverage business. A lot of people will see that as a bad thing, another large company, albeit this one being a treasured Australian company dating back to 1839, swallowing up a craft beer range.
Unlike a lot of craft beer drinkers or the really dedicated hop-heads that are out there, I don’t have a problem with all the mergers and takeovers…..as long as the beer they produce is still good.
But really, the story is the same everywhere, whether it be car labels or peanut butter, or in this case, beer. Company A builds themselves up to a point where they start to need to look at other avenues for both supplies and distribution or they grow faster than their cash flow allows. Company B either sees that as a partnership opportunity, delivering distribution avenues for Company A, or they see Company A as a perfect buy out as they have a loyal customer base that is willing to pay a few extra dollars for the higher quality product, and have already done the hard groundwork.
Bickford’s have shown that they are here for the long haul, 170 years of operation kind of proves that. They have already increased distribution of the Vale and Fox Hat range, concentrating on craft beer and independent venues. If they continue to produce beers that people want to drink, then venues will put them on tap or in fridges, and people will choose them regardless of anything else.
The Vale Pale has been a steadfast in many venues for years, and I’d forgotten just how good the Vale Amber Lager was, probably one of the best lagers that I’ve tried in the last few years.
Having a wider access to this range, to my mind, is exciting times.
Vale Pale – the Pale Ale that started it all, lovely colour in the glass, clean white head which laces away pretty quickly. Grassy hop aromas, citrus, peach and passionfruit with a clean crisp finish.
Vale Amber – a lager but not as you know it, and won’t appeal to those that are regular Great Northern or Summer Bright drinkers, there’s just too much flavour and texture here for those drinkers. Copper colour, some nice sweetness from the malts, caramels and coffee notes some pine and citrus there too. Very appealing.
Vale Mid Coast – a mid-strength ale with some interesting biscuity malts, but feels thin in the mid-palate, gentle bitterness and some sweet citrus on the finish.
Fox Hat Full Mongrel – this Russian Imperial Stout can be hard to beat for my beer of the year, at 10%alc it’s not something that you will be having a lot of, but geez it’s so drinkable, even in this summer heat. Great smooth mouth feel , rich flavours of chocolate, coffee and cocoa, some toasty spice and slightly warm finish. Fantastic.
Fox Hat Metric IPA – massive load of hops used to create a West Coast style of IPA’s, that huge dose of hops give it a bitey feel on the finish, some sweet tropicals and caramels, citrus and a little bit of pithy grapefruit. Did I mention the truck load of hops?
Fox Hat Phat Mongrel – an oatmeal stout that’s a deep, dark black colour with a touch of brown around the edges, the toasted malts give a huge whack of coffee and liquoricey aniseed, even a little bit of nori sheet in there too. Big hoppy, slightly burnt bitterness that lingers for a long time in the mouth. Drinks like the imperial but the hops bring it back closer to that IPA territory.