What exactly is an “imported beer”?


Is it one that is brewed overseas and shipped to Australia? Or is it a foreign beer brewed under licence in Australia? This really hit home recently when I ordered a Peroni from an Italian restaurant. However when I tried the Peroni it tasted different, really different.

How can a Peroni made and brewed in Italy taste close to Heineken? After checking the bottle, I found that this had been “brewed under licence” by Coca Cola in NSW! I felt cheated, like finding out that the Holden or Ford you’re cheering for is a re-badged Toyota!!!

After talking to mates it seems there are two arguments here. The first is about truth in advertising – when was the last time that happened? The second is really about the quality of the beer being sold under that premium label. This was where we couldn’t agree.

So after a blind tasting session here’s our take of three of the most common brewed under licence beers against their original. I tried to get brews that were as close as possible in the “best before dates”, the Oz brewed beers were tracked down from the major chain stores and the original versions from the local independent bottleshops.

Peroni Nastro Azzurro – The two bottles of Peroni were close together in expiry date and were about as fresh as each other. Even though the Australian brewed product tasted a bit fresher, we preferred the Italian. It was bright and lightly nutty, with a pleasingly bitter finish. The Aussie product was clean and fresh but had less character and a plain perhaps bland finish.

Heineken – Again, we preferred the import: quite full-flavoured, with Heineken’s distinctive aromatic, fruity hoppy taste, it tasted lively and fresh. The Oz (Lion Nathan) Heineken tasted like a watered-down version, some of the same aromatics but a plainer, less satisfying finish.

Stella Artois – the imported Stella was golden yellow in colour, but tasted a little flat and stale. It was a little close to it’s used by date and I’m guessing that this was the cause of the taste. The Oz (Foster’s) brewed Stella much brighter and lighter in colour, it had great hoppy freshness and a round, smooth flavour.

I spoke with Hayden Mokaraka, head brewer at The Blue Sky Brewery, who did fourteen years at Lion Nathan, and was there for the changeover to Aussie brewed Heineken. Hayden walked me through the rules and regulations of brewing under licence and how rigorous it was, how samples MUST be approved by the original brewery. He had an interesting view that the reason the consumers prefer the imported versions is “not a bad thing, if that’s what you like, because that’s what you’ve become accustomed to”. The brewed under licence stuff is actually fresher and “is what it should taste like”.

The good news is that with a strong dollar and parallel imports, there is no real drama for purists to get their hands on the real thing – whether that’s a Stella Artois brewed in Belgium or Heineken brewed in Holland.

The bigger question though is why we are rushing off to buy European beers rather than an Aussie craft beer, which is generally free from all these marketing issues and, usually, not part of those big boys of brewing.

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