I love it when a sample turns up and it ends up being much better than I thought it was going to be. A few weeks ago I followed up the Coca Cola Amatil (CCA) rep to lay my hands on some samples of their Yenda beers.

Yes, you did read that right. Coca-Cola Amatil and beer. It doesn’t seem to fit as well as “Holden and Bathurst”, “Queensland and Origin winners” or “Sail & Anchor and a word that rhymes with ship”, but never the less it’s there.

This isn’t actually just CCA wading into the world of booze. It’s a joint venture between CCA and Casella, the brand behind the Yellowtail range, one of Australia’s biggest wine exporters and whom recently acquired Peter Lehmann range. And it isn’t either group’s first foray into the world of beer.  

In 2007 CCA formed Pacific Beverages (PacBev) with SABMiller, brewing Peroni, Pilsner Urquell and Miller Genuine Draft, until SABMiller bought out CCA’s half of PacBev, and then went onto also buy out Foster’s later that year. Casella have dabbled, calling it unimpressively wouldn’t be too harsh, in the beer market with their beers, which has now shrunk to just the one label, Arvo 51 Lager. A beer that I find to be pretty average at best.

This new joint venture, called Australian Beer Company, is based in Yenda, near Griffith in the Riverina region of NSW. The company are knocking out the “Yenda” craft beer range which includes a Pale Ale, IPA, Golden and Red Ales along with a Helles lager. They are also making the Pressman’s Original Cider and Mid Cider, both made from 100% Goulburn Valley apples. The domestic brews will complement CCA’s imported craft beer, Blue Moon, which is made in the US by Coors and Samuel Adams.

And even though the Yenda range have already collected a few awards, I was a bit concerned how these would go on a FNQ arvo. I went down to my local bottleo and grabbed a couple of beers that I thought were the closest in style to the Yenda range to try side by side. The Yenda IPA against the Fat Yak, and the others poured against their counterpart in the James Squire range. They were poured blind in another room, and brought out in those tasting pairs.

And here’s the rub, not only were they better, but they were significantly better.

And I do mean significantly.

These aren’t beers that are up there with the greats of the Aussie craft beer ranks that are out there, but for those that are moving from VB, Fourex or Hahn then they will be a great entry into the craft beer world.

The labelling were the one thing that split the group with some saying they looked bland, and others loving the way the brewers have chosen to demystify the world of craft beer with a clear explanation of what you can expect inside the bottle.

But all said and done I go back to the first line of the column: I love it when a sample turns up and it ends up being much better than I thought it was going to be.

The Yenda range:

Yenda Pale Ale – Darker in colour than the Squire Pale, with loads more aromas coming out of the glass too. Good floral and tropical aromas are in there, with subtle malt notes around the edges. The head faded away pretty quickly, but still had some decent lacing down the side of the glass. Flavour wise, you get some sweet malts and a bit of fruity sweetness in there, some lemon and orange notes, a slightly bitter finish.

Yenda India Pale Ale – labelled as an American styled IPA, I don’t think it’s anywhere near hoppy and bitter enough for that, probably closer to an American Pale Ale.  Nice copper looking colour in the glass, with a small head. Aromas of citrus rind, with woody and pine notes. The malts are quite nice up front with some surprising hop and pine notes in the finish.

Yenda Red Ale – a mid-strength beer with a bit going on in the glass. Some sweet toasty biscuity style malts and traces of toffee. Those sweet malts are noticeable on the tongue but there is also touches of vanilla, hoppy notes and light toffee. Bitter spice and resin finish. Pretty good for a mid-strength beer truth be told.

Yenda Golden Ale – I like the Squire Golden Ale so I was honestly surprised when this beer trumped it in the blind tastings. Crystal clear amber in colour, aromas of hay and light malt and a touch of grains. Slight acidic earthy notes on the tongue, sweet malts and light fruity notes. Crisp, smooth and surprisingly refreshing.

Yenda Hell Lager – an unfiltered Helles style lager. Clear yellow with a white head, good carbonation. Malty and grainy on the nose with cardboard notes. Light bodied and plenty of carbonation, good balance of light malt, light citrus and a tiny bit of bitterness. It’s refreshing and easy drinking and a little better than most of the Aussie major lagers out there.

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