A few days before receiving samples of this beer, we posted near-identical pieces on Aussie wheat ales from Matilda Bay's CUB/Asahi stablemates Green Beacon and Pirate Life. It was our way of pointing out what seemed to be a coordinated move by the brewing giant and Endeavour Group (Dan Murphy's, BWS etc) to create a new, well, style for 2022, something that has since been confirmed in media reports. In those pieces, we pointed out that Matilda Bay had only just released their own Aussie Wheat Ale; now drinkers can look out for similar beers from Mountain Goat and 4 Pines too.
It's an approach that's had the old grey matter working overtime – it still is, if I'm honest – as it raises a fair few questions. When it comes to the ownership of former indie brands, we all know the statements made by founders at point of sale about little changing, and only for the better, are mere window dressing; but it feels like one thing for the businesses they built to have to adjust to working with a far larger business that's paid millions for their brands, market share and credibility, another to be told to brew exactly the same, essentially confected beer style (with similar colour palettes across the cans) as your fellow acquisitions (although, notably, Balter aren't on the list of CUB/Asahi craft brands said to be releasing an Aussie wheat ale in 2022).
It's not uncommon for brewers – independent and otherwise – to brew exclusives for the major (and minor) retailers either. But at a time when the Endeavour Group is regularly celebrating the success of its Pinnacle Drinks range, which includes homeband crafty offerings like Zytho, Golden Pipes, Initial and Colossal Brewing, doesn't the idea of the country's largest booze retailer working in cahoots with one of its largest brewers to create a entire range of similar beers from its craft brands feel like homebrand or private label beers by another means? I'm not sure at this point.
Then there's the style name. It's one of those truisms of the Aussie beer world that it's nigh on impossible to sell wheat beers or beers with the name "wheat" in their name. Burleigh Brewing won the biggest award in the world for their Hef a decade ago yet it's since been banished from their core lineup as it doesn't sell. Green Beacon changed the name of their Wayfarer Wheat to Wayfarer Tropical Pale Ale for similar reasons, yet are now behind one of these five Aussie wheat ales. Presumably, with the might of these two big players behind them, it will, at the very least, be the ultimate test of that truism, especially if aided by PR-driven media articles along the lines of: "Aussie wheat ales are set to be the taste of summer: here's five you can try!"
There's another question raised by the name too. Aussie wheat ale has been chosen because they all feature a high proportion of Australian wheat (and in most cases Aussie hops), but they're essentially the same as American wheat ales, Pacific ales or summer ales, many of which also feature high percentages of wheat in the grain bill, are pale in colour, low in bitterness, moderate in ABV, fruitily aromatic, and brewed with clean yeasts to ensure there's none of the fruity and spicy esters found in traditional German and Belgian wheat beers. So, essentially, it's a rebranding of sorts of beers that are already ten-a-penny in Aussie bottleshop fridges. Which begs the question: will it become a new XPA and stick around?
It sure feels like an interesting move. Maybe there's not as much to it as I'm making out, maybe there is. Maybe they'll succeed in convincing drinkers this is a new style, sell truckloads of the stuff over summer, and we'll see indies falling into line with their own. Or maybe the curse of the "wheat beer" will live on.
Either way, this is supposed to be a write-up on Matilda Bay's Aussie Wheat Ale, which was the first of the quintet to be designed – by brewery founder Phil Sexton's son, Harry. There's some German hops alongside the Aussie Eclipse in what's a very pale golden beer with a slight haze. Don’t go thinking it’s of a piece with Redback as, other than the high percentage of wheat, it’s a much more modern beast. It reminds me of Mountain Goat’s Skipping Girl – a lovely precursor to their original Summer Ale. The hops create a vibrant, zesty citrus aroma and flavour, while there's a clean finish without being noticeably bitter. It's a very hop forward and enjoyable summery ale. Or Aussie wheat ale. Whichever you prefer.
Published June 17, 2022 2022-06-17 00:00:00